The ‘Bay Lights’ Creator Leo Villareal On Where Tech Meets Art [TCTV]

Last night was the grand lighting ceremony for The Bay Lights, the $8.8 million art installation that will turn the historically drab San Francisco Bay Bridge into the world’s largest LED light sculpture every night for the next two years.

It’s clearly a work of art first and foremost, but there is a lot of technology at play here too. The 25,000 LED lights that are attached to the 1.8 mile western span of the Bay Bridge are all individually programmed with software algorithms that create a generative sequence making it so that the patterns never occur twice. The hardware aspect is also a technological feat, with the lights being held up by custom-designed clips and engineered to withstand harsh weather conditions for months on end. And the project, which is all privately funded, has attracted the attention and support of a number of San Francisco Bay Area tech industry power hitters including Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, SV Angel founder and longtime investor Ron Conway, Y Combinator partner and former Googler Paul Buchheit, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, and others.

So TechCrunch TV swung by the press event preceding the official lighting ceremony to hear more about the project. It was a bit of a press scrum, but we elbowed our way in and were permitted to introduce ourselves and ask two questions of The Bay Lights’ artist Leo Villareal. He himself has a background in both art and technology — his formal education is in sculpture and interactive communications, but he has also spent time working in the software world at Paul Allen’s Interval Research in Palo Alto during the 1990s.

In the video embedded above, you can see the scene at the presser and hear Villareal talk briefly about the intersection of technology and art and the tech challenges of installing The Bay Lights.

I also liked a bit of what he said off camera during the press conference, when someone asked him what they should be “looking for” in the work and what his vision was. It seemed to really highlight the underlying connection between science and artistic beauty. He said:

“I’m interested in rules, and underlying structures. I have worked with software, and had amazing formative experiences [in the industry]… What people will be seeing are abstract sequences which are inspired by kinetic activity around the bridge. They’re very open-ended, and highly subjective.”

It really is a beautiful sight. It will be interesting to see if the Bay Bridge soon becomes as much of an inspiration to Silicon Valley and San Francisco’s visionaries as its traditionally more beautiful neighbor, the Golden Gate Bridge, has been.

Here is the livestream of The Bay Lights, which will be switched on every evening from dusk until 2:00am PT.