Soma Showcases Burner Culture on the Embarcadero

soma crane installSFist tells us about a new Big Art installation on Pier 14. Soma was made by the Flaming Lotus Girls, and debuted at Burning Man in 2009.

Bizarrely, Pier 14 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero is just to the South of Pier 2, between the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge, rather than near the Exploratorium at Pier 17.  Maybe they should have put it in San Francisco’s SoMa district, the new epicenter of the tech industry.

From sfist:

New Burning Man Art Comes To Pier 14

soma_burningman.jpg Soma at Burning Man in 2009. jondissed/flickr

On July 21, just after sunset, a new interactive, LED sculpture will light up Pier 14. The 28 x 40 foot stainless steel installation is a modified version of piece that premiered at Burning Man in 2009.

Named “Soma,” which refers to its abstract depiction of two neurons connected by an axon bridge, the sculpture was created by local art collective the Flaming Lotus Girls with support from the Port of San Francisco and the Black Rock Arts Foundation (Burning Man’s arts nonprofit), it was built using stainless steel handrails gathered from a local shop, click here to learn more about it. The project also raised $17,000 on Kickstarter and they’re still accepting donations here.

Unlike the Burning Man edition, which shot fire from multiple points, the waterfront version will feature LEDs, which are controlled by buttons accessible to the public. The Flaming Lotus Girls write that the LED units are “capable of producing 1.6 million colors” and the computer-controlled buttons allow people to activate a “trans-synaptic action.”

According to the Flaming Lotus Girls’s blog, the sculpture will turn on ten minutes after sunset and stay lit till 2 a.m., just like The Bay Lights. The exhibit is open 24 hours a day,. Soma will be up until July 2015.

“Soma” – an interesting choice to represent Burner culture. Why, you ask?

Soma is indeed an accepted term for a neuron. It is more than that, though. Use of the word goes back beyond even Greek times, to the Indian/Aryan Vedas, the oldest known texts that are still in use today. It is the first known drug, a botanical entheogen consumed in rituals and considered “a God for Gods”.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASoma is also the name of the wonder drug in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World which is used to control the population in blissful ignorance. In the book it is described as an opiate, hallucinogen, and stimulant, with no side effects. The British-born Huxley has a long association with the Bay Area. He was the major inspiration behind the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, where there is a “sacred vessel” meeting room named after him. His dystopian novel is considered by some, along with his student George Orwell’s 1984, as a blueprint for modern society.

pillshead“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution”

 – Aldous Huxley, UC Berkeley, 1962.

“We’re a self-service cult. Wash your own brain” – Larry Harvey.

Here’s Huxley’s whole speech:


How Glow Can You Go?

sparklepony-1278995200It’s one thing to be a sparkle pony; it’s quite another to be a Darkwad. Don’t be a darkwad, Burners. Please. If you won’t glow, don’t go. No matter how fucked up you get, surely you can activate at least one blinky light on your person.

Anyway, there’s no need to fret, n00bies. Lighten up! Ben G from wants to sort you out. Need some glow? You can find him at White Ocean’s camp, 10 o’clock between Cinammon and Darjeeling.

glow braceletsThis year, Ben is taking the glow to another level. He’s throwing a convention in San Francisco called Glowcon – billed as the world’s first convention for glowy technology. And about time too!

It’s at the Mos-glow-ny center…just kidding. Venue is in negotiation and has not been finalized yet. Quite how they’re going to be showcasing lasers and UV lighting effects will be interesting to see…presumably they turn the main lights off, and the black lights on.

Ben says:

Last year you covered the Glowing Away party I threw with White Ocean:

Who needs snow shoes?

Who needs snow shoes, when you’ve got glow shoes?

This year I’m throwing something much bigger and much more ambitious.  The weekend before Burning Man (Saturday August 16th), I’m teaming up with a bunch of technologists, entrepreneurs, and burners to throw GlowCon 2014– the world’s first convention for glowy technology.  The convention will be held in San Francisco\, the heart of all things Burning Man and Technology. [venue TBD]

There’s going to be a ton of new light technology on display, from crazy lasers to programmable LEDs, to wearables that light up. We’re going to showcase everything from independent inventors all the way up to giant corporations that make the glowy shit burners love, as well as showcasing amazing works of art from Burning Man camps old and new.

The main thing we’re looking for right now is creators, inventors, and entrepreneurs who want to showcase and/or sell their glowy creations to the burner community.  Individuals and organizations interested in registering a booth or showcasing their work should apply before all the spots are taken up:

Who’s behind the event?  A bunch of burners who love technology:

Ben Greenberg (Me) — creator and Engineer at Lyft
Matt Earnest aka Disco Lyft — community leader at Lyft and known for his glowy mustache car 
Devon Meyers — an independent inventor of hardware-controlled and wearable LEDs.   He’s deep in the Maker’s Faire and Burner community and has worked on dozens of burner/glow projects.

Maybe you can catch a ride to Glowcon in the Disco Lyft.

Will Lighting Luminaries Lumigeek be giving a keynote? Instead of TED talks, they can have LED talks…

glow dancingBurners sure do love their glowy shit – in fact, it is essential on the Playa. Even if you’re too cool to be a raver, you need glow. Let others find you, so you don’t get run over by a bike or an art car. And help you find your friends on the dance floor. Bringing one item isn’t enough – if you’re going to be out there for a week, you’re gonna need a ton of glow. Burners generally prefer battery-operated glow to MOOPy single-use glowsticks that get discarded or dropped after a few hours. But don’t let the Burnier-than-thous dim your shine – if it glows, it’s good, in my book.

