Aug 17, 2015
On the evening of November 3, three days before the 1984 presidential election between the incumbent President Ronald Reagan and former Vice President Walter Mondale, Republican candidate Reagan made a grand appearance on the New York City skyline. Or rather, his hand did, extracted from an image of him swearing the Pledge of Allegiance. This disembodied appendage was projected onto the North and West facades of the AT&T Long Lines Building at Thomas Street and Broadway in a spectacle designed by Krzysztof Wodiczko and realized through the institutional support of The Kitchen. Although The Kitchen functioned most frequently as a performance venue and exhibition space, the services provided in anticipation of the November 3 projection indicate The Kitchen’s effort to expand its presence in New York both physically and institutionally. The realization of Wodiczko’s projection is testament to The Kitchen’s deliberate decision to use its status as a nonprofit to enable art and artists that might otherwise be silenced by bureaucratic or political maneuvering.
As a maker of almost exclusively public works, Krzysztof Wodiczko was particularly vulnerable to such civic and social barriers. (1) Wodiczko first began using projections in his practice in 1980, anthropomorphizing buildings with projected images of the human body to reveal the histories and relationships chronicled in architectural forms. In the intervening years between 1980 and 1984, Wodiczko amassed some attention for his projections worldwide, as well as for an October 1984 projection onto the Washington Square arch in Greenwich Village. On the evening of November 3, 1984, Wodiczko extended the continuing theme in his work of “the relations between….icons and [their] relation…to the architecture” with Public Projection at the Telephone Building Located Between Worth, Broadway, Thomas and Church Streets. (2)
The Kitchen’s Gallery and Performance Curator Howard Halle (1981-1986) recalls the choice of the AT&T building as both practical and conceptual; Wodiczko used the AT&T Building as more than a flat surface for projection, scaling and centering the image of Reagan’s hand to transform the skyscraper from an architectural to a humanistic form. (3) Towering over its surroundings, the Telephone Building became a giant on the cityscape of Manhattan, in much the same manner that AT&T was then a monopolistic colossus in the corporate field. Although the image was not explicitly political to passersby, its presence on the AT&T Building broached questions concerning the connections between corporations and government.
The process of organizing the AT&T Long Lines Building projection began with a letter from Wodiczko to Curator Howard Halle, to garner support for a projected performance on the façade of either the Telephone, Municipal, or Supreme Court buildings in Lower Manhattan. The projection was originally intended to be in place for a three-hour duration over the course of several evenings in October, with a short trial projection a few nights prior. Although Wodiczko’s written proposal did not describe the projected image itself beyond its intention to “reveal publicly the psycho-sociological aspects of the windowless structure,” Wodiczko was exceedingly explicit in suggesting potential locations for the projection and detailing the support that would be required of the non-profit in seeing the project to completion. (4) Wodiczko’s requests were diverse in scope: technical, in procuring high-power projectors; financial, in arranging for electrical needs; bureaucratic, in gaining access and permission; and promotional, in encouraging publicity for the event.
By September 18, 1984, Halle was well underway in seeking out the necessary support writing to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council regarding a projection onto the AT&T Building and to the managers of the two rooftops from which Wodiczko wished to cast his projection. Although not taking place in The Kitchen itself, Halle engineered the projection to be more than a coincidental sighting, and treated the performance with equal consideration as any show that would take place in The Kitchen’s gallery or theater. However, in spite of this extensive process of preparation and the socio-political strength of the image, Halle “remember[s] being personally disappointed that the resulting image turned out to be rather dim after all the work involved.” Regardless of the powerful ramifications of an image that sought to illuminate the influence of politics in business, the projection that resulted was limited by the technological capabilities of its time.
Nonetheless, the effort invested by Halle illustrates The Kitchen’s role as a facilitator of art, with Wodiczko and Halle realizing the relationship of partnership and mutual support between artist and institution that has been a foundational principle of The Kitchen since its inception. While Wodiczko was certainly able to engage the interested parties himself, he turned to the established presence of The Kitchen to handle such details as permissions and administrative agreements. Events such as that proposed by Wodiczko and organized by Halle reveal The Kitchen’s institutional power as transcending that of a venue in possessing the unique ability to validate and, consequently, facilitate an artist’s work. Wodiczko contacted Halle not only for the financial assistance that The Kitchen could provide, but also for precisely this institutional clout. This prestige, however, is merely a demonstration of the power of association and of mass, not that of politics and wealth to which the Telephone Building projection spoke. The Kitchen, a non-profit institution made for artists by artists, upheld this principle of support in Fall 1984 and continues to do so today.
(1) In an interview with Douglas Crimp, Rosalyn Deutsche, and Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Wodiczko recalled another projection project, which was forestalled by “a single individual, the head of the community board.”
Krzysztof Wodiczko, interview by Douglas Crimp, Rosalyn Deutsche, and Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, October 38 (1986): 23-51.
(2) “The symbolic icons I project are usually very well known. The relations between these icons and the relation of all of them to the architecture construct new meanings. Time in front of the projections is time to see and hear these new meanings.”
Kryzysztof Wodiczko, “Projections,” Perspecta 26 (1990): 282.
(3) Howard Halle, email to the author, August 3, 2015.
(4) Press Release, Public Projection at the Telephone Building Located Between Worth, Broadway, Thomas and Church Streets, November 3, 1984.
Photo Credit: Profile Foundation, Warsaw, Poland