Research article

Enchanted encounters: moving images, public art and an ethical sense of place

  • Annie Dell’Aria orcid logo (Architecture_MPS)


This article examines site-specific moving images, particularly public artworks that engage windows and monuments as cinematic screens. Employing the concept of enchantment and Doreen Massey’s notion of a ‘global sense of place’, this article analyses how the physical experience of moving image media in public places can enrich and complicate our understanding of place. Artworks by Lynn Hershman Leeson, Ofri Cnaani, Krzysztof Wodiczko and Tony Oursler are explored, in addition to recent protest projections and critical and theoretical investigations of place and enchantment.

Keywords: public art, moving image, video art, expanded cinema, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Tony Oursler, Ofri Cnaani, projection mapping

How to Cite: Dell’Aria, A., & Buchanan, A. (2021). Enchanted encounters: moving images, public art and an ethical sense of place. Architecture_MPS, 20(1).

Rights: © 2021, Annie Dell’Aria.



Published on
01 Oct 2021
Peer Reviewed


The relationship between moving images and place is full of contradictions and tensions. Screen media are historically linked to ‘elsewheres’ – continuity editing in film generates a seamless fictional world, television simultaneously pipes the same broadcast content into millions of homes and mobile media offer connections to a world wide web that collapses spatial and temporal distances at the touch of a screen. Urban screens often prompt cultural anxiety over their contribution to the production of what Marc Augé called the ‘non-places’ of constant circulation and commercial spectacle.1 When they appear in public spaces, however, moving images become embedded within the physical and discursive sites of the screen.2 They can even be leveraged in the service of aggrandising place, such as through monumentally scