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Artist Leo Villareal Lights Up San Francisco's Bay Bridge Permanently

A long-term return of the beloved outdoor installation

by Josh Rubin
on 28 January 2016

We have been following light artist Leo Villareal's The Bay Lights exhibition since its announcement back in 2011. Villareal succeeded—magnificently—in setting San Francisco's iconic Bay Bridge aglow in March 2013. The visceral, undulating art piece remained in place for two years. Now, The Bay Lights will return (on 30 January at 7:25PM PST) and they will remain on—at the request of the State of California—from dusk until dawn permanently. It's one of Villareal's most powerful site-specific works and it employs 25,000 Philips LEDs and 4.5 miles worth of cable. As much as it is a technical feat, it's also the embodiment of art for all. With 1.8 miles of the bridge as his canvas, Villareal activated wonder and revitalized the San Francisco waterfront.

When lit up, the installation reflects off the water below—doubling its impact. Something mystical strikes against a tech-driven foundation, as is the way with most of Villareal's work. The artist initially drew inspiration from waves of water, as well as waves of traffic, to develop an algorithm that monitors the lights. This allows them to unite and diverge, actively. The 25,000 outward-facing LEDs contain advanced energy-efficient technology, making the entire project (funded by non-profit arts organization, ILLUMINATE) more sustainable.

"Light itself is very potent," Villareal explains in our CH video from 2008. "It affects you in a way that's not verbal," he says. "It's primal." Having experienced The Bay Lights in person, we agree. The reaction is certainly primal, but also emotional, and it's fascinating to consider that technology is the figurative bridge between artist and presentation.

Images courtesy of The Bay Lights

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