Situating Urban Moving Images: Illuminating Place Annie Dell’Aria

Situating Urban Moving Images: Illuminating Place

Annie Dell’Aria

City University of New York (CUNY) CUNY Academic Works Graduate Student Publications and Research CUNY Academic Works 2015 Situating Urban Moving Images: Illuminating Place Annie Dell’Aria CUNY Graduate Center

This does not represent the whole spectrum of moving image public art, as clearly artists like Doug Aitken work in a more cinematic and spectacular manner and artists like Raphael Lozano-Hemmer are much more concerned with generating temporary, ludic, social spaces through interactive media technologies than reflecting on place. However, place can and does surface as a significant modality for moving images in public space, much as it is a central concern for many contemporary artists working in the public realm in other media. (99)

The Macula, a contemporary Czech collective, uses projection mapping on historical buildings, often celebrating local histories. Casting elaborate animations on clock towers or churches, The Macula create incredible nocturnal spectacles that tell the history of a place through animation. (100)

Moving images in public spaces can also be a way for forming places, of generating new sites of meaning and communal life. (101)

Projections and illuminations in public spaces, however, are not always affirmative. They can be used to critique constructed definitions of place in a manner that opens up a new space for multiple voices. This practice is perhaps best exemplified by what artist Krzysztof Wodiczko coined “slide warfare.” This necessarily ephemeral use of projection attacks and critiques the underlying systems of power embodied by existing urban architecture or memorials.

Central to Wodiczko’s practice is the notion of healing through public testimony and disrupting traditional urban spaces of memory and public identity with the voices of the disenfranchised.

The durational, ephemeral nature of the projections (indeed what makes them cinematic) is essential to this function, though the image’s effects on its site are quite different than in the animating and place-generating functions discussed above. Wodiczko’s projector illuminates (rather than dematerializes) the screen’s surface — both visually and figuratively — to call attention to the violence, lies, and oppression we normalize and even aggrandize in our urban landscape. This collision of meanings between image and screen are a spatial iteration of Sergei Eisenstein’s dialectical notion of montage — a critical synthesis of ideas — however with Wodiczko the collision does not happen at the cut, but rather on the surface of the screen. This screen and the image become a site of contestation over the meaning of place, opening up the possibility of radical pluralism in the spaces in-between identities — a shift that challenges hegemonic definitions of place.


Moving images in public places, be they overtly critical or affirmational, interact with the many layers of meaning operating at the site of the screen and its surroundings. As spectators’ bodies negotiate new modalities of spectatorship, they enter into this network of meaning and come to formulate diverse and constantly shifting definitions of place. While on the one hand projections can serve to regenerate urban spaces, on the other they can deconstruct them through an antagonistic relationship between image and screen. The moving image screen, then, becomes site-specific and locates both the image and the viewer within the material world around the screen.

Though in many ways we use media in order to escape the spectacle that surrounds us, such as through iPods and mobile devices and even the situational use of advertising to avoid eye contact on a train,10 public screens can and do return viewers to the places they occupy. Screens and projections are not merely useless distractions that prompt pedestrians to navigate streets as if wearing “urban blinders” to block out the constant barrage of advertising imagery. Moving images in public spaces can actually be used to return us to our specific moment in place and time, making them an essential medium for any public art that wishes to foster a sense of place or social interaction in public spaces. (103)

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