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San Francisco's 'other' bridge prepares to shine

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 4, 2013 at 3:18 am •  Published: March 4, 2013
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But it was at Burning Man, the annual art and music festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, that the artist found his medium. In 1997, he built a light sculpture as homecoming beacon for his tribe's camp site. In the years since, his creations have been featured in galleries and museums around the world, although he still sits on the festival's board and attends every summer.

"People focus a lot on the lights, but in a way the most interesting thing about his work is that it's really dealing with algorithms, it's really about emerging software, unpredictable software," said Steven Johnson, author of "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation" and a longtime friend of Villareal's. "Because of technology and software really being so central to the Bay Area, to have its great epic urban art project be fundamentally all about code, it's just pretty a much a marriage made in heaven."

Like many artists, Villareal is hesitant to delve too deeply into his creative process, preferring to let his audiences draw their own conclusions.

He said he drew inspiration from the bridge's surroundings, such as the bay waters that flow under it and the birds that soar above it, as well as from mathematical formulas and physics principles.

The finished product, he said, is something like the song-shuffling program on a mp3 player, only the "songs" — his light sequences — do not begin and end at the same point every time.

"It's been very painterly, really, a process of adding light and taking it away," he said. "My goal is for people not to worry about what they missed, but to really be with it and experience it."

Spectators who have seen Villareal working on the lights with his laptop in recent months already have been inspired to set their brief previews to music and post the results on YouTube.

"Bay Lights" is scheduled to be exhibited from dusk until 2 a.m. until March 2015. Organizers say they have raised $6 million of the $8 million for the project from private funding sources.

To raise money to keep the lights on, Davis has created a program that allows people to sponsor or name a light for $50 each. One family bought a series of them in honor of a relative who had worked as an engineer on the bridge for 15 years.

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Follow Lisa Leff at http://twitter.com/scoopscout