Rainbows are fleeting and beautiful illusions - a gift from nature to us. Certain climatic conditions are generally required in the creation of a rainbow -- unless you're artist Michael Jones McKean, who has found a way to shoot rainbows across the sky at will. He's been practicing in parking lots and over his studio building for years now in preparation for a larger installation at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska. Next June McKean will produce a rainbow twice a day for 15 minutes using reclaimed rainwater and sunlight.
McKean, a former resident at the Bemis Center and now a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, has been conducting tests on rainbow creation since 2002. The Bemis Center commissioned McKean to perform this site-specific installation at their facility this summer in hopes of capturing the public’s imagination and engaging the center in wide-ranging conversations with communities throughout Omaha.
The Rainbow Project uses a series of high-powered jet pumps and custom fountain nozzles to spray water into the air, creating the conditions needed for a rainbow to appear. The commercial irrigation equipment is timed in order to create a dense wall of water that mimics a rainstorm, and the sun does the rest of the work.
All of the water used to create McKean’s rainbows is recycled rainwater, which is collected and stored in tanks at the base of each project. At the Bemis Center, rainwater will be collected from the roof of the center, and a customized rooftop downspout system will allow the harvested water to be recycled after it plays its part in the rainbow creation. Additionally, a solar system will be used to generate the power necessary to spray the water. So, in the end, the rainbow is created using only rainwater and sunlight — just like real rainbows.
McKean’s work amplifies “the placeless, celebratory, seductive and elusive qualities of the spectacular event of the rainbow”. Starting in June, visitors to downtown Omaha will be able to see a rainbow hovering over the Bemis Center twice a day for up to 20 minutes at a time. Depending on the angle of the sun, amount of sunlight, atmospheric conditions, and other factors, each rainbow will have different qualities and characteristics. Visitors may be able so see them up to 1,000 ft away or even be able to walk through them. This June we may be able to confirm whether or not there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Images © Michael Jones McKean