The four-year-old instant-classic LED art installation Entwined will return next month for its longest run yet in Golden Gate Park, but at a different location and with a massive new addition. We've got behind-the-scenes photos of the colorful magic that’s in the works.
San Francisco's new annual razzle-dazzle holiday hit for the last three years has been the Golden Gate Park LED forest art installation Entwined. And the SF Parks Alliance just announced that artist Charles Gadeken’s collection of 12- to 20-foot color-changing, illuminated tree sculptures Entwined will be returning to the park for its fourth year, with a lighting ceremony on Thursday. December 7 from 4-8 p.m. p.m. (As usual, it's in conjunction with the lighting ceremony for the nearby Uncle John’s Tree on the same evening).
Entwined’s forest of illuminated light is coming back to Golden Gate Park this winter… with a twist!✨🌲— SF Parks Alliance (@SFParksAlliance) November 14, 2023
Entwined: Elder Mother, will welcome visitors to JFK Promenade in front of Peacock Meadow from Dec 7 through Apr 28, 2024🦚
📸 Mark Barzman & William Tracy pic.twitter.com/LTYF39RYxO
But there will be a lot more illuminated joy to take in this year, and we’ve got behind-the-scenes pictures of how it’s coming together. The new iteration of Entwined will also include Gadeken’s massive 2023 Burning Man piece Elder Mother, a 30-foot metal tree sculpture that’s much bigger and taller than any of the Entwined trees. This year’s installation will be at a different new location in Golden Gate Park, will remain out on display longer than any previous Entwined ever has (until April 28, 2024!), and will have new built-in benches and seating arrangements. And it will be powered by a donation from, of all companies, Tesla.
Update (11/15/23): Despite the above tweet, The SF Arts Commission tells SFist that this year’s Entwined installation is still “pending final review” for approval. It will be reviewed at Wednesday's 3 p.m. Visual Arts Committee meeting, and then will be up for final approval at a Monday, December 4 full SF Arts Commission meeting.
“When Entwined opened in the park, you couldn’t even go to a restaurant,” the work’s creator Charles Gadeken tells SFist. “And it provided this place for people to feel like they were part of the world again. And I feel like some of that magic has carried over every year.”
“My favorite part is it's free, it doesn’t cost anything to just go there, and it’s fun for kids and grandmas,” he adds. “It's a great night out and it costs no money.”
Yet there will be much more bang for your no-bucks at Entwined this year, with the addition of this year’s LED mega-tree Elder Mother, seen above in its 2023 Burning Man glory.
“We have this new piece called Elder Mother, which is 30 feet tall,” Gedeken explains. “The Elder Mother has the exact same number of cubes as the entire 60-piece Entwined installation did last year, but brought together into a much more potent package.”
The work is inspired by an 1844 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale called The Elder-Tree Mother. And this Elder Mother will come installed with a sound system that tells three- to ten-minute fairy tales in 26 different languages.
Plus, special QR codes will allow viewers to become participants, with QR codes that allow you to control the light display from your phone.
“Each object is interactive, so you can come and have a little area which you are in control of," according to Gadeken. "The shrubs and the saplings are all interactive from your telephone. It’s a QR code on the sculpture, and you use the QR code to pull up a little app on your phone and it allows you to do things to each object, one at a time. Six different people can operate six different objects.”
But yes, this year’s Entwined will be at a slightly different location. The piece was completely flooded by last year’s atmospheric storms, which managed to produce a dazzling visual effect for Entwined when it was entrenched in foot-and-a-half deep waters. The new location will not be at the traditional Peacock Meadow site in Golden Gate Park, though very close to it on the now car-free JFK Promenade right nearby.
“Last year, people will remember that there was so much rain that all of the meadow flooded and at one point there was 18 inches of water across the whole field,” says Gadeken. “Miraculously, Entwined continued working throughout the experience and it was amazing, but it was very hard on the grass and the park. So the city wanted to find a way to continue this without putting all that pressure on the grass.”
