Artists shining a light on social issues with projection art


Artists shining a light on social issues with projection art

Thu, 30 May 2024

Art has long had a history with tackling social issues and giving a voice to those narratives and themes that struggle to get mainstream exposure. Innovative and tech-driven kit provide opportunities to help a message reach a much wider audience – and that is exactly what’s currently happening with projection art. You don’t have to look far today to find a project where this is being used to make a difference.

Projection art on the streets

There is no shortage of projection art, especially in the theatre where it has
traditionally been used to help create ambiance and themes. However, today – thanks to the much cheaper availability of technology – we are also beginning to see this art form making an even bigger impact on the streets. A project that could be seen as the start of projection art as a channel for social issues happened during the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. Artist Mark Read displayed a projection of the statistic “99%” on the Verizon building in New York, using the home of a single mother in a nearby housing project to mount the projector. The Illuminator is a group of artists that emerged from the 2011 movement and has since gone on to refine the way that they work with projection art, including making it mobile by using a specially outfitted van.

Accessible protest messages

One of the benefits of projection art is that it makes all messaging accessible – you’re not limited to an audience who attend a gallery opening or an exhibition. It has also become an art form in its own right and Yale now offers a graduate programme in projection design. Students on the course have spent time investigating how to create more mobile ways to work with projection art, not just the technology itself but also the energy that would be required to power it. Another key technology that has helped to make projection art more accessible is projection mapping tech, which transforms the design to fit whatever the physical space that is the goal. Robin Bell is an artist with a wealth of experience using all of this technology – he recently projected “we are all responsible to stand up and end white supremacy” on the side of the Trump Hotel after Trump (then President) made insufficient comments in response to white nationalist rally in Virginia.

An honest art form

Projection art allows artists to find a form of expression wherever they choose and also creates honest moments where passersby can view the art and provide genuine feedback. Especially when it comes to social issues, using a projection in this way can create the space to have important conversations that might otherwise not get air time. It transforms a location into a temporary, physical forum where topics can be discussed.

Projection art goes back centuries but this traditional art form is now being used in new and innovative ways. Thanks to the advance of technology it’s now a very effective tool for shining a light on social issues.

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