The Edward Ingersoll Browne Trust Fund has given a $54,000 award to the Navy Yard Garden and Art, Inc. (NYGA) in support of an ornamental lighting installation titled Navy Yard Night Sky, which is displayed in the amphitheater at Shipyard Park, Charlestown’s largest public park. A second gift came from the Norma Ricci Trust.
At the heart of the amphitheater, the permanent exhibit consists of four large panels of programmable mesh lighting installed between the roof beams on the second floor of the amphitheater, which is adjacent to the park’s beloved water fountain.
Two artists were commissioned for the inaugural year of the piece: Zach Lieberman, who teaches at the MIT Media Lab and Sohaila Mosbeh, an interdisciplinary experience artist. Navy Yard Garden & Art will commission several artists over the life of the installation.
Sohaila Mosbeh’s piece “The Myth of Nut” is currently running nightly from dusk to dawn.
Mosbeh states, “The light installation is heavily inspired by the natural elements located at the site, such as the specular waterfront during the day as well as the soft glow of the night’s sky. I was so struck by how the Charlestown Navy Yard is heavily reminiscent of the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, Egypt, a city full of historical artifacts from ancient Egypt to ancient Greece. Combining these site similarities together is the inspiration behind picking the Egyptian goddess of the sky and heavens, Nut (pronounced ‘newt’) as the central figure of the piece.
When viewing Navy Yard Night Sky, look out for Nut, who is represented by an oval that expands and contracts and shape shifts while she dances. You will also see twinkling lights which represent the real location of the stars in space: based directly on information Mosbeh collected from Nasa’s open data portal. The abstracted motion of swirling colors illustrates an arched bend of the milky way.
Jules Pieri, NYGA board member, stated that “Living in the city, residents have very little exposure to the stars. We know they are there—but we just can’t see them. The Navy Yard Night Sky Installation is meant to be our own little celestial phenomenon.”
Ms. Pieri remarked that all of the lighting points downward so there is no light pollution and the art can be programmed to adjust to the changing patterns of the sun. It is illuminated after sunset and turn off at sunrise.
With over four years of planning, the piece also brought some interesting global breakthroughs to Boston. To begin, the Navy Yard Night Sky piece is the first such installation of its kind on the East Coast of the US. The mesh lighting sculpture was initially suggested by Ted Farnham of Boston Lighting Supply, who knew of this new lighting technology and saw the site as a perfect application. It was then manufactured by its creator, Carl Stahl GmbH in Germany. In a surprising twist of logistics, after the piece was specified and produced, global supply chain challenges came into play. The NYGA board had to navigate many pandemic-related challenges to get the four panels delivered to Boston. This included the closure of the Suez Canal and New York Port Authority overload, requiring a diversion of the shipment through the Port of Savannah.
When the four giant wooden crates finally arrived in the Navy Yard, Richard Mulligan, the BPDA’s Senior Project Manager for Real Estate Operations commented, “Those things are huge! This is going to be a serious logistical operation.”
The ambitious public art project was fully supported by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) and installed by Gone Green Electric. Once the mesh panels were installed and functioning, a Boston based lighting consultant firm Available Light worked with the two artists to program both pieces.Photos: