Krzysztof Wodiczko, ‘Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York’, 1984-2010, Profile

The projection was part of the New Year’s celebrations with fi reworks and music concerts organized annually by the Borough of Brooklyn for the local community. On New Year’s Eve 1984, Krzysztof Wodiczko projected on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch an image of two missiles connected by a chain. The representations, of a US missile and a Soviet missile, were used in the context of planned arms reduction talks between the United States and the Soviet Union. Visible above the image of the padlock linking the chains, projected on the arch’s keystone, was a statue of freedom, a winged Victoria crowning the arch from the south. “This is a monument to the Northern army, so the south side of the arch is very busy with representations of the army marching south to liberate the South from ʻwrongdoing.ʼ The monument has absolutely nothing to say about the North, because if it did it would have to refl ect on itself . . . Ironically, this arch, which is victorious Northern army and which uses the typical classicizing Beaux-Arts style in the work of [Augustus] Saint-Gaudens, is challenged by two small, realist bas-relief sculptures by [Thomas] Eakins placed inside the arch. They are the only two fi gures actually walking north, coming back from the war, extremely tired. As far as I know, this is the only monument in the world that contains such an internal debate, aesthetically and historically. . . . The people viewing the projection off ered their own interpretations. What I liked was that everyone was trying to impose his or her reading the symbols and referring to the contemporary political situation. It was a time when the public was being prepared for Wodiczko impending peace talks between the US and Soviet governments. There were great expectations about coming back to the conference table and perhaps for a reduction of the arms race. . . . Because the debate was open and easily heard, all the readings were most likely received by everyone, and hopefully this social and auditory interaction helped the visual projection survive it the public’s memory as a complex experience. For a moment at least, this ʻnecro-ideologicalʼ monument became ʻalive.ʼ”

“Conversation with Krzysztof Wodiczko,” with Douglas Crimp, Rosalyn Deutsche, and Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, October, no. 38 (Winter 1986).

About Krzysztof Wodiczko

In large-scale slide and video projections on architectural facades and monuments, Krzysztof Wodiczko explores the relationship between art, democracy, trauma, and healing. In countries all over the world, Wodiczko has projected images of the faces, hands, and bodies of local community members onto the built environment, accompanied by the voices of marginalized citizens, activating public space in his examination of human rights. Born of a Jewish mother who fled the ghetto in World War II Poland, Wodiczko is concerned with the impact of war and violence on individual lives, and aims to use his art to “break the code of silence, to open up and speak about what’s unspeakable,” as he says. He also produces what he calls “Instruments”, objects made collaboratively to facilitate the survival, communication, and healing of homeless people and immigrants. His Homeless Vehicle Project (1987–89) is a one-person mobile shelter designed in collaboration with members of the homeless community.

Polish, b. 1943

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