It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s gay Superman! The electronic light exhibit by artist Leo Villareal ’90 entitled “Chasing Rainbows New Haven,” though a decided break from the accepted notion of contemporary art, is a remarkable work.
Walking down Chapel Street towards the Yale Repertory Theater, you might notice an eerie, flashing glow reminiscent of a bad science fiction film. Suddenly, before the shock causes you to tumble into the peaceful Scoozi courtyard, the shimmering structure of “Chasing Rainbows” grabs your attention, holding you mesmerized. Bolted onto the wall of the Yale Repertory Theater by two huge metal columns and several yards of steel wire, the circus-like skeleton of the piece rises up from the ground. The bright lights and abundance of metal give it an evil carnival flavor that is enhanced by the cartoonish colors. The structure is overwhelming and yet welcoming because of its grandeur, forcing the observer to stare at its most minute of details in order to fathom the functioning of such an unlikely art exhibit.
Villareal makes art a science and his viewers students in this new style of art. While looking at “Chasing Rainbows,” the meaning of the installation emerges. The fluorescent tubing stretches in a rectangular shape with multi-color LEDs that seem to physically move in geometric, rippled, and flashing configurations. “Pattern” is not a good way to describe the light performance; since the whole display is electronically connected to a computer, the designs appear similar yet unique. I stared at this “electronic sculpture” for over half an hour, trying to predict the next configuration of lights. Each time, the lights changed in subtle ways, forming slightly larger shapes or taking on a different hue. What is so amazing about this type of art is its amorphous quality. The endless possibilities intrigue the observer and connect the piece to the viewer.
Leo Villareal’s “Chasing Rainbows” is an innovative piece of artwork that incorporates new technology with modern concepts of art. Villareal’s background — which includes a degree from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program — is apparent in the base construction of the sculpture, but also in its modern delivery of visual stimulation. The mix of machinery and creativity is an inspiring adaptation of the often negatively connoted term “modernity.” Villareal uses technology to make art and also to make a statement about the role of both in the present day. The glowing shapes and forms are ephemeral and constantly moving, comparable to the fast-paced age we live in today.
“Chasing Rainbows” first debuted on June 11th, 2004 at the 9th International Festival of Arts & Ideas New Haven on the New Haven Green. The artist has done many such innovative works all over the country, including a show at the Conner Contemporary Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Villareal will also be included in an upcoming show titled “Visual Music 1905-2005,” which is a traveling exhibit opening in Feb. 2005 at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Beyond showing his works in exhibition form, Villareal is one of many contemporary artists that are exploring the link between technology, media and art. His diverse interests include a future project designing a permanent light installation for the Federal Courthouse in El Paso, Texas.
“[It] will be harder and harder to separate technology and contemporary art. The tools have just become accessible in the last few years and artists are starting to get their hands on them,” Villareal said in an interview with “The Art Newspaper.”
“Chasing Rainbows New Haven” is at worst a very pretty neon sign. At best, the work is a display of aesthetic hope that there is humanity in our “brave new world” of technological theocracy. Overall, it is a unique and intriguing work that is worth checking out in the traditional art mecca of New Haven.