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San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge gets a lot of glory, and rightfully so. But on 5 March, it’s the city’s “other” bridge that will step into the spotlight, or more precisely, into the light of 25,000 LED bulbs, when internationally-acclaimed artist Leo Villareal transforms the Bay Bridge into the largest LED light sculpture in the world.

From 8:30 pm, people around the world can tune into The Bay Lights’ one-hour Grand Lighting webcast, with Villareal activating the installation at 9 pm via his laptop. The webcast will be archived on the website and live images will be streamed throughout the life of the project.

“The Bay Area is incredibly inspirational to me,” Villareal said. “I lived in San Francisco in the early 1990s and worked at a research lab in Palo Alto. There is such a wonderful spirit of innovation and creativity here that opened my mind and helped me to integrate art and technology in a deep way.”

The contemporary public artwork, installed on the north-facing vertical suspension cables on the western span of the bridge, measures 1.8 miles long and more than 500ft high. The installation will shine for two years, illuminated from dusk until 2 am nightly, and will be visible from virtually anywhere in San Francisco, the Marin hills and parts of the East Bay. The best view will be from San Francisco’s eastern waterfront, The Embarcadero.

“Each of the lights is individually controllable and can display 255 levels of brightness,” explained Villareal. “I write custom software that creates sophisticated effects mimicking those found in nature. My interest is in how a set of numbers can appear to have personality and life.”

The Albuquerque-born artist said the project took two and a half years to create, and was designed specifically for the Bay Bridge using its traffic, weather and activities as his muse. The movement of the artwork’s ever-changing patterns is intended to augment and reflect the surroundings, Villareal explained. 

If you prefer to savour the art while enjoying a good meal, pop into Epic Roasthouse with its feet-in-the-water location and larger-than-life bridge view. Further away, but no less spectacular, is The Top of The Mark on the 19th floor of the InterContinental Hotel, where a wraparound panorama takes in the entire city, and bay – bridge to bridge.

A guide and map to public viewing spots is available online.

Kimberley Lovato is the San Francisco Localite.

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