night lights

The Bay Lights project by artist Leo Villareal (image thebaylights)

Earlier this month the San Francisco Bay Bridge was lit by 25,000 white LEDs synced to a never-repeating arrangement program created by artist Leo Villareal. The lights will dazzle from dusk til 2AM for two years as the great Bay Bridge celebrates its 75th birthday. The project is called the Bay Lights, a monumental undertaking spearheaded by Ben Davis founder of Words Pictures Ideas. There is a live stream available here. Leo Villareal’s work is truly amazing, but this is by far the most impressive project of his for the sheer scale of it all. Pictures and cameras do not do justice for Villareal’s art however, for his work is meant to be experienced first hand.

First hand experience is becoming more and more sought after in today’s age of instant gratification. It does not matter how much time you spend researching the Pantheon online for example, for you will never truly know it until you walk into the ancient rotunda yourself. The information-sharing experience is not to be cast aside however, as projects like the Bay Lights would have been nearly impossible to orchestrate and fund without the internet and social media. This is our new norm, and it’s very exciting.

New advances in technology have also created new means for creating light art, especially with low energy-consumption and low cost LEDs. Many of the wonderful light works I’ve seen in the past have had issues with either creating too much heat, using too much energy, or the lights themselves simply not lasting very long. I hope that large scale projects like the Bay Lights and the Eiffel Tower become more prevalent in larger cities, and take heed by making things temporary or rare in use. If light art is used for everyday experiences the celebratory nature of the lights become dull and boring. To contradict myself, there are places where permanent light displays are needed for everyday use, usually to help us ‘enjoy’ mundane and obtrusive civic infrastructure. In Portland for example, even the most basic of light art, the flood lights on the Morrison Bridge, provide a dash of color at night where nothing but grey concrete can be seen in the daytime. Even then, the lights change color daily and tend to go along with whatever festivities are currently going on or to whichever season it may be. Urban areas are full of blank canvases for light artists, and each canvas has its own unique opportunity.

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