Four Reasons You Should be Projection Bombing Right Now

by Chris Lose • in
  • LD at Large
  • May 2019
• Created: May 3, 2019

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Illustration by Andy Au

Projection bombers are blowing up the landscape and detonating excitement.

Lighting has always made powerful moments even more impactful. Up until recently, our work has been limited to the regulated indoors. Thanks to modern technology, our tools can now compete outdoors. We can project our messages into the obstreperous world of chaos. We can now aggrandize our notions using our own affordable resources. Cheaper, more efficient projectors have allowed the world of guerilla projection bombing to take our concepts into the streets. “Projection bombing” refers to a guerilla promotion technique in which a person or group utilizes powerful, and mobile video projection equipment, to beam giant images or words onto buildings, structures, streets, sidewalks, and the like. Projection bombing allows the artist to take over the appearance of the structure and to project their message farther than they could indoors. Some people say this is an illegal form of light graffiti. However, the general consensus is that this form of art is perfectly safe and effective.

Modern technology has made this form of public self-expression accessible to anyone with a flair for art and a modicum of technological knowhow. I encourage anyone who is reading this article to explore this concept and get out there to spread your perception. This form of guerilla artwork is legal (or at least, not very successfully prosecuted against by people who get annoyed by it), affordable, effective and even profitable.

‡‡         Legality

Some of the more provocative protesters of late have caused property owners to question the legality of this form of protest. Many business owners have claimed that this is a form of trespassing. I am only aware of one semi-successful legal action taken against projection bombers in 2016 when police arrested three members of The Illuminator after they projected “KOCH = CLIMATE CHAOS” onto the exterior of the Metropolitan Museum of Art David H. Koch Plaza. The only New York law that could be pressed against them was “unlawful posting of advertisements”. Unfortunately for New York the law is “intended to cover only the physical placement of tangible objects or substances.” Photons are not tangible. Therefore, the charges against The Illuminator’s members were dismissed for legal insufficiency, and they sued the NYPD on various constitutional grounds for their arrest. The city ultimately settled for $4,500.

Another projection bomber that I talked to responded, “I have had two encounters with police. One ended with them running my ID and letting me go, and the other ended with the cop saying, “Oh this looks cool, sorry, I had to come check it out because someone called and said there were some middle eastern looking people hanging out by the monument.” The undertaking is risky, but the message can often outweigh the consequences. If you use common sense and take proper care to avoid creating a hazard for others, you will generally be left alone.

‡‡         Affordability

Using light to send out a message is nothing new. Activists, advertisers and provocateurs have been using outdoors ‘guerilla projection’ regularly since at least the 1990’s. Some of the earliest projectionists that I can find include Andrew Steudel, Kyle Loven, Jenny Holzer, Shimon Attie and Robin Bell. I encourage you to Google any of these names for the entirety of their portfolios. The difference between these pioneers and the modern day bomber is cost and efficiency. What used to require thousands of dollars in projection equipment, power and software can now be accomplished with a battery, the bed of a truck, a projector and a laptop. A projector that can project onto the side of a two-story building at night can cost as little as $300. The inverter that powers the projector from the car battery runs as low as $80.

I was lucky enough to discuss the issue with two unidentified gentlemen. They were put off enough by the Australian governments’ wishes to put tourism money and gambling ahead of respect for a national icon, the Sydney Opera House. They wanted to do their part to defend the building by washing out the text and logos of the horse draw, which was the part the Opera House themselves were objecting to. They took a single truck loaded with 10 Chauvet Rogue R2 beams and a software lighting console to a site with a clear shot to the Opera House sails and washed out the horse draw for about four or five minutes before they were asked to turn off and move on by the police. The whole operation cost them a fraction of what it would have been only a few years ago.

‡‡         Effectiveness

As long as the content being projected doesn’t cross the line into libel, these visuals are part of the right Americans have to express their views freely. (The First Amendment has also been invoked to protect hate speech, but hopefully you won’t go there.) Even when the responses have been critical, the projections provoke some good conversation. According to Resistance SF, whose projections of “F#@K TRUMP” went viral in Alameda in 2017, “We reflect but don’t take criticism personally. By far the best responses are from artists who see the medium and are enchanted. They usually offer up art to be projected.” When I asked them if they had received and negative feedback, they responded, “The worst we see is a bit of heckling or internet snark.”

Social media also amplifies the explosiveness of the projection bombs. People can enjoy the illumination for years after the event. The occasional passerby will get to see the actual image but their Instagram account will reach thousands. Even if the actual bomb fizzles, a few thousand re-tweets will cause the message to reignite.

‡‡         Profitability

This art form is gaining notoriety. So much so that companies are hiring projection artists to relay their messages and branding. I reached out to Rebecca Smith of Urban Projections to ask how she turned her love for light into a profession. First, I asked her if she considers herself a guerilla artist. She responded, “Yes I suppose I do, although it’s not a term I generally use. Much of my work is heavily routed or influenced by street art, and the response to an environment. I enjoy the transient nature of projection in an outdoor space. How it can be huge and impactful for a small passage of time, totally transforming how a space can be experienced. The next moment it is gone.” Rebecca was able to take that passion and market it to local businesses. They saw the power in her art form and paid her to do the same for them. In the beginning, she says, “it was a long process, firstly creating art purely for the love of it, collaborating, experimenting and being creative in any way possible.” Slowly people began taking notice and opportunities for commissions and pieces of work began to present themselves to her. After several years, she got to a stage where her portfolio had grown and now speaks for itself. You can see all of her work at urbanprojections.com.

‡‡         Detonation

I have chosen to summarize this article in the words of Rebecca Smith because I’m not sure it can be said any better. “I would certainly recommend just jumping in and getting creative. Relatively inexpensive projectors can be picked up from Internet auction sites, second hand, and will equip you with all you need to start making your own pieces. Your work doesn’t need to be huge in scale. You can make really exciting and engaging guerrilla art on any scale.”

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