Into the Streets December 14, 2006 10:57 PM
Steve Dietz
Into the Streets
Opening Night Talk
The Projection Project
Curators: Edwin Carels, Mark Kremer and Dieter Roelstraete
December 14, 2006

I would like to thank MuHKA for inviting me here tonight, and I would particularly like to thank The Projection Project team for their bravery in inviting me to speak about projection without any necessary connection to their fine show, which I had the opportunity to view earlier this evening. You are in for a treat. It is a remarkable set of projects, and although I will not be discussing them specifically, I do believe there is some overlap in our approaches. Nevertheless, I will be projecting, one might say, my own agenda and ideas about projection, and I appreciate the generosity of spirit on the part of Edwin Carels, Mark Kremer and Dieter Roelstraete in allowing me to do so.

Anthony McCall, Line Describing a Cone (1973)
Anthony McCall,
Line Describing a Cone (1973)
In 2001 I saw Whitney Museum curator's Chrissie Iles' remarkable contemporary history exhibition Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977. It recreated installations by Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas, Mary Lucier, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim and 14 other artists, including William Anastasi's 1968 Free Will, which moved the video monitor off the museum pedestal and into the corner of the quotidian. Arguably, this "move" - and the 18 other moves presented in the exhibition - helped transform video from art on a television to something else entirely. I remember wondering at the time what the similar "move" - or moves - might be for the art formerly known as new media, so that it can become fully understood as something more than a function of the apparatus of the computer and / or the network.

In her essay for the exhibition catalog, "Between the Still and Moving Image," Iles charts a simple but superbly analyzed 3-part trajectory for the American projected image from 1964-1977, which may be of some use in thinking about the issue of projection in the 21st century, and I'd like to quote her at some length.1

1: Traditional Cinema

She writes:
"As Roland Barthes observed, in the closed space of cinema there is no circulation, no movement, and no exchange. In the darkness, spectators sink into their seats as though slipping into bed. The cinema becomes a cocoon, inside which a crowd of idle bodies is fixed by simulations of reality projected onto a single screen."

2: Minimalism

Iles contextualizes the work in her show and its relation to the black box of cinema with what Minimalist artists were doing in the white cube of the visual arts.
"Minimalist artists engaged the viewer in a phenomenological experience of objects in relation to the architectural dimensions of the gallery - not to pictorial space - transforming actual space into perceptual space."

3: Into the Light

Iles argues that the model of the cinema is
"broken apart by the folding of the darkened space of cinema into the white cube of the gallery. Building on Minimalism's phenomenological approach, the darkened gallery's space invites participant movement, the sharing of multiple viewpoints, the dismantling of the single frontal screen, and an analytical, distanced form of viewing. The spectator's attention turns from the illusion on the screen to the surrounding space, and to the physical mechanisms and properties of the moving image: the projection beam as a sculptural form. . ."
The results varied, of course, but were generally along the lines, so to speak, of how she summarized Anthony McCall's Line Describing a Cone as "combin[ing] the phenomenological reductiveness of Minimalism with the participatory inclusiveness of Happenings to create an ephemeral projection event."2

From Participatory Inclusiveness to Responsive Environments

"Participatory inclusiveness," of course, is practically a synonym for the art formerly known as new media, but what I would like to explore is not some rehash of the distinctive characteristics of a medium, but how a new generation of artists is changing our relationship to where we landed, 30 years on, when art, including cinema, exploded the confines of the gallery / cinema and landed in the world.

Artists, architects, designers, even gamers are changing not only our perception of the environment around us, but they are literally allowing us to project our ideas and feelings into and onto the city, from participatory inclusiveness to responsive environments.

Projection Technicalities

Before I look at a few exemplary projects, I want to make a brief detour into the technicalities of projection. If projection were only about a beam of light from a source to a surface, what is the relationship of say, rear screen projection to front screen projection? Isn't any similarity - or difference - in the screen, not the projection, which is invisible, essentially, when projected from the rear? Ultimately, except for the philiacs among us, the difference between 35 mm front projection and TV is not about throw distance and trajectory. It is about scale and resolution.

As Lev Manovich, the arch modernist of the art formerly known as new media put it in a 2005 talk:3
"McLuhan writes: 'the 'message' of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs. The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure.'
Manovich continues:
"the new visual qualities of super-large images (such as the 78,797x 31,565 pixel image of Delft shown at iGrid), coupled with large wall-sized displays and the ability to receive such images instantly from remote locations will impact how we see the world and the kinds of stories we tell about it. In short, scaling up - in this case, scaling the resolution, the size, and connectivity - will have all kinds of effects on future culture, most of which we still can't envision today."
For the purposes of my argument tonight, "projection" includes building-scale luminescent imaging platforms, such as the Bix dynamic lighting system designed by realities.united for the exterior of Peter Cook and Colin Fournier's Kunsthaus Graz, if only as proto-high resolution, super-large, luminescent display systems.


archigram, instant city Urban-scale projection is nothing new, of course, and Archigram, which Peter Cook was part of, envisioned it in a project like Instant City (right; ca. 1968).

