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Code and Art Come to the Bay Bridge

By on Mar 5, 2013 in Loud Dog Culture

We love any opportunity to explore the relationship between code and design here at Loud Dog, so when we heard about Leo Villareal’s project to put choreographed LED lights on the Bay Bridge, we knew we were in for a treat.

Wanting to learn more, I headed to SFMOMA to learn more about the artist and his project. Villareal was heavily influenced by the classic heroes of light sculpture and earthworks, including Dan Flavin and James Turrell. Burning Man was also a huge source of inspiration for the artist, who created his first light sculpture as a practical way-finding device in the dark desert night.

Speaking about his own work, Villareal used words like “fragmentation” and “cohesion” and stated that his goal is always to “activate the space.” If you look at his other works, you will find that his installations are all carefully considered for their environment and tailored for social context. You can see this in his installation called Multiverse at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, which forms a tunnel of light that propels you forward from one end of the hallway to the other.

To create the light sequence for the Bay Lights, Villareal and his team of engineers made small-scale models in his New York studio and designed the light show using custom software. The friend I brought to the talk at SFMOMA happened to be an engineer and saw the opportunity for the Bay Lights to become San Francisco’s latest nerd project — what if the whole thing were open to developers to build and create on? Though the project is not open source (yet!), Villareal does hope that the Bay Lights will create a sense of community for viewers, functioning as a “digital campfire.”

For those interested in the more technical aspects of the project, the lights used in the Bay Lights installation will burn for 11.5 years if kept on continuously and are attached to the bridge using industrial strength, UV-resistant zip ties. Crews worked on the installation at night, blocking off lanes on the bridge for their equipment and other crew members.

Though the lights have been on intermittently while the artist has been testing the design, the official lighting of the bridge takes place tonight, March 5 at 8:30pm. There’s a handy map of places with great views of the bridge, but pretty much any spot along the Embarcadero will reward you with a sweet view.

We are excited to benefit from Leo Villareal’s digital campfire in the months to come!

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