Artists have been engaging light from the beginning of time and light art is becoming widely and highly regarded much like photography or painting. Although a modern concept of light art emerged with the development of artificial light sources and experimentation with modern art, working with and framing natural light is another form of this expression. James Turell, Dan Flavin, Leo Villareal and Doug Aitken are among the many world renowned light artists working today. San Francisco presents Illuminate SF with a gallery of light art installations throughout the city.
The Bay Lights, by Leo Villareal
San Francisco Bay Bridge
The Bay Lights is the world’s largest LED light sculpture, 1.8 miles wide and 500 feet high. Its 25,000 white LED lights are individually programmed by artist Leo Villareal to create a never-repeating, dazzling display across the Bay Bridge’s west span.
Views of this Bay Bridge Lights sculpture are best witnessed along the Embarcadero/Waterfront, particularly from the Ferry Building to Pier 33.
See a Best Views interactive map on The Bay Lights website
On view through March 2015, night dusk until dawn.
Firefly, by Ned Kahn
Created by celebrated environmental artist Ned Kahn, Firefly is a nearly 12-story kinetic sculpture commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s new state-of-the-art headquarters. Kahn’s Firefly is a lattice of tens of thousands of five-inch-square, clear-polycarbonate panels hinged allowing them to freely move in the wind. During the day, the ever-changing wind pressure profile on the building appears as undulating waves. At night, this movement is converted into light. As the wind presses the hinged panels inward a small embedded magnet connected to an electrical reed switch triggers the flickering of tiny LED lights. The lights are colored to mimic fireflies, which are a threatened species due to their dependence on riparian ecosystems. The entire sculpture requires less energy than a 75-Watt light bulb.
Permanent installation, viewable 24/7 on the exterior of the PUC headquarters lighting up each evening upon nightfall.
525 Golden Gate Avenue at Polk Street
Language of Birds, Brian Goggin & Dorka Keehn
Language of the Birds is a permanent site-specific sculpture by San Francisco artists Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn, located at the intersection of Broadway and Columbus avenues. Commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission through the city’s two-percent-for-art program this piece is part of a new pedestrian plaza linking Chinatown and North Beach. Each book mimics a bird in motion with various wing positions created by the forms of the pages and bindings. At night LED lights embedded within the books create visual patterns; at different times one might see the flock subtly pulsing or giving off a spectacular zoetropic effect. It is the first solar power-offset public artwork in California. Artists Goggin and Keehn teamed up with scientist David Shearer and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore to provide solar power to the City’s grid, offsetting the energy used by the artwork. Passing under the flock, pedestrians will notice words and phrases embedded in the plaza floor, which appear to have fallen from the pages above. On closer inspection the fallen words are in English, Italian and Chinese and were selected from the neighborhood’s rich literary history.
Permanent installation, viewable 24/7 lighting up each evening upon nightfall.
Intersection of Broadway and Columbus Avenues
Future’s Past, Kate Raudenbush
In close collaboration with the Hayes Valley Arts Coalition and Hayes Valley community members, the Black Rock Arts Foundation is featuring an admired work of art crafted by Kate Raudnebush. First exhibited at Burning Man 2010, now temporarily installed in Hayes Valley’s Patricia’s Green, Future’s Past is an intricate metal sculpture standing 24 feet tall.
The quiet, contained space provokes, invites and nurtures introspection and examination of the relationship between nature, technology as well as culture and tells a story of civilization being reclaimed by nature. The 12-foot base of the piece harkens an ancient pyramid and springing from its top is an ornate 12-foot Bodhi tree, which is a symbol of freedom from earthly attachments. At night, eerie green light shines through the finely cut, circuit board-like patterns in the base’s walls. The mysterious, temple-like structure evokes an archeological account of another time, or even an alien culture.
Temporary installation, viewable 24/7 lighting up each evening upon nightfall more info >>
Patricia’s Green at Octavia and Hayes streets
Homouroboros, Peter Hudson
ExplOratorium at Pier 15/Embarcadero
The Exploratorium, in collaboration with the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF), brings Homouroboros, a large-scale interactive zoetrope by San Francisco artist Peter Hudson, to the public plaza at Pier 15. At 24 feet tall, the work’s tree-like steel frame and mushroom, cloud-shaped canopy feature 18 human-sized monkeys that dangle from its branches. By pounding on drums built into the base of the trunk, spectators cause the top of the tree to spin, turning the monkeys on their branches into a vision-bending arboreal escapade.
Strobe lights at night and special goggles during the day complete the Homouroboros experience – a phenomenon of the eye called “persistence of vision” that turns the 18 monkeys into a three-dimensional motion picture. The monkeys appear as a single, animated monkey, snatching an apple from the mouth of a serpent slithering down a branch. Close inspection reveals that the mouth of the serpent is really in the shapeof a human hand.
Temporary installation, best viewed daily 10:00am to 10:00pm.
Publically accessible along the Embarcadero at Pier 15
Three Gems, James Turrell
de Young Museum, Osher Sculpture Garden, Golden Gate Park
San Francisco is one of the rare cities to enjoy a permanent work by the renowned artist James Turrell. Best known for his visionary work with light, Turrell’s Three Gems is a subterranean installation commissioned specifically for the de Young sculpture garden. It features a view of the sky altered by L.E.D. lighting effects highlighted by changing light and weather conditions outside.
Although Turrell has created other skyspaces, his project for the de Young was his first skyspace to adopt the stupa form.
Experience Three Gems by walking through a short tunnel cut into the hill, and enter into a cylindrical space carved out of the hill. The retaining walls of this cylindrical space will be white concrete and the floor will be red stone. Once inside the stupa sit on a stone bench lining the walls and view the sky through an oculus cut in the roof of the chamber. Viewers’ perceptions of the sky color will be subtly altered by an L.E.D. lighting system inside the chamber, and by changing light and weather conditions outside the chamber.
Permanent installation, during Museum hours of operation.
Publically accessible in the Osher Sculpture Garden, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park