This event sounds fantastic, and kudos to Ben for putting it together. White Ocean are 2 for 2 right now: come on, other camps, what you got?



body paint glow

glow hottie








glowing burning man amurphyre

California Gleaming: World’s Biggest Light Art to Stay

bay lights romanceA year ago, Burning Man Project director, Disorient founder and blinky light impresario Leo Villareal revealed the largest commission in the history of electronic art: $8 million to install 25,000 LED lights on the north-facing San Francisco span of the Bay Bridge. Some have called the 1.8 mile, 26 football fields long Bay Lights the largest sculpture in the history of humanity – while it’s certainly bigger than the Sphinx, I find this claim a bit of a stretch. The end result is amazing, for the best view of all get the ferry to the main ferry building just as the sun is setting.

The Bay Lights has been very popular since its debut, and was a notable feature of the city during the America’s Cup competition. WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg stepped up at the last minute to enable the project, adding to his initial $100,000 donation with a whopping $1.5 million contribution.

BayLightsLeo’s programming incorporated years of historical data related to the bridge:

Leo Villareal, a New Yorker who used to live in Silicon Valley, said he was inspired by the energy of the waves, tides, fog, wind, fish, boats on the bay, and the cars and trucks. “It’s very open-ended, and people have very personal reactions to it”

More recently, some of the lights started to go out:

In May, Ben Davis and his team noticed strands of the lights were staying on, while others were shutting off.

The problem seemed to be spreading, with 30-percent of the lights malfunctioning in some areas, marring artist Leo Villareal’s vast moving display.

Technicians walked the bridge, inspecting the strands of lights strapped to the cables, suspecting the wind, salt air and constant vibrations as the culprits.

“In taking in what was going on they figured out there’s a little bit of water was seeping in due to that harsh environment,” said Davis. “That was just enough to cause those problems.”

With the lights failing at a rapid pace, Davis pondered the worst-case scenario; turning off the lights and taking them down.

But instead, his team rallied.

Artist Leo Villareal reprogrammed the lights to work around the malfunctioning strands.

And light manufacturer Philips Color Kinetics agreed to finance repair and replacement of the lights as well as figure out a long-term solution.

“They’ve come in, they’ve helped us assess the problem,” said Davis. “They’ve owned the problem and the solution and they’re being completely responsible.”

The response from the community to the Bay Lights has been very positive, boosting business and tourism. From ABC Local:

bay lights how it works“It’s been overwhelming,” said Bay Lights artist Leo Villareal. “We’ve had 25 million people have seen the Bay Lights over the last year and it’s just an extraordinary response.”

Artist Leo Villareal designed the computer-driven strands of LEDs that paint flowing patterns in the night sky and bring crowds to waterfront restaurants.

“People come in earlier and stay later in order to be able to enjoy the lights on the bridge,” said Pete Sittnick with Waterbar and Epic Roasthouse.

Even hotels are getting a boost.

“Our top three floors, we’ve branded and marketed as Bay Lights rooms,” said Kory Stewart with Hotel Vitale and Americano Restaurant. “And we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in those bookings. It’s really become kind of a centerpiece of the neighborhood.”

A centerpiece with an expiration date.

“This piece was installed with a two year lifespan in mind,” Villareal said.

When Caltrans repaints the bridge in 2015, the lights will come down. But maybe not forever.

“The thought now is people really want the Bay Lights to remain for another 10 years, so we’re embarking on that effort,” Villareal said.

Rebuilding the lights as a permanent installation will cost $12 million. It’s money they’ll have to raise privately and bit by bit.

Caltrans needs to take the lights down to paint the bridge. The plan is to get them back up and running in time for San Francisco to host the Superbowl in 2015, and install more hardy lights with a longer life span.

one of the Bay Lights modules, with a sample of the cable it will be attached to. 3d Printing has been used in the prototyping

one of the Bay Lights modules, with a sample of the cable it will be attached to. 3d Printing has been used in the prototyping

Caltrans says the lights must be removed in March 2015, the end of the two years, so crews can paint the bridge for routine maintenance. And leaders of the Bay Lights project say they will raise $12 million and get the necessary government permits for a second, longer act. 

“Bay Lights has raised the bar worldwide on what can be accomplished with art in large public places,” said Ben Davis, a board member with Illuminate the Arts, the nonprofit doing the project. “It has shown that a project can be done on this scale and bring the community together.”

From Bay City News:

Illuminate the Arts raised $8.7 million to turn on the display in 2013 and keep it lit until March 2015.

At Thursday’s anniversary event, Davis said the organization is kicking off a new fundraising campaign.

First, the group wants to ensure the lights stay on until 2016 after a brief scheduled shutdown next year for Caltrans to perform required maintenance.

He said the installation has to come down then for crews to make sure there is no rust and for paint touch-ups.

Once the show is back up and running, Illuminate the Arts is pushing to raise $12 million to keep the lights shining until 2026, Davis said.

“The idea of not having it there is almost distressing,” he said.

The project extension still needs to be approved by Caltrans, according to the Times Herald:

Villareal said he is confident the project will win another 10 years because of the experience gained in planning, funding and securing permits the first time around.

“It took an enormous amount of planning,” he said. “Yes. I think it will be easier this time.”

Caltrans and other agencies with jurisdiction over the bay and the Bay Bridge must approve permits to put back the sculpture. Caltrans officials had no immediate response on the new plan.

 Davis said the wiring system can be put back in 2016, although newer and tougher LED bulbs will be installed to withstand the harsh bay weather…He said his group plans to have the light sculpture back in action in early 2016 when the Bay Area will host the 50th Superbowl at the 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

The lights consume $30,000 of electricity per year, which is offset by solar panels at UC Davis.