Installation view, Private Rainbows, 2017, single-channel HD video, silent, 06:20
Installation view, Spectrum Song, 2018, two-channel HD video installation, sound, 09:00
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I don’t remember what I was specifically doing on New Year’s Day in 2017, but at around 4:02 PM, as I sat on the boxy blue sofa in the living room, a rainbow appeared on the entertainment center in the form of sequential wavy lines. The spectrum, fractured into colored bands in the shape of a rotated rainbow flag, formed a gradient smudge that seemed to reverberate before my eyes. In a matter of minutes, the rainbow had floated further across the glossy white surface of the entertainment center. It held an apparitions’ presence, kissing each surface that served as its screen. The rainbow had made it all the way to the adjacent hallway wall before being summoned away by the setting sun.
I had noticed discrete rainbows out on the patio of that apartment before, likely due to the combination of west facing sunlight and the glass panes that lined the concrete deck. But this enigmatic instance of the rainbow was something I hadn’t encountered before. I felt as if it signaled the beginning of something; not only of the year, but of some sort of renewal within me. I began to understand it as a New Year’s Resolution — one that couldn’t possibly be compressed into language, but that left me feeling as if things might happen for a reason.
Once the semester began in February, Mondays were my only day off in the apartment. I would spend the days catching up on housework and preparing for a class that met in the evenings. In the afternoons, I would sit out on the patio. As I burned through readings and cigarettes, I would frequently divert my gaze: to the street below, to my dry hands cradling the screen of my phone, to the piles of ash at my feet, to an occasional glimpse of a rainbow.
Most of these patio rainbows were long, thin bands of color; so slight as to likely go unnoticed. I had kept track of them from the beginning and continued to notice them on an almost weekly basis. At one point I had become enamored with the colored light that would appear along the corners of the glass panels. I would sit there, moving my head around, observing the little beam slide along its own enclosure.
On the last day of March that year, Gilbert Baker, the artist who designed the original eight-stripe version of the LGBT flag in 1978, passed away in his sleep at the age of 65. I found out the following April morning when a coworker of mine showed up to work donned in rainbow attire, carrying a plastic shopping bag full of art supplies. She explained that she had participated in a project at The Center with Baker, and that these were gouaches that he had given to her when they had finished. She offered to let me pick one out, and after deciding to let the choice be arbitrary, I ended up with a box that contained two shades of green: one light and the other dark.
April marked a dry spell for the rainbows. Perhaps there was less moisture in the air, or that the sun and I had simply fallen out of sync with one another. After searching YouTube for videos pertaining to rainbows and prisms, I came across one posted by MIT titled “Newton’s Prism Experiment.” In it, sunlight is used in conjunction with a prism and lens to form a rainbow on a flat sheet of white paper.
For my birthday that May, my mother bought me a prism through Amazon. It arrived on April 29, two days before my 26th birthday. The prism came in a satin-lined dark blue box, with AMLONG CRYSTAL inscribed on top in brassy cursive lettering. I played with it that evening before the sun began to set and was able to sloppily approximate the experiment by holding the prism up to the deep golden sunlight as it shined directly into my bedroom closet. For a moment there, I had made my own rainbow.
In the beginning of June, the month of Pride, as Spring began to shift into Summer, my roommate and I were preparing to move out the following month. After shifting boxes and furniture around, I ended up fostering a glass side table of his next to my bed. I hardly ever used it, but one late afternoon, as I sat on the side of the bed to organize a box of files, I noticed a line of rainbow light that fractured itself between a tab at the top of the box and the short stack of manila folders inside. I pushed the box away as if I were exposing the hardwood floor with this diminutive beam of light, and I laid down with it.
This chance encounter, purely indicative of the geometry of being, had served to reboot my interest in the rainbow. Over those first couple weeks of June, the sunlight would flood the patio, living room, and kitchen. I would discover several rainbows at a time, and often in new places throughout the apartment: the glass ashtray on the table outside, the white sofa and grey curtains next to the sliding glass door, the purple living room carpet, the stainless steel kitchen sink.
With this surplus of sunlight, I decided to revisit the prism. Balanced on the window sill in my bedroom, the prism dispersed the white light into saturated, blotchy configurations of the rainbow. With the prism pinched between the tips of my fingers, I sat and gently rotated it, casting the light around and within the square perimeter of the room.
The following week, I had spent an entire afternoon primarily looking through the prism, observing the kaleidoscopic way it could turn an image in on itself. It was a sunny day — the usual patio rainbows had caught my attention. The prism was casually propped up next to the TV on the entertainment center in the living room. As the prism basked in the sunlight, I averted my eyes over to the far end of the hallway: a thick, diagonal rainbow slash had taken form on the hardwood floor. I carefully adjusted the prism and the rainbow inched closer to the hallway mirror, until it doubled within the reflected space itself.
As the two rainbows approached one another, the trajectory of the light had reflected back out. Merged together, the two rainbows formed an X. As I stood there, my image doubled along with that of the rainbow, I was able to separate each individual wavelength of light passing through the prism with my iPhone camera. An optical effect that my retinas alone could not compute, my eyes were instead transfixed upon the screen’s image. I scanned through each color of the spectrum and I felt as if I had come full circle — that I had arrived inside of the rainbow.
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The following afternoon was sunny and breezy, and I had been invited to join some friends on a roof in Bushwick to paint. I’m no painter, but in the months before, my mother had sent me a 4-by-4-inch canvas to create something for my Aunt Cynthia. After poorly attempting to render an object or scene, I decided to simply lay out beads of acrylic paint — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet — and squeegeed them across the canvas with a card from my wallet. Framed by a layer of matte black, this glossy streak of color conjured the rainbow as an image.
Severe thunderstorms rolled in later that day, and when the intense downpour had subsided just before sunset, a double rainbow appeared in the sky above New York City. It happened unbeknownst to me. I was inside of my apartment when a friend had mentioned it, and I frantically hopped up the several flights of stairs to the roof to try and catch a glimpse. By the time I had emerged from the stairwell, the spectrum had merely become a dim impression in the darkened sky. Although I did feel as if I had missed the event, a part of me rejoiced at the power of such a subtle glow.