Site Projects is a New Haven non-profit that commissions internationally-acclaimed artists to create temporary, free visual art in the city's public spaces. In 2010, the group was responsible for the 110-foot-tall, trippy, orange, dimension-defying mural "Square with four circles" by Felice Varini that can still be viewed from Chapel Street, between Temple and College streets, down the alley leading to Temple Plaza. In 2007 they had artist Matej Vogrincic create large-scale metallic canoes inspired by New Haven-made Erector Sets and install them into the dried bed of the Farmington Canal. In 2006 they placed giant balloon sculptures in the Great Hall of Dinosaurs at the Peabody Museum. Many Elm City residents only heard about these displays firsthand, by simply walking by and witnessing the construction. Engaging the public in this casual way, in places where high art is not normally found, is part of Site Projects' mission. But most passerby don't know who is responsible for it or why it's there.
"When we set ourselves up we decided we would not be a part of Yale, we would not be a part of the city, we would not be part of the arts council," says Site Projects Executive Director Laura Clarke. "We would be an independent group, so that we could take risks that works commissioned by the city could not, that we could choose more risky things than Yale would ever try for. We could do stuff that will be engaging and surprising to people."
This year, New Haven celebrates its 375th anniversary (it was founded in 1638 by English Puritans), and Site Projects is taking their reach to an entirely new level. They've commissioned artist Yvette Mattern to project a laser light rainbow from the top of East Rock, crossing above the Green and downtown, over I-95 and fading to a glow over Long Island Sound. It's called "Night Rainbow | Global Rainbow New Haven" and it's going to be really difficult to miss this one. Each individual viewer's location and perspective will make for a unique experience since the lights will appear very different from different angles.
"If you walk underneath and look up you see one thing," says Clarke. "If you are able to go to the point of origin and stand behind it, you'll see something different. Cars coming down I-91 will see a white band, because the colors combine to make white. For cars coming up I-91 it will look like a rainbow being projected up, even though it's horizontal. It's such a crazy thing."
The Site Projects team is encouraging residents to travel to different neighborhoods to see how it looks from Fair Haven, the top of East Rock, or West Rock, or even West Haven.
"It's going to be an opportunity to have night picnics on the Green, and neighborhood parties," says Clarke.
The lasers will be lit on Founders Day, April 24th, and will run for just four consecutive nights through Saturday, April 27th. The temporary-ness of the work adds to its mystique, and demonstrates the fleeting nature of beauty.
To involve the public further, local schools and teachers have been encouraged to integrate the rainbow into their lesson plans relating to science and technology. The laws governing optics will be demonstrated in an interesting, accessible way.
The Sites Camera Action! Film Festival has also been rebooted. Local filmmakers and hobbyists are invited to use the rainbow to make art of their own for a competition (see nightrainbownewhaven.com).
Devil's Gear Bike Shop is hosting nightly hour-long bike rides (151 Orange St.) at 8:30 p.m. All abilities are welcome.
It's a community event, a giant party to celebrate an artistic city, and all Site Projects asks is that you enjoy the show and spread the word. (And if you've got a few extra dollars lying around, they'd appreciate any donations too.)
"We're very grassroots," says Clarke. "What's interesting about this artwork is that it's obvious enough that a very broad audience likes it, but it's also got enough subtlety to it that you can really think about what's happening."
Visit siteprojects.org and nightrainbownewhaven.com for more information.