In late April, artist Jim Campbell sat in a corner of Blooms Saloon on Potrero Hill, hovering over his laptop with a clear sightline of the 1,070-foot Salesforce Tower jutting above the distant San Francisco skyline.
As the last daylight faded away, Campbell hit a few keystrokes to switch on the installation. The tip of the tower lit up and the figures of two sepia-toned dancers appeared to maneuver across the tower’s top six floors. The crowd, gathered in the bar for the initial test of the installation, broke into applause while Campbell sipped a glass of wine and watched his creation come to life.
"I felt a little like the Wizard of Oz," Campbell later said.
On Tuesday night, Campbell will permanently switch on his installation, following a month of testing that has already lit-up social media.
"I’m less stressed about it now and more excited because we’ve seen what it looks like with imagery up there," Campbell said Friday. "I’m very happy with the visual results."
The visually-stunning work has turned the tower into one of the most visible art projects in the world. Campbell installed 11,000 lights on the top nine floors of the tower which shine inward toward the structure, creating a muted projection of ghostly moving images.
Campbell is installing cameras around San Francisco such as at Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park and along the Embarcadero. Each day’s images will create that evening’s projection — sort of like a daily civic diary. Campbell’s mind is already flying to other possibilities. One idea is to project the age of the building each night. Another is post a camera in an unusual location to capture daily life.
"I’m looking at putting one up at the dump because there’s a great shot of birds flying there and that’s kind of an indicator of how much garbage the city is generating," Campbell said.
After four years of development, Campbell spent the last month honing the installation on site with unannounced tests that sent Twitter and Facebook into a tizzy as users flooded the sites with pictures and videos of the illuminated tower.
The test images have included video of street pavers, crowds walking along Market Street, a soccer game and ocean waves. For the first year of the project, Campbell will be involved coordinating the images daily. But as prominent as the installation is, Campbell said it’s intended to fade into the skyline.
"I’m not designing something for people to go look at," Campbell said, "I’m designing something for people to notice when they happen to glance over at it."
It will be hard not to glance up, as the tower joins the western span of the Bay Bridge as highly-visible infrastructure bearing ambitious lighted art. The Salesforce Tower rising above the skyline is like a candle visible up to 20 miles away.
Campbell concedes he isn’t sure what people will think of the piece — whether some will regard it as light pollution. But like the city hovering below it, the artwork is a work in progress that will change and morph to the ideas of its creator over time.
"My goal is to basically have an ambient work," Campbell said. "That adds to the aura of the city at night."