It’s All about the Lights


27 Steps
Nish Kothari + Anesta Iwan

“So is there some kind of magic to being able to work with so many amazing people? Is it just charisma?” I raised my hand and asked.

“It’s all 100% charisma,” Ben Davis jokes. “No, no, it’s all about light.”

It was a fantastic night to meet Ben Davis in person during the Market Street Prototyping Festival (MSPF) Meet-up event. For those who don’t know, Ben Davis is the one who formed the team that, together with artist Leo Villareal, made the San FranciscoBay Lights happen.[1] It is an emotion. It’s like the alphabet, each letter or each bulb doesn’t tell much, but when strung together they tell a 1.8-mile long story! The goal was always to enlighten the city – to brighten but also to entertain. And that, despite all of the “it’s impossible” commentaries along the way, was what kept the project going. It’s all about light.

The Bay Lights, Leo Villareal + Illuminate, @ Bay Bridge
(image: Anesta Iwan)

But how does it work? It is really fascinating how our mind works – how we’re able to formulate and make up stories from bits of pieces of information. I was at the new SF MoMA not too long ago and came across a piece by Jim Campbell – a series of five diffused panels of acrylic with moving “images” behind them. I stood in front of the piece for about 60 seconds and that whole time I was trying to figure out what it was supposed to be. It was like watching a movie midway and trying to articulate the overall plot. Wavelengths it was called. And upon closer inspection, I then saw the LED panels that backed each of the acrylic panels. It was all just a series of blinking lights! But somehow, when light moves and blends behind a diffused panel, my mind consistently tried to make a narrative from them. It was just light.

Wavelengths, Jim Campbell – @SF MoMA
(image: Aneta Iwan)

Light, in any form, whether natural daylight or artificial lighting, has always held a significant social, but also biological role. Since the invention of the heliotherapy (late 1800s)[2], the science industry has experimented with the potential positive effects of light – such as skin treatment and depression. There is a form of healing. It’s in the photons; it’s in the lights.

So how can we create a piece in which we become conscious when a light touches us? A recent project Hakanai has formed a dimensionality to light.[3] It is no longer just a projection, light has become an ephemeral third dimension! To entertain this idea, we discussed this with a fellow lighting expert, Adonis Gaitatzis, whom we’ve met at the same MSPF event. How can we project three-dimensional light? Anything that is projected needs a surface – that’s true. But can that surface or medium be something invisible? Not in the form of a veil or fabric, but something almost intangible. Mist. There is magic when water and light come together – it is as if every droplet becomes that projection screen. When this happens, we can now perceive the light dropping.

Hakanai,  Adrien M / Claire B

Can we take home a drop of purple rain as we walk through 27 steps? Can it heal and can it tell the story of peace? This is something we believe, the magic lies in the light.



[1] “The Bay Lights”. 2016. Thebaylights.Org.

[2] “Heliotherapy – Light Therapy”. 2016. Sciencemuseum.Org.Uk.

[3] “Dancer Bends Light In Stunning Projection-Mapped Performance | The Creators Project”. 2016. The Creators Project.


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