Krzysztof Wodiczko, [Projection on South Africa House, Trafalgar Square, London], 1985
Polish-born artist Krzysztof Wodiczko was invited to create a two-evening public projection on Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. As it happened, while Wodiczko was in London preparing for the performance, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher approved a large donation of money to the government of South Africa, despite the country’s legal discrimination based on race under the apartheid system. A group of demonstrators protested Thatcher’s decision outside the South African embassy in Trafalgar Square. On the second and final evening of the Nelson’s Column Projection, Wodiczko rotated one of his projectors and trained it on South Africa House. He projected an image of a swastika over the pediment relief of a boat, which reads “Good Hope.” Although this guerrilla work lasted only two hours, images of the event were circulated and published in the press the next day.
Here’s Wodiczko describes “The Method of Projection” for the Public Projections projects:
We must stop this ideological “ritual,” interrupt this journey-in-fiction, arrest the somnambulistic movement, restore public focus, a concentration of the building and its architecture. What is implicit about the building must be exposed as explicit; the myth must be visually concretized and unmasked. The absent-mided, hypnotic relation with architecture must be challenged by a conscious and critic public discourse taking place in front of the building.
Public visualization of this myth can unmask the myth, recognize it “physically,” force it to the surface, and hold it visible, so that the people on the street can observe and celebrate its final formal capitulation.
This must happen at the very place of myth, on the site of its production, on its body–the building.
Only physical, public projection of the myth on the physical body of myth (projection of myth on myth) can successfully demythify the myth.
The look, the appearance, the costume, the mask of the buildings is the most valuable and expensive investment. In the power discourse of the “public” domain, the architectural form is the most secret and protected property.
Public projection involves questioning both the function and the ownership of this property.
In defending the public as communal against the public as the private, the projection reveals and is effected by the political contradiction of the culture of capitalism.
As a private property, the architectural appearance is well protected by the police, the guards, and the city bylaws.
The attack must be unexpected, frontal, and must come with the night, when the building, undisturbed by its daily functions, is asleep and when its body dreams itself, when the architecture has its nightmares.
This will be a symbol-attack, a public psychoanalytical seance, unmasking and revealing the unconscious of the building, its body, the “medium” of power.
By introducing the technique of an outdoor slide montage and the immediately recognizable language of popular imagery, the public projection can become a communal, aesthetic counterritual. It can become an urban night festival, an architectural “epic theater,” inviting both reflection and relaxation, where a street public follows the narrative forms with an emotional engagement and a critical detachment.
Originally published in Canadian Journal of Politcal and Social Theory/revue canadienne de théorie politique et sociale (Winnepeg) 7, nos. 1-2 (Winter–Spring 1983).