Growing up next to an amusement park may have inspired Carl Pisaturo’s life-long fascination with light and motion – but the Mission District is where the “lumino-kinetic” sculptor found an affordable space to transform scientific concepts into art.  

After seeing rents triple and arts organizations drop one by one in a gentrifying- Boston in the 80s, Pisaturo said he moved to the Mission in the early 90s and found a refuge.

“There was a freedom to experiment and ideas kind of cross pollinated,” he said. “It was cheap enough that if you wanted to work part-time in a cafe you could live in [an artist] collective and have two-thirds of your time available for your own projects.”

Pisaturo created Area 2881 Gallery, his workspace and gallery of almost two decades at 2881 23rd St. that has become a mechanical micro-museum of sorts.  But this Saturday will be the last opportunity for his community to admire his work – come May 1, Pisaturo will close the doors to his studio for good.

Eight months ago, Pisaturo, a part-time engineer at a biology lab at Stanford, became a full-time father – and the extra tenant is a violation of his lease agreement.

“My relationship with the landlord was terminated by the landlord on account of my harboring a baby,” said Pisaturo, cradling his son, Luca, in his arms. “[Area 2881] was considered by them to be a subsidized art space and [a baby] wasn’t part of the deal. “

Pisaturo said that his displacement, though unfortunate, wasn’t entirely unexpected in San Francisco’s overheated rental climate. “I felt for many years that the ice was getting thiner and thiner and that any kind of disturbance would be the end of this kind of life.”

Pisaturo isn’t blaming the landlord, with whom he says he’s had a “productive relationship” for the better part of 17 years. Pisaturo never had a lease and paid well below-market-rate rent for the 400 square-foot workspace that also became his home.  

Over the years, Pisaturo with much care turned Area 2881 into a wonderland that he would showcase to community members on select occasions.

“It was never a commercial venture –I guess that makes it a hobby if I’m not making money off it,” said Pisaturo. “It became my main occupation in a sense in terms of timing and putting all my resources into it for the last 15 years.”

Hung against one wall, a series of stagnant objects attached to a rotating disk appear to melt into each other – an illusion caused by motion, he said.

“I call it a transmutascope – it’s basically like a physical version of a movie,” said Pisaturo. The trick is strobe lights built-in underneath the disk that fire in sync with the object positions, feigning transformation.

Pisaturo’s projects stack up along the walls and hang from the ceilings, leaving only a sliver of an aisle as a walking space. When asked which of his creations is most dear to his heart, he is torn.

“They are all special in their own way,” he said, but then moved towards two three-foot statues anchored to a shelf in a corner of his studio. His first sculptures, the humanoid robots are dubbed “slaves” and rotate at their waists.

“Slave” robots by Carl Pisaturo. Photo by Laura Waxmann

“My work is art mixed with technology and generally involves movement and light in an interesting way,” he said.

Though his projects often take months to build and are carefully engineered based on trial and error,  Pisaturo hopes that visitors to his studio will find beauty in their motion. “The science shouldn’t be on the surface,” he said, referring to his design process. Learning something scientific from his sculptures is “incidental to the process.”

“It should be at first just a magical thing,” said Pisaturo. “Some people are of a more logical mind and want to figure it out. Some people just like it visually. You can take it however you want.”

Since 2007, Pisaturo has opened Area 2881 to the community through his participation with the Mission Arts Performance Project, a bi-monthly, multi-disciplinary event in which artists and creatives throughout the Mission open their studio spaces to community members in an effort to connect and inspire one another.

Area 2881 has drawn hundreds of people at these events, said Pisaturo.

“I just loved what I was doing it and sharing it was nice too,” he said, adding that most of his materials and building plans are uploaded to his website – free to be replicated by anyone who is interested enough and has the time.   

Pisaturo said he couldn’t keep or reproduce Area 2881 even if his income tripled. Once his projects are stored away, he and his family will relocate to Rhode Island, where he has family connections.

“Its sad to see [San Francisco] get so expensive that unusual uses cannot happen anymore,” said Pisaturo. “The city is losing something important when you can’t have the example of people living different kinds of lives and doing different kinds of things. It’s a subtle but to me important part of life, to see experimentation. And that’s being lost, little by little.”

Carl Pisaturo will open his studio, located at 2881 23rd St., to the public for the last time on Saturday, February 25, from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

The Robots of Carl Pisaturo from Mission Local on Vimeo.