Noe Valley Voice May 2004

Family Adventures Close to Home

Zinging Through Zeum--It's a Breeze

By Rosie Ruley Atkins

We're supposed to be making tie-dyed kites, but Miles, 8, and I have become distracted by the myriad "wind" things to see at the Whoosh! exhibit in Zeum--the art and science museum on the rooftop at Yerba Buena Gardens.

My attention is drawn to the ceiling, where dozens of colorful birds, airplanes, and kites rustle in the wind created by two fans set high up on the wall. Miles discovers an organ, which is activated by foot pumps that push wind through various pipes to create a cacophony of sounds including birdsong, harmonica tunes, and even a rumbling foghorn.

Meanwhile, our pal Zoe, 8, who is sporting purple and green stripes in her hair, has set up shop at the kite-making table. Following the instructions of her friendly Zeum guide Christina Linezo, 25, Zoe folds a sheet of Tyvek (a fibrous archival paper that's perfect for kite-making) into a small, tight square. She dips the edges into pots of neon paint. Her fingertips turn blue and pink as she squeezes the excess liquid off her kite before unfolding the paper to reveal a colorful square that looks terrific next to her hair. She sets the sheet on the drying rack and joins Miles at the "You're Flying" installation.

The kids position themselves in front of a flat green wall and strike Superman poses as they watch themselves (on TV monitors) "flying" through clouds high above the Golden Gate Bridge.

"Yikes!" yells Zoe, as Miles appears to nearly collide with a bridge stanchion. "Don't crash."

Next, they duck behind the plastic flaps that surround "Bird's-Eye View," a multimedia project that allows the kids to navigate a flight over a projection of San Francisco. They manipulate a round table to try to direct their "bird" to Noe Valley, but very quickly lose control and hurtle into the Financial District.

Other installations in the gallery allow kids to create objects like windsocks, wind chimes, and windmills, using such time-honored craft supplies as buttons, pipe cleaners, lids from baby-food jars, and battered keys, which look incongruous inside Zeum's sleek, modern space.

Our friend Sadie, 3, rushes up to show us the butterfly she's created from a clothespin, a coffee filter, and a pipe cleaner.

"I made it myself," she cries, launching it into the air for a brief flight.

Zoe and Miles hop on a bright yellow seesaw. A set of bellows underneath each seat pumps wind through a series of plastic pipes that can be attached to penny whistles, train whistles, harmonicas, and flutes to create symphonic arrangements.

It doesn't take them long to discover that one pipe, when properly manipulated, can create a loud wind sound that is considered rude in certain company. They are laughing so hard that I fear that they might launch themselves right off the seesaw. When the other kids in the gallery get a load of the trick, a line forms at the seesaw, and Miles and Zoe reluctantly give up their seats.

The Wind Wall, featuring dozens of square window fans blowing full blast, gives kids the opportunity to test out their wind creations. One little girl frantically tries to launch her kite and gets wrapped up in her string. She giggles as an adult attempts to detangle her in the wind. Miles and Zoe put their faces close to the fans and start singing, creating a deep vibrato in their voices.

We step onto the outdoor deck and smack rubber paddles against giant Pan flutes made of PVC piping. Our improvised percussion seems to meld with the traffic from Fourth Street, a story below us. We're just starting to groove when Miles, an avid cartoonist, spots his buddy Nick, 8, in the museum's claymation studio.

"Mom," he whispers, awed at the studio's shelves of handmade superheroes. "Check that out."

We stare for about a nanosecond before Miles whips inside. By the time I reach his table, Miles is already molding red clay to a wire humanoid figure. Zoe, an animal lover, has chosen the dog figure.

"The wires are like the bones," Miles says. "You stick the red clay on for the muscles and then the colored clay on for the skin and the clothes."

I have no idea how he learned this in the time it took me to walk at adult speed from the deck to the studio, but it sounds right. Zoe's mom joins us, and we start on our own figures.

Miles checks out Nick's "Lightning Boy," a bright red superhero with a yellow lightning bolt on his chest, and immediately asks Zoe for help creating a lightning bolt.

"I'm good at those," Zoe says.

"My guy is going to be like a Ray Harryhausen monster," Miles says, referencing the special effects pioneer who created such classic films as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. He affixes Zoe's purple bolt to his monster's wrist and dubs him "Oogie Boogie."

Zoe's mom, Laura, is creating a pink human with colorful dreadlocks that resemble Zoe's striped hair.

"She's me!" Zoe squeals. "Give her earrings and a bellybutton shirt!"

Zoe gives her dog a set of black spots and a pair of floppy ears. "Woof," she says. If the dog weren't so miniature, you'd think it was real.

My cowgirl is turning out to be so skinny that the weight of her enormous blue cowgirl hat throws her off balance. I give her a pair of oversized pink boots to help keep her upright.

We join Nick and his dad at the movie set, which features a handmade Seuss-like tree, molded green hills, and an undersea backdrop. A computer with a still camera attached is set up to capture the action. What might have been a straightforward film about a struggle between good and evil evolves into a complex, admittedly opaque epic about a cowgirl, a hippie, a monster, a superhero, and the force of evil.

Zoe decides that her dog doesn't fit into the action and watches from the sidelines, as Miles and Nick direct the minute movements that each figure must make to create a realistic movie.

After a 20-minute shoot, the film debuts to much cheering. The cowgirl ropes the evil guy as Oogie Boogie and Lightning Boy slide down the tree. Then the hippie girl jumps on Oogie Boogie. Then Oogie Boogie and Lightning Boy win. We're all unspeakably proud.

The Academy Awards people don't appear to be anywhere in sight, so we rush back to the wind gallery to finish up Zoe's kite. The Zeum guides help Zoe assemble the frame and sew a bridle (the thing that holds the string) to the front of the kite. The guides explain the importance of curves and balance. Zoe takes it all in, not even noticing that she's getting a lesson on the physics of wind and flight. She chooses a tail from a colorful bin of paper and mylar strips, and attaches it to the kite. The hot, still day has given way to a typical windy late afternoon, and she and Miles bolt out the door to try her kite on the lawn in front of Zeum.

It goes up on the first try, and Miles and Zoe are gleeful.

"Who knew that you could make a kite?" Miles says.

"Who knew?" says his mother, who didn't know you could buy one at the store until she was a teenager.

The kids race across the Howard Street pedestrian bridge without noticing that Zeum offers two more stories of studios and galleries, where visitors can create karaoke music videos, digital artwork, and lots of other cool projects. Maybe we'll explore those when we return to make Oogie Boogie and Lightning Boy: The Sequel.


The Zeum museum is located at 221 Fourth Street at Howard, a short walk from the Powell Street BART Station.

Admission to Zeum will be free May 8­16 in celebration of the 18th annual Youth Arts Festival--a nine-day showcase of art works made by students in San Francisco schools.

Normal admission is $7 for adults; $5 for youths 4 to 18; and free for kids under 4. Hours during the school year are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Zeum is also open during most school holidays and Tuesday through Sunday during the summer months.

For information, call 415-777-2800 or zip online to

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