The Bay Bridge Lights Return for an Unlimited Engagement

Light Sculptor Leo Villareal adjusting the Bay Bridge Lights in their first incarnation in 2013.  (Photo: Cy Musiker)

Light sculptor Leo Villareal is a longtime veteran of Burning Man, where art work is sometimes consumed by fire as the festival ends. So he had no regrets when his massive installation on the Bay Bridge, "Bay Lights", went dark early this year.

"Two years is a good long run for a monumental piece of public art," he said.

But Villareal, the New York City artist who designed the lights for their run from 2013 to 2015, was thrilled when so many people begged him and the project's funders to bring the lights back.

"It's a digital campfire that brings everyone together," Villareal said, "It brings out the best in people."

Illuminate, the non-profit arts group run by Ben Davis, raised $4 million and worked with Caltrans to reinstall a more robust and brighter set of LED lights -- 25,000 of them -- on the cables of the western span.

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"People want to tell me their stories of who they were with when they saw the Bay Lights," Villareal said. "And there’s so much passion and love in it. If you can solicit that reaction with an artwork, you know, we’re on to something here."

This time, the lights have been angled just a bit so that their patterns will be visible to people south as well as north of the bridge. Caltrans will pay for the upkeep, about a $250,000 a year.

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (left) joined Leo Villareal to turn on the Bay Lights in March of 2013 under rainy skies
Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (left) joined Leo Villareal to turn on the Bay Lights in March of 2013 under rainy skies (Photo Credit: Cy Musiker)

The lights change in random patterns, which are programmed in by Villareal on his computer and then sealed off from hackers. The patterns can look like flights of birds, falling stars, or waves on the bay. But Villareal says he doesn't use any representational imagery.

"Our brains can’t help but pattern recognize," Villareal said. "I like the slipperiness and the mystery."

Villareal will turn the lights on again on Saturday, Jan. 30, at about 7:25pm.

WATCH: Below is the documentary 'Impossible Light' about the installation of the Bay Lights in 2013, provided by Truly CA.

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