Night Rainbow to Illuminate New Haven

Mattern_Yvette_5_optBy Amanda May

Simple. Wondrous. Unifying. Magic.

Site Projects’ latest public art installation will be all these things and more. Night Rainbow / Global Rainbow New Haven by Yvette Mattern will take place from April 24 to April 27 from dusk to 1 a.m., and will consist of seven laser beams projected from the top of East Rock Park.

It will be an angular interpretation of a natural rainbow. The color-correct beams representing ROYGBIV may also be called a light installation, a sculpture, ephemeral art, land art, and/or public art. It defies category, slipping between descriptions, like a rainbow appearing for only moments, or from only certain angles.

At first glance, it’s a simple idea, riffing on a common phenomenon. Yet somehow, rainbows across the world give pause and instill wonder in people from all walks of life and from all generations. (Double Rainbow anyone?) There’s no doubt this one will, too.

Having been exhibited globally since its first installation in New York in 2009, Night Rainbow / Global Rainbow New Haven will help the City of New Haven mark its 375th birthday.
“This is the best site (in which) this work will be presented,” promises Laura Clarke, the Executive Director of Site Projects, which began in 2004. “It will be more dramatic here because it is the darkest site (in which) it has been exhibited. East Rock is dark, the green, all the area has fairly low ambient light.”

And not to worry about any New England weather that might occur; the rainbow only gets better with rain, fog, or sleet.

“People will see it and be amazed how fine the lights are, how defined the colors are, how huge it is,” explained Clarke. “So still and delicate, and so huge …

“The challenge and puzzle of this is to see if you can see it in all its forms,” she continued.

The project is full of what Clarke calls “fun conundrums” and optical illusions.

For example, from the top of West Rock, viewers will be seeing it closest to eye level (from its projection height at East Rock Park of 317 feet above the green). Viewed from this perspective (a side view), it is predicted to appear as a single beam of white light, all of the colors blending into the full spectrum.

In other places within its 40-mile reach, the rainbow will appear to spread out in either a giant “V” formation or in parallel lines racing into the distance. Other optical illusions associated with the rainbow will include appearing closer to the ground than it is, and at one point viewers might think it’s passing right over them, but then with a simple turn of the head, one may see it arcing in the distance, challenging the perception of parallel versus perpendicular lines.
Mattern_Yvette _4
From East Rock Park, the rainbow will run between Whitney Avenue and Orange Street until it reaches the green, at which point it will run roughly along College Street. It will also nearly pass over the last wildly popular Site Projects installation, Square with four circles by Felice Varini at Temple Plaza.

When the switch is flipped, the most exciting places to view the work will be more apparent, but Site Projects and the artist have already identified a few key spots. The Yale Observatory, the rooftop patio of The Community Foundation building, Rice Field, Wilber Cross, the Crown Street parking garage, One Century Tower, from inside John Davenport’s (restaurant) in the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, the terrace of the New Haven Free Public Library, the New Haven Green, Yale Medical School, Yale-New Haven Hospital, and the Temple Street parking garage, to
name a few. The trajectory is posted at and will include updated ideal viewing spots.

The Rainbow will end as a glow over the Long Island Sound (unless Site Projects doesn’t get FAA approval, in which case it will beam right into a high ridge in West Haven). The farther away from the projection site, the softer it will glow and the fuzzier its edges will be. Like a memory fading, time and distance soften all hard edges.

Bike tours will be offered every night, organized by Matt Feiner, the owner of Devil’s Gear Bike Shop, and New Haven’s Restaurant Week has been scheduled to coincide with the installation. Site Projects further encourages participation, asking viewers to send their photos to the project’s Facebook and Flickr accounts.

But the four-night spectacle is not all there is to this project.

Lecture workshops will take place thanks to the Arts Council of Greater New Haven (as part of Reintegrate: Enhancing Collaborations in the Arts & Sciences). The events will be organized by Site Projects’ board member and the Arts Council’s director of artistic services and programs, Debbie Hesse. Local scholars will speak to multi-generational audiences about the science of the artwork in accessible terms, without too much jargon. A fun hands-on project will take place afterward. For dates, times, and locations of lecture workshops, visit

Video taken during the installation, along with light and laser concepts, will be used in the New Haven school system to create integrated learning coursework. Coursework is being designed by educators and curriculum developers for children in grades K-12. The coursework will range from working with prisms to advanced trigonometry. According to Clarke, the curriculum will be a fun and welcome change, coming just after annual standardized testing.

Other integrated programs will include visits to local history museums, like the New Haven Museum, both to enhance the city as a beacon (now with a literal beacon of light) that has attracted a diverse community throughout history. Local art museums will also be involved, urging participants to research and have fun with the history of sculpture throughout civilization. A scavenger hunt of sorts is in the works at the Yale University Art Gallery, and surely Turner’s rainbows at the Yale Center for British Art will be involved.
“Thousands of Europeans have now experienced the power of this artwork, which has drawn huge crowds who quietly witness its beauty. This installation promises to be one of New Haven’s most visually stunning and compelling cultural events of 2013,” Yale University Art Gallery Director Jock Reynolds was quoted as saying in materials provided by Site Projects.

Bill Brown, the director of the Eli Whitney Museum, is also anticipating a great response, saying, “(Yvette Mattern) promises to invite every member of our community to look up and contemplate just how far our light can shine. New Haven is a town of many languages … Yvette’s project will speak to us all. To whom does a rainbow not speak? … Yes. We have Turner’s rainbows at the Yale Center for British Art. But Yvette’s will become our rainbow, filling the air that we all breathe.”

There will also be a film festival in the fall involving the Rainbow. It will be the second iteration of Sites Camera Action, the first coming after the Varini installation. Capture the rainbow on film in April, and submit your two-minute video for the festival. The jury will include professional filmmakers, but entries are open to everyone – students, families, amateurs, and professionals. There will be a screening and categories of prizes will be awarded.

With many more activities surrounding the Night Rainbow / Global Rainbow New Haven installation still being planned, see for the latest information.

Images courtesy of Siteprojects and the artist.

Amanda May is the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s communications manager.


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