But if the media facade for Kunsthaus Graz is a new form of display, which, as realities.united writes:
"In an abstract and mediated form . . . transmits the internal processes of the Kunsthaus out into the public forming a symbiosis of art, architecture and media."
a project like Computer Chaos Club's Blinkenlights creates an interface to a simple system of lights in an office building's windows, which allows pedestrians on the street to play pong on the side of a building using a cell phone or to create animations for playback on the building.

lab(au), Touch And on Wednesday, LAb(au)'s Touch will create an interface system that uses body movement to generate light patterns on the Brussels' Dexia Tower. On Place Rogier, at the bottom of the tower, a station is mounted where people can interact either individually or collectively with the visual and luminous display ( = the tower ) through a multi touch screen. Both static ( touch ) as dynamic input ( gesture ) is recognized to generate an elementary graphical language of points, lines and surfaces combined with physical behaviours ( growth, weight, .... ) taking a monochromatic colour palette ( background ) combined with black and white ( graphical elements ).

Once a composition is created, it can be sent as an electronic postcard with a snapshot from the tower, taken from a distant location. It is also uploaded on the specific project website where people can retrieve their postcard, as electronic and printable format, with Christmas and New Year's wishes from Brussels.

Krzysztof Wodiczko's CECUCT roject for INSITE in 2000 used projection to commandeer the exterior of the Omnimax Theater in Tijuana and enable women who work in local maquiladoras to publicly tell stories about their daily lives.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Body Movies, Relational Architecture #6 Rafael Lozano-Hemmer calls his series of outdoor projection projects relational architecture and in particular Body Movies and Vectorial Elevation are highly accomplished examples of massively participatory.

Each of these projects, and many others, projects a new potential relationship of the individual to the often faceless and increasingly panoptic urban environment, just as Minimalist artists, Happenings, and projection installations changed the nature of the traditional white cube gallery.


The third transformative characteristic that Manovich mentions besides scale and resolution is connectivity. I think we all understand how the technologies of communication have bound cities and their inhabitants to a translocal reality, that is both local and global.

In their pioneering work, one of the amazing projects that Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz produced was Hole In Space
Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, A Hole in Space Hole in Space was a Public Communication Sculpture [for three days]. On a November evening in 1980 the unsuspecting public walking past the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, and "The Broadway" department store located in the open air Shopping Center in Century City (Los Angeles), had a surprising counter with each other. Suddenly head-to-toe, life-sized, television images of the people on the opposite coast appeared. They could now see, hear, and speak with each other as if encountering each other on the same sidewalk. No signs, sponsor logos, or credits were posted--no explanation at all was offered. No self-view video monitors to distract from the phenomena of this life-size encounter. [...] "Hole-In-Space" suddenly severed the distance between both cities and created an outrageous pedestrian intersection. There was the evening of discovery, followed by the evening of intentional word-of-mouth rendezvous, followed by a mass migration of families and trans-continental loved ones, some of which had not seen each other for over twenty years.
A contemporary version of this using the new, high resolution "Blade Runner" display technologies would be Zhang Ga's The People's Portrait.


Johannes Gees, Hello Mr. President It is impossible, of course, to not associate these new "Blade Runner" displays with the extension of Big Brother's panoptic television into public space. Every space. In response, some artists use projection as a kind of tactical, virtual tagging mechanism.

For instance, Johannes Gees, whose 2004 project Hello Mr. President site asked viewers:
Would you like to make your views known to the political and business leaders from all over the world meeting in Davos? Would you like to praise them or blame them? hellomrpresident - the interactive installation from www.swissinfo.org - makes it possible for you to send a message to Davos for the duration of the World Economic Forum's annual conference (January 25-29).
Or Anne-Marie Schleiner's OUT project at the 2004 Republican national convention.

OUT takes its name from MOUT a military term for Military Operations in Urban Terrain. Many military simulation computer games implement MOUT. OUT is an artistic intervention in the public space of online games and cities. OUT is also happening at a moment when the street has become again a viable mode of expression. From Seattle to Cancun activists are using wireless technologies and the web to organize actions and and congregate. Dada-like agenda-less mobs have appeared in New York and spread to other cities,
And Lozano-Hemmer, created a workshop using the world's largest projector to create daily - or rather nightly - interventions that could be from as far away as a mile.

Transformational Reality

Reality, as The Projection Project reminds us, is a malleable substance. It is also about dreams and the confusion of the real and the virtual; the simulated real; the fake real.

Graham Budgett, Aurora

One of my favorite images in this regard is a project by Graham Budgett, who claims:
High above Earth an octet of nanosatellites projects a 'plasma box' that taps subatomic particle streams, or Solar Wind, to visualize wireless data uploaded from mobile communications devices on the ground. Volunteers from the cities below contribute their own 3D facial characteristics and verbal data to the constantly refreshed morph above them, while algorithms entropize their personal data within this massive representation of diversity itself. Age, gender, ethnicity and individual expression are incorporated and dissipated in AURORA. The dawn sprite of metahumanity.
I will leave the last word for Rafael Lozano-Hemmer who said in an interview with media theorist Geert Lovink:
"One could argue that the contribution of personal interactivity is precisely the transformation of intimidation into intimacy: the possibility for people to constitute new relationships to the urban landscape and therefore to re-establish a context for a building's social performance."4

This is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave at the opening of The Projection Project, curated by Edwin Carels, Mark Kremer and Dieter Roelstraete, at MuHKA, December 14, 2006

1. Chrissie Iles, Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977. Whitney Museum of American Art and Abrams: New York, 2001, 33.
2. Ibid, 45.
3. Lev Manovich. Scale Effects, presented at iGrid, September 26-30, 2005. http://manovich.net/DOCS/scale_effects.doc
4. Geert Lovink, Interview with Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, nettime, June 26, 2000. http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0006/msg00191.html