Pink tri­an­gle shines dur­ing dark times

Led­light in­stal­la­tion il­lu­mi­nates sym­bol of Pride on Twin Peaks

San Francisco Chronicle - - DATEBOOK - By Lily Ja­niak

Dur­ing a Pride sea­son and a year marked by makeshift and loss, one tra­di­tion not only per­sisted but shined anew.

At 9 p.m. Satur­day, June 27, as fog and wind blasted the east­ern slope of Twin Peaks, a count­down be­gan: “5­4­3­2­1,” and then one mo­ment’s held breath among a small crowd of on­look­ers, in­clud­ing San Francisco Mayor Lon­don Breed, state Sen. Scott Wiener, Sis­ter Roma of the Sis­ters of Per­pet­ual In­dul­gence and As­sem­bly­man David Chiu. Would the pink tri­an­gle, now mark­ing its 25th an­niver­sary as a sym­bol of love, hope and pride, re­claimed from a sym­bol of hate in Nazi Ger­many, light up as planned?

Then, the tri­an­gle’s 2,700 LED nodes, ar­ranged in 43 rows, surged to this­tle­hued life, whip­ping across the acre­size dis­play. A few rows stayed dark at first, but soon they joined the oth­ers.

De­signed by Il­lu­mi­nate, the or­ga­ni­za­tion be­hind Leo Vil­lareal’s “Bay Lights” on the Bay Bridge, the tri­an­gle’s lights aren’t static. They can un­du­late or thrash like calm or tur­bu­lent wa­ters. They can sug­gest a flock of birds dart­ing across a sky. They can skit­ter. They can slowly, al­most im­per­cep­ti­bly evolve in hue, the way a sun­set smol­ders or a com­plex­ion flushes.

Like an ocean, they’re vis­i­ble from afar, but might be best ap­pre­ci­ated up close. They’ll be lit up through July 10, the last day of AIDS 2020, the 23rd In­ter­na­tional AIDS Con­fer­ence. This year’s pro­gram is com­pletely vir­tual be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. The tri­an­gle has been lit be­fore, but with flood­lights that pointed at the hill­side, not with lights that pointed out at the city.

Pa­trick Car­ney, co­creator of the pink tri­an­gle in­stal­la­tion, had been wor­ried about try­ing to place the dis­play, which is typ­i­cally made of 175 pink tarps. By late Fe­bru­ary, the idea of gath­er­ing his stan­dard pack of hun­dreds of vol­un­teers al­ready felt “iffy.”

Still, Car­ney’s de­ter­mi­na­tion is long­stand­ing. He and a small band put up Twin Peaks’ first pink tri­an­gle at night to elude city au­thor­i­ties.

In the 1930s and ’40s, the sym­bol was used by the Nazis to des­ig­nate the ho­mo­sex­u­als in its con­cen­tra­tion camps, part of a whole color clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem that branded dif­fer­ent groups it tar­geted, in­clud­ing im­mi­grants, Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses and oth­ers, in ad­di­tion to Jews.

Since then, gays have reap­pro­pri­ated the sym­bol. It’s now both “a re­minder of hate and bru­tal­ity” and “an act of de­fi­ance and courage,” Car­ney said. “We’ve owned the sym­bol, just like the word ‘queer.’ We just take own­er­ship of things that are neg­a­tive.”

This year, even if so­cial­dis­tanc­ing guide­lines would pre­vent his troupe from de­scend­ing upon Twin Peaks en masse, Car­ney knew he would mount at least the tri­an­gle’s out­line, “even if I have to put it up my­self with my hus­band and my sis­ter,” he re­called by phone.

In March, Car­ney got a call from Ben Davis, founder of Il­lu­mi­nate, which has also cre­ated pub­lic art made of light at Grace Cathe­dral, the Con­ser­va­tory of Flow­ers and the band­shell in Golden Gate Park’s Mu­sic Con­course, among other lo­ca­tions.

“I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated with his project, which I view as part of the spir­i­tual in­fra­struc­ture of the city,” Davis said by phone. Twin Peaks had be­come one of Davis’ few ex­cur­sions from his Glen Park home dur­ing the shel­ter­in­place. With the area’s gates closed to cars, it’s “been this re­ally beau­ti­ful gift, this per­spec­tive with­out traf­fic.” Run­ning and bi­cy­cling on it reg­u­larly, he said, “I started to get this strong vi­sion of the pink tri­an­gle il­lu­mi­nated this year, rather than can­vas.”

The project took three months from con­cep­tion to il­lu­mi­na­tion. LEDS use very lit­tle power; the Il­lu­mi­nate team was able to route its en­tire sup­ply from the two closed JCDE­caux pub­lic toi­lets on Twin Peaks’ sum­mit.

A skeleton crew of Car­ney’s vol­un­teers laid out the tri­an­gle’s out­line on Thurs­day, June 25, so that the piece would still have a strong pres­ence in day­time, when the LEDS reg­is­ter as a more muted sparkle.

At Satur­day’s event, As­sem­bly­man Chiu re­marked that in his 12 years at­tend­ing the cer­e­mony, this was the first time it took place at night. The tim­ing made him think of Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and how the au­thor be­lieved that “to for­get the dead would be akin to killing them a sec­ond time,” as Chiu put it. He also found hope in the sym­bol­ism. “One thing about night is that it turns into day.”

As the light dis­play turned on, vi­olin­ist Kippy Marks played an orig­i­nal, cos­mic com­po­si­tion that mag­i­cally seemed in tune with the lights’ move­ments.

Then came the roar of Dykes on Bikes, who since the early af­ter­noon had been es­cort­ing a Pink Torch Pro­ces­sion from Oak­land’s Lake Mer­ritt, where Oak­land Mayor Libby Schaaf and oth­ers spoke, all the way to the San Francisco sum­mit. Hand­held pink light met a hill­side of pink light — a mo­ment of con­nec­tion at a time when so much con­nec­tion is for­bid­den.

Part of the rea­son Car­ney still does the pink tri­an­gle is that he meets peo­ple who don’t know its his­tory. An­other is sheer joy.

“We can have things that are beau­ti­ful and city­wide, large enough to in­spire a whole com­mu­nity, even dur­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing,” even dur­ing a pan­demic, he said. “It is pos­si­ble.”

Pho­tos by San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle

Peo­ple at­tend the 25th an­nual pink tri­an­gle in­stal­la­tion at Twin Peaks.

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