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‘T’is the festive season, and the San Francisco Travel Association, part of the city’s convention and visitors bureau, is making it brighter still with six light installations that are setting the streets aglow in a radiant citywide gallery called IlluminateSF.

“Light art is a trend that’s gaining traction around the world thanks to technology and programming,” said Lisa Hasenbalg, director of arts and culture for San Francisco Travel. “And since San Francisco is only seven miles by seven miles in size, visitors can easily get around to all the installations by public transport.”

To flip the switch in style, the city’s Exploratorium  science museum and the Black Rock Arts Foundation are hosting an IlluminArts Walk on 5 December. This free guided tour will begin at 5:30 pm at the permanent Language of the Birds installation, designed by Bay Area artists Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn and located at the intersection of Columbus and Broadway in North Beach. If you can’t make the tour, all the installations are accessible until the end of December, with four remaining in the city permanently.

At Language of the Birds, solar-powered books mimic birds in motion: the open pages and bindings appear as wings and LED lights within the books create patterns. Pedestrians passing under the flock will see words in various languages embedded on the plaza floor, which appear to have fallen from the pages above and represent San Francisco’s American, Italian and Chinese communities that intersect in this neighbourhood.

Bay Lights, by artist Leo Villereal.
Bay Lights, by artist Leo Villereal.

Continue along San Francisco’s waterfront Embarcadero or up Telegraph Hill via the Filbert Street steps for unbeatable vistas of the Bay Bridge and Bay Lights, the world’s largest LED light sculpture from artist Leo Villereal. The 25,000 permanent lights move in shifting patterns and were first lit in March on the bridge’s western cables.

Homouroboros, designed by Peter Hudson.
Homouroboros, designed by Peter Hudson.

Head to the Exploratorium at Pier 15 to see Homouroboros, a 24ft steel tree featuring 18 human-sized dangling monkeys. When spectators pound on the drums built into the base of the trunk, the top of the tree spins and the monkeys turn on their branches  This exhibit by San Francisco artist Peter Hudson first debuted at Burning Man in 2007.

“We are one of the rare cities in the world that get to live everyday amongst the primary artists and art of Burning Man,” Hasenbalg said. “This makes San Francisco pretty special.”

Firefly
Firefly, designed by Bay Area artist Ned Kahn.

Firefly, a permanent 12-storey kinetic sculpture by Bay Area artist Ned Kahn, is located on the front of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission building at Golden Gate and Polk Streets. The lattice front is made up of thousands of clear polycarbonate panels that shimmer in the wind, creating what looks like undulating waves. At night, as the wind presses on the panels, a small embedded magnet connected to an electrical switch triggers tiny LED lights that are coloured to resemble flickering fireflies.

In Golden Gate Park, catch a glimpse of Three Gems, designed by local artist James Turrell. The  subterranean installation, commissioned as a permanent fixture in the de Young Museum sculpture garden,  is entered via a tunnel carved into a hill and features views of the sky that are altered by subtly changing LED lighting inside the chamber.

Future’s Past
Future’s Past, designed by New Yorker Kate Raudenbush.

Finally, Future’s Past by New Yorker Kate Raudenbush is a 12ft pyramid and tree that pays homage to the collapsed civilization of the Maya and the jungle ruins of Ta Prohm in Angkor, Cambodia, located at Octavia and Hayes Streets until May 2014.

Illuminate SF is expected to become an annual winter event  with new installations already in the works for 2014 and 2015. For more information visit the SF Travel website.

Kimberley Lovato is the San Francisco Localite

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