On a clear night, the crown of Salesforce Tower in San Francisco is impossible to miss. Lit up by 11,000 LED lights, the top eight floors of the tower make up Day for Night, a stunning public light sculpture created by contemporary artist Jim Campbell. The ongoing light installation launched in 2018, and, for almost as long, Campbell has generously helped CCA students in Film Professors Lynn Marie Kirby and Jeanne Finley’s courses share their work on the tower, too.
“Jim has been working with the students for several years. Not just technically—conceptually,” says Kirby. “Jim really invests in their work, and now he's invested his entire studio.”
In January 2021, Campbell and his studio, White Light, launched an ongoing monthly Midnight Artist Collaboration series dedicated to showcasing the work of young emerging Bay Area artists every night from midnight to 1 am. A number of the recent projections were created by CCA students or recent alumni: February’s Zoom-inspired animation by Zihan Jia (MFA Fine Arts 2021) and Yiqing Sun (MFA Fine Arts 2021); March’s interpretation of the COVID–19 virus by Huan Cheng (MFA Film 2020) and Narges Poursadeqi (MFA Fine Arts 2020); and, of course, a New Year’s fireworks projection by Xujia Chen (MFA Film 2020) and Caizhi Wang (MFA Film 2020).
The Midnight Artist Collaboration series is another way that Campbell’s support for Bay Area artists presents itself. “Jim is a renowned artist and a generous, open person,” says Kirby. “He is a great model for students.”
Finley adds that he also demonstrates a way to handle oneself while bringing a project to life—or in this case, light. “There’s a lot of potential stress: technically, conceptually, the kind of form in which you’re working,” she says. “Jim just approaches it all with magnanimity, and that energy of his permeates to all of us.”
It’s the kind of creative connection that could only happen at CCA: students from the graduate Film and Fine Arts programs learning from a high-profile guest artist in courses taught by world-class faculty with a final result that's purely San Francisco—their artwork illuminating the night sky from the top of the tallest building in the city.
While students are working on these projects, Finley and Kirby talk about the importance of the tower’s location in San Francisco, as well as the past and present identities of the city. “It’s a very public site, but a public site within San Francisco, within California,” says Kirby. “So I think something that students began to think about with their work was, ‘Where am I from? Why am I doing this?’”
“I grew up in the Bay Area and remember San Francisco before Salesforce Tower and many of the other buildings that now mark the skyline,” says Maxine Schoefer-Wulf (MFA Fine Arts 2020), one of the first four CCA students to work with Campbell on projections for the tower, back in spring 2019. Her projection, Counting Moons, played with scale—small scratches and hole punches in 16mm film frames would become enlarged, like the moon, on the top of the tower. “I wanted to juxtapose the moon, which has been here for so much longer than any of us, with the rapidly transforming San Francisco skyline,” she says.
Scale is one of the key challenges of the project. “What looks good on your laptop compared to what looks good on top of the Salesforce Tower is this incredible leap,” Finley says. Students also have to stay within very specific parameters for their projects, like learning to work without sound and—most importantly—learning to collaborate fully with a partner.
“Collaboration is a kind of generosity,” says Kirby. “Working with students to understand that aspect of collaborative work—it is about the risk, the joy, the openness—is super important. It shifts away from a kind of ego-driven approach that is often related with artmaking. They work as a team. Students actually have to dig deep into what it means to collaborate fully, generously.”
“Collaboration is a kind of generosity.”
Working together, apart
In 2020, students in Kirby’s Film Film and Moving Images courses had to learn to collaborate from afar during the COVID–19 pandemic. Their projects took on a timeliness, expressing many of the universal challenges, fears, and experiences of people in the Bay Area and around the world.
Zihan Jia and Yiqing Sun’s projection, which was highlighted in Campbell’s Midnight Artists Collaboration series in February, features a colorful animation of people connecting on Zoom, parts of their bodies occasionally disappearing and reappearing. “We wanted to express, in this funny way, that video conferencing can never accurately capture everything the other person wants to express, and that face-to-face communication cannot be replaced by online communication,” say the artists about the concept.
Consuelo Tupper Hernandez (MFA Fine Arts 2021) and Rachel Parish (MFA Fine Arts 2022) explored the ways they were still connected, even while they worked remotely. “We were interested in how we were still bodily connected, even through being isolated,” says Parish. “We began discussing how the sun was able to touch both of us at the same time, to meet us within the walls of our separate homes, to visit with us and go on a journey together.”
Other projections featured a masked person walking around San Francisco and other cities around the world, and an animation of the COVID–19 virus. “We didn't put the work up on the tower for a long time because of the pandemic, the BLM protests, and the fires,” says Kirby. “Jim was very cognizant of what was happening, politically and emotionally, in the city.”
It felt something like relief to see her work on the tower, Parish says, “to see something take place in real life that was a process of a continual series of collaborations—between Consuelo and I, but also, with the rest of the class, with Lynn and with Jim and his team. Everyone was patient and attentive. Yet there were so many dramatic shifts and reframing of attention over the spring and summer that I think to say it was ‘just exciting to be on a big platform like that’ would be out of step with reality. It felt like patience.”
Illuminating lifelong connections
Finley and Kirby’s collaboration with Campbell is informal and constantly evolving, offering new and unexpected opportunities for students and alumni. “This experience has not only been a tremendous education for our students, but it’s been a tremendous education for Lynn and myself, in all kinds of ways,” says Finley.
When Finley goes on sabbatical in 2021–2022, she’ll continue working with Campbell in a different way. “I proposed to Jim that I would work with students who were several years out of their graduate program—alumni that I knew would be able to collaborate and who have had several years to grow into who they are as artists, and can come back to an opportunity like this as mature artists and as former students, which is really different,” she says. So she’s bringing a few alumni along for the ride.
“One of the joys of teaching is that after your students graduate and they go on into the world, they become colleagues and friends,” Kirby adds. “There’s the student-teacher relationship, and then the relationship one develops with other artists across generations. I have relationships with artists in their 90s and artists in their 20s and 30s and 40s, and former students from many, many years ago. This is a joy of teaching, the opportunity to expand the dialogue and conversation and friendship that developed in the classroom.”
May 5, 2021