“The new location is going to be at the very front of JFK (Promenade),” he continues. “It’s halfway between McLaren Lodge and the tennis courts. It’s actually interesting because it will be visible on Fell Street.”
And the 2023-24 version of Entwined will come with all-new built-in seating accommodations.
“This year we have incorporated some seating and benches into the sculpture,” Gadeken tells us. “So there will be 40 feet of benches and six other little chairs that people can come and sit at.”
Meanwhile, this year’s souped-up Entwined and Elder Mother combo display will be powered by… Tesla?
“It requires slightly more power, the park is not full of high-voltage electricity,” he explains. “To overcome this, we were able to team up with Tesla, who are donating two new Tesla Powerwall 3s to the installation. It will be inside the trunk, which will actually charge the tree.”
“We are going to add a set of solar panels on top of two saplings,” Gadeken adds. “I have never used solar in any of my art before. I’m super excited about integrating more and more solar into the installations, so that eventually we can get this to be carbon-neutral.”
Entwined returns to Golden Gate Park pic.twitter.com/1LK2VifLs7— ekko T. raven (@corvidreverb) December 3, 2021
There are a full 3,800 of those illuminated LED cubes on Entwined, plus another 3,178 cubes on Elder Mother. They all went to Burning Man this year, where you realize the weather had also been atrocious. So the lights, structures, and electrical connections have all been broken down and shlepped back to SF, where they need to be taken from storage boxes, reassembled, and perhaps most importantly, cleaned of all the playa grit that was still on them.
SFist was embedded in the volunteer crew cleaning the cubes. At one point in a clean-up session, Gadeken announced to his volunteers, “If we can do four more boxes today, we’ll be down to just 30 more boxes left.”
“There’s probably 30 volunteers that will participate in the project this year,” he explains to SFist. “And there have been 100 volunteers that have gotten us to this point. And that's in every aspect from writing patterns to coming in and attaching things and teaching people to weld, and people participating in the installation.”
Charles Gadeken himself has been an artist in SF for 30 years, and has created a half-dozen pieces of permanent art in the Bay Area. His permanent Palo Alto piece Tabula visually pulses with live seismic data from the United States Geological Survey on a 165-foot video wall. You can see his rectangular monoliths at the Los Altos Community Center, and here in SF his dazzling fire pit Crash can be enjoyed at the Hotel Zephyr at Fisherman's Wharf.
And the Box Shop has been around for 20 years, the birthplace of beloved and well-recognized artworks by the Flaming Lotus Girls and Dana Albany. “We have helped 10,000 artists over the years, “ according to Gadeken. “It’s been producing two or three pieces of permanent public art every year for 20 years. And then hundreds and hundreds of smaller works of art that mostly go into people’s homes.”
But all is not well at the Box Shop.
“We are losing our lease here in Hunters Point,” he says. “They’re building these two new beautiful parks next to my building, and my landlord would eventually like to turn this into condominiums.”
And so the Box Shop is on a fundraising campaign to procure a new space. They’ve already pulled a state grant for $1.75 million, and have privately fundraised north of half a million dollars. But Gadeken says the Box Shop will need to raise another $3 million over the next three years to find a suitable 15,000-30,000 square-foot space for a new Box Shop.
“There are so few industrial spaces left in San Francisco,” he explains. “Everything has been wiped out except for Bayshore and Bayview.”
“In 20 years, I’ve never asked anybody for money. I just ran the place,” Gadeken laughs. “Because of that, nobody’s ever heard of me. They don’t give me any money. If I had been asking for money for the last 20 years, this would be a slam-dunk.”
But he vowed to SFist, “We are definitely going to stay here in San Francisco, and we are definitely going to succeed.”
Entwined in Golden Gate Park is a true San Francisco burner influencer installation and I love it! pic.twitter.com/1otm5IVGVM— Simone Okkels (@simoneokkels) February 2, 2022
Meanwhile, Entwined and Elder Mother are going to stay in Golden Gate Park all the way until April 28, 2024, and they are definitely going to succeed in bringing enchantment to everyone who visits JFK Promenade after dusk.
Top Image: @SFParksAlliance via Twitter