Projections of power

Krzysztof Wodiczko, City Projections – Nelson’s Column, 1985

Commissioned to make a projection onto Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Sqaure for two nights in 1985, Krzysztof Wodiczko focused on the military aspects of the square and decided to project an image of a missile wrapped in barbed wire. But while in London for the event, Wodiczko realised that the square, as home of South Africa House, also played host to a longterm protest against the apartheid regime still very much in charge of South Africa and supported by then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Redirecting his projector, Wodiczko changed the image…

Projection onto South Africa House, 1985

Projecting onto the portico of South Africa House was not something Wodiczko had permission to do and accordingly he knew he risked arrest for causing a public nuisance. As a consequence, it was inevitable that the projection would be short-lived. In the event, the work remained in place for a couple of hours before Wodizcko removed the slide as the police approached. But with work of this nature, the photographic documentation gives the work a life well beyond its brief real-world existence.

For me the power of this work lies in its simplicity. Overlaying the image of a boat with the words ‘Good Hope’ around it with a swastika made a direct comment on the nature of the apartheid regime. The work is effectively a photomontage, albeit one made in situ in front of the camera, conforming to the notion of combining two images to reveal a third meaning.

Wodiczko has worked with projections onto public buildings a good deal over a number of years but his practice is diverse and other projects have been equally interesting. Much of his work is politically motivated to a greater or lesser extent. Representing Poland at the 2009 Venice Biennale, Wodiczko made a video installation within the windowless Polish Pavilion combining images of interactions apparently taking place beyond the imaginary window and skylight spaces with sound accessible through headphones.

Guests, 2009

The work aimed to highlight the situation of those who lack the right to work or to permanent residence within Europe, be they refugees or other migrants. Wodiczko was primarily interested here in the the day to day reality of migrants on an individual, human scale rather than in wider politcial terms but the work also asks questions about who we are as Europeans. I found this work fascinating and compelling and stayed in the space for probably rather longer than I had time for, but Wodiczko talks about it far more eloquently than I can:

So much of Krzysztof Wodiczko’s work interests me that I could write for much longer without scratching the surface but on balance I think I’ll save the other projects I most want to think about for another day.

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