Optic Flare




This series was sponsored by the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District grant and the Princess Grace Foundation

All installations take place at the California Historical Society’s 678 Mission Street Address
See the Engineers of Illumination Schedule for a reprise of all installations at the site later in 2015

California Historical Society’s Website

Scott Stark

Shimmering Spectacles

Media artist Scott Stark kicks off the Engineers of Illumination series with SHIMMERING SPECTACLES, on the front and side windows of the California Historical Society's Mission Street building. Stark animates a unique collection of original stereoview photographs from the 1915 PPIE and intermixes them with contemporary imagery, bringing to life the multiple spectacles that comprised the legendary San Francisco world's fair. In the process, each window turns into a "spectacle" - a lens that pulls into sharp focus these defining, magical moments of San Francisco history. THROUGH APRIL 16. Part of a new series entitled Engineers of Illumination which continues throughout 2015.

March 8th – April 30th, 2015

Kerry Laitala

The City Luminous: Spectral Canopy Variation pays tribute to the innovative lighting design of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) of 1915. This variation is a pastiche of archival material from the fair intercut with expressionistic images that expand upon these stunning lighting effects. They provide an imaginative view into the past inspired by Walter D'Arcy Ryan, the exposition's illumination engineer, and the avant-garde dancer Loie Fuller, who raised funds to preserve the Palace of Fine Arts when the fair ended. The projected light piece features Laura Ackley, author of San Francisco’s Jewel City (Heyday, 2015), as a Star Maiden, an iconic statue by A. Stirling Calder who created 90 Star Maidens for the fair's Court of the Universe (earlier called the Court of the Sun and Stars). Laitala also collaborated with dancer Jenny Stulberg, who performs a tribute to the spirit of pioneer dancer/choreographer/inventor Loie Fuller. For more information on other projects in Laitala’s City Luminous Series, go to:
Friday, May 1 –Sunday, June 28, 2015.

Kevin Cain

The Illuminated Palace
Architect Bernard Maybeck envisioned his Palace of Fine Arts as a fleeting ruin, a grand transplant bringing the eighteenth century notion of architectural 'follies' from the English countryside to the PPIE.  Maybeck and his Palace were both enspelled by the past; he spoke of his desire to free the Palace from the obligatory physical limitations he understood all built objects in the world must have.  If the Palace is a chrysalis, the butterfly Maybeck sought is something his contemporary Rose Macaulay sums up with her lovely phrase:  'the pleasure of ruins'.  In a new work, The Illuminated Palace, Kevin Cain uses light to explore Maybeck's fantasy of dematerializing the Palace.  Combining lensless camera techniques from the dawn of photography with contemporary digital views, Cain’s work evokes the sweet languor of a fictive past, the heart of the Palace.  Cain looks on the Palace, itself now part of our actual past, as Maybeck looked on ruins:  for delight, for reflection and humbly for context.  In a bittersweet nod to the Palace's initial planned temporality, Cain weaves into his projections a likely future in which the rising Pacific may claim the Palace and its lagoon once and for all. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015 - Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ben Wood

Lopa Pikta (Rope Picture)
The 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) celebrated the winning of the West: “manifest destiny” had prevailed, the country had spread from sea to sea. At the center of the fair stood a huge statue called the End of the Trail, whose plaque read: “the drooping storm beaten figure of the Indian on the spent pony symbolizes the end of the race which was once a mighty people.” Native Americans were no longer seen as obstacles to expansion. Lopa Pikta or Rope Picture refers to the term used by Ishi to describe motion pictures. Through pictures and sound recordings, this installation shares some of the collection produced by Ishi, Alfred Kroeber, Thomas Waterman, and Saxton Pope, during their extraordinary cooperative effort to preserve the language, culture and legacy of the Yahi.

Thursday, August 20, 2015 – Sunday, October 4, 2015

Elise Baldwin

Field of Vision
Much as the completion of the Panama Canal in 1915 was a 20th-century engineering triumph over geographical obstacles, the Pan Pacific International Exposition was a demonstration of human and cultural resilience in response to the devastation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The fantastical city of the PPIE was born from the shadow of this disaster, a message to the world celebrating the combined powers of technology, industrialization, cultural determinism and globalization. Elise Baldwin- whose artwork is often inspired by the relationships between humans and nature, memory and technology- explores this pivotal moment in San Francisco's history. Panoramic landscape photos shot of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake are juxtaposed with those of the PPIE, underscoring the surreal phoenix-like rebuilding of the city and construction of the fairgrounds. The ubiquitous miniaturization of natural landscapes within the Exposition and its advertisements are also used as sources, illustrating shifting perspectives around physical distance and domination of nature. A collage is created, overlaying photographic panoramas from different years, maps and other documents from the era to create a rich visual assemblage of this historical San Francisco event.

Thursday, October 8, 2015 – Sunday, November 22, 1915


  • November 23–29: Shimmering Spectacles, by Scott Stark
  • November 30–December 6: Lopa Pikta (Rope Picture), by Ben Wood
  • December 7–13: The Illuminated Palace, by Kevin Cain
  • December 14–20: Field of Vision, by Elise Baldwin
  • December 21–January 3: The City Luminous: Spectral Canopy Variation, by Kerry Laitala

Optic Flare is a collective of experimental media artists with significant experience in creating light-based installations and performances in public spaces.