You know Leo Villareal if you are one of the estimated 50 million people who have witnessed – and fallen in love with – the nightly light show that graced the Bay Bridge for the last two years. The renowned artist is back in the Bay Area this week to reinstall the 25,000-LED light sculpture, which he describes as a “life-altering experience,” and to stage Spacetime, an exhibit of new domestic-scale light sculptures.
“I lived in San Francisco in the 90s, working at a research lab in Palo Alto. I had many major breakthrough here and have always had a deep love for the Bay Area,” Villareal says about the much-anticipated homecoming. As with The Bay Lights, Spacetime draws on the New Mexican native’s desire to create immersive experiences through LEDs. “Light is very powerful. It is universal and has the ability to connect on a deep level,” explains Villareal. “I often time speak of my pieces as “digital campfires” – communal experiences that people gather around.”
Each artwork in Spacetime is a carefully constructed composition of white and color LEDs arranged in geometric forms and evolving over time. Reflecting Villareal’s fascination with elements of chance and randomization (the LED lights along the Bay Bridge’s 3,000 cables are programmed to never repeat), the works are what Villareal calls “complex organisms,” albeit built with hardware and software. “The sequences are presented in a random order and for a random amount of time. I like operating on the threshold of perception with the goal of preserving the mystery,” Villareal says.