San Francisco’s neighborhoods will transform into a luminous gallery of art at night during the holiday season for the 10th annual Illuminate SF™ Festival of Light. The self-guided tour begins and ends at 5M, a new mixed-use district in SOMA that has transformed four acres of parking lots and underutilized buildings into a vibrant community. 62 temporary and permanent light art installations, many within walking distance of one another, have been designed by acclaimed creators from all over the world.
Illuminate SF light art installations can be experienced across the city from the Embarcadero to the Inner Sunset, North Beach to Bayview, and while flying in or out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The works come to life at dusk, turning evenings into an illuminating adventure, especially when combined with exploring San Francisco’s world-class restaurants, nightlife, cultural events and holiday activations.
Spectacular New Additions to the Illuminate SF Festival of Light
The Wind-Baffles: The iconic wind baffle structures that anchor The Parks at 5M, a new, vibrant community connected to the surrounding fabric of San Francisco’s SOMA District by a cohesive network of public spaces, are the brainchild of Jerry van Eyck, founder of !melk, an award-winning urban design and landscape architecture firm. Built to mitigate wind, the baffles or “wind breakers” are artfully illuminated from the outside and complemented with a soft glow that radiates through the perforations in the upper zones. Though made from steel, a material associated with heaviness and industry, the baffles are often referred to as “flowers” for their stem and leaf-like design elements. Come nightfall they transform into breathtaking sculptures and suddenly seem to float.
Helical Trace: A permanent installation inside the new LUMA Hotel in Mission Bay, Helical Trace is local artist Jim Campbell’s newest contribution to San Francisco’s Light Art Trail. The dynamic light installation can be seen from the street through the lobby’s floor-to-ceiling three-story windows. The prolific artist who installed Day for Night atop the Salesforce Tower created this striking installation that looks different from every angle and uses the reflection of the windows to amplify its movement. At a distance, the helix form gives the illusion of water across light. The figures within climb an infinite stretch of waterfall, allowing Campbell to create delight out of physical struggle.
Franchise Freedom: Immersive Arts Alliance will bring the acclaimed aerial light performance Franchise Freedom to San Francisco for five nights in January. Created by internationally renowned Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta of DRIFT, Franchise Freedom is comprised of 600 illuminated drones that will fly from Treasure Island over the San Francisco Bay towards the Embarcadero, allowing visibility along the shorelines in San Francisco, Sausalito, Emeryville and Berkeley. Based on a biological algorithm from over 10 years of research into starlings’ flight behavior, Franchise Freedom stretches boundaries between nature and technology and generates an impactful social connection.
Lucy in the Sky: One of two new light art installations joining the City’s extensive Civic Arts Collection, Erwin Redl’s Lucy in the Skyis a landmark artwork in the city’s new Central Subway (first opening for weekend service on Nov. 19). Located in the Union Square/Market Street Station, the immersive installation is comprised of over 500 translucent 10 x 10-inch light panels, each containing an array of color LEDs. The panels are suspended along the entire length of the concourse level’s ceiling, spanning nearly 670 feet. Installed in a diamond-shaped pattern, the light panels are computer programmed to slowly change color and display simple patterns, creating a kaleidoscopic experience.
Untitled: Along the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit (VN-BRT) Geary Street Station’s north and southbound boarding platforms, Jorge Pardo’s lighting sculpture brings a pop of whimsical light and color. Comprised of painted steel, fiberglass, acrylic and LED light fixtures, Untitled is playful and sophisticated with engaging use of color, form, movement, space and light.
Peace in the Middle East: Taravat Talepasand’s Peace in the Middle Eastreturns as a permanent installation in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Grand Lobby. Hung from the ceiling, this intricate neon artwork (featuring the word “peace” in Farsi “صلح”) explores the cultural taboos that reflect on gender and political authority through Talepasand’s lens as an Iranian-American woman.
Lantern Stories: San Francisco:This public art installation of 29 illustrated lanterns by award-winning interdisciplinary artist Yu-Wen Wu illuminates San Francisco Chinatown’s history, culture and community. Creating a luminous canopy on the 600 block of Grant Avenue, the lanterns relate the long and fraught history and legacy of Chinese immigration in the U.S. They feature images of Bruce Lee, Amy Tan, journalist Helen Zia, pioneer restaurateur Cecilia Chang and others. Many highlight the arts, calligraphy, music and performance, as well as the community’s strong commitment to education, entrepreneurship and social justice.
GLOW: Discover the Art of Light: The Exploratorium is bringing back its popular – GLOW: Discover the Art of Light from Nov. 17 through Jan. 29, 2023, with six artists illuminating Pier 15 with light sculptures big and small. In Gallery 3, Jen Lewin’s The Last Ocean is an expansive landscape of interactive platforms that illuminate to resemble a glowing ice field. Created from reclaimed ocean plastic, the platform’s five-sided pieces form a beautiful geometric tessellation — a repeating pattern of flat shapes with no gaps.
In the Black Box, Anila Quayyam Agha’s All the Flowers are For Me is inspired by Islamic textiles, architecture, and floral motifs. A single beacon of light glows from within a suspended steel cube, producing immersive patterns that ripple and change as visitors move through the space. Similarly, Agha’s Teardrop (after Robert Irwin) interweaves delicate, traditional Islamic decorative geometric patterns and architecture with modern materials. The work is inspired by jaalis (intricate, carved screens), which cast moving shadows as the sun rises and falls.
Entangled Attraction and Raylights, a pair of installations by Resonance Studio artists Sally Weber and Craig Newswanger, immerse visitors in trails of light in motion. Entangled Attraction features 100 pinpoints of light that appear to orbit around each other when viewed from afar, while Raylights produces ever-changing, mandala-like light patterns synchronized to ambient sounds.
Let’s Glow SF: Downtown San Francisco will again boast the largest holiday projecting mapping event in the U.S. with the return of Let’s Glow SF. Running Dec. 2 to 11, the nightly journey of light and color will feature stunning whimsical, abstract, and naturalistic winter-themed works by local and international artists projected onto four iconic buildings.
For detailed information on the #IlluminateSF festival, installations and artists, as well as downloadable light art maps, visit Illuminate SF.