SAN FRANCISCO -- A pioneering artist plans to turn the western span of the Bay Bridge into the region's biggest light sculpture with 25,000 bulbs flickering from its cables in sequences inspired by the ebbs and flows of the bay environment.
Leo Villareal, who has exhibited light sculptures at the National Gallery of Art and other major museums, already has mapped out a framework for computer software to operate his network of LED lights.
The project needs approval from Caltrans, but the toughest challenge could be raising $7 million in private donations needed for the project. Arts supporters on Tuesday kicked off a fundraising drive, saying they hope to start the four-month-long light installation in spring
The 25,000 white lights will shine, flicker and dim in sequences controlled by software Villareal is writing to reflect the moods and personality of the bay.
"The bridge has inspired me," he said. "This project is an outgrowth over talks about how to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the bridge this year."
Villareal said he wants his light sculpture to enhance and amplify the natural beauty of the bridge architecture and the motions of the traffic on the structure and the wind, water and waves around it.
"These are not like Las Vegas lights where you go 'I recognize that shape.' It's abstract," Villareal, a New York-based artist, said Tuesday in San Francisco. "My
Before work can begin, Caltrans must grant permits ensuring that the lights won't damage the bridge, block traffic or disrupt drivers with distractions
"From what we have seen, it appears they will be able to meet those requirements," said Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney. "This is a very detailed and serious plan."
The 1-inch LED lights will be placed on the outside of bridge cables so they won't be visible to bridge drivers and distract them, Ney said.
Laborers secured by harnesses will attach the lights to bridge cables at night to minimize disruptions to the 280,000 vehicles a day that cross the bridge, he added.
Caltrans has a program to consider proposed public art programs on soundwalls and other structures, but nothing of this scope has been proposed on a bridge, Ney said.
A necklace of lights was installed across the Bay Bridge in the 1980s, but it is permanent, unlike the light sculpture that will be removed after two years, said Ben Davis of the nonprofit Illuminate the Arts, one of the key light sculpture organizers.
Davis came up with the idea of doing a major bridge art work after he viewed an exhibit of Villareal's light sculptures at the San Jose Museum of Art last year.
"I thought we needed some highly visible art to celebrate the 75th anniversary year of the Bay Bridge," Davis said.
Villareal, who lived in the Bay Area from 1994 to 1997, agreed to take on the project and develop the software to control the timing, sequence and intensity for each of the LED bulbs.
The development of the low-energy LED lights has made it practical to do large scale light sculptures that consume only a few dollars per day of energy, Villareal said.
He plans to continue visiting the Bay Bridge regularly for inspiration in fleshing out the details of the light sequence software program.
"Each sequence of lights will have its own personality and communicate about this majestic bridge," he said.
For information about the Bay Bridge light sculpture project, view www.thebaylights.org. To make contributions to the Bay Bridge lights art project, visit www.causes.com/thebaylights.