San Jose Lights Up the Night with Psychedelic Public Art

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Dan Corson, 'Sensing YOU' concept rendering. (Courtesy: San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs)

Bemoaning the 4:50 p.m. sunset these days? Then head to San Jose, where a series of new interactive, illuminated public artworks will brighten the dark winter nights. The city unveiled the pieces Friday at the light-level appropriate time of 5 p.m.

A veteran of the public art world, Seattle-based Dan Corson has two new projected installations Sensing YOU and Sensing WATER under Highway 87 at Santa Clara and San Fernando Streets. The dynamic -- some say, psychedelic -- projections change in response to pedestrian traffic and the water level of the Guadalupe River, respectively.

Steve Durie and Bruce Gardner, 'San Carlos Lantern Relay' design rendering.
Steve Durie and Bruce Gardner, 'San Carlos Lantern Relay' design rendering. (Courtesy: the artists)

San Carlos Street Lantern Relay, designed by San Jose-based team Steve Durie and Bruce Gardner, appears on San Carlos St from Market through Fourth Streets as a series of eight interactive lanterns on lampposts. Buttons at street level allow pedestrians to play with and alter the patterns of the lanterns’ LED light displays.

A similar bit of hands-on interaction is now possible with artist Jim Conti’s Show Your Stripes (2008), a light installation on the facade of The 88 at Second and San Fernando Streets. A new set of program codes added to the work allows the public to “dial in” a light display of their choice via their cell phones, with over 300 options ranging from “Questionable Weather” to “Slow Purple Fruit.”


The "Illuminating Downtown" program is part of an effort to make San Jose look, feel and act more like the “Capital of Silicon Valley," says public arts director Jennifer Easton of San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs. "We can't just define ourselves through the businesses that are here," Easton says. "We want to reflect ourselves and art is a great way to do it."

In recent years, cities have capitalized on the festive feel of illuminated artworks. 2015 marks the third year of Illuminate SF Festival of Light, an initiative organized by the San Francisco's travel association to display existing light-based public artworks. Illuminate SF features tours and other experiences, and runs Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.

Easton encourages people to come out and explore San Jose's increasingly illuminated downtown: "Enjoy some light," she says. "Why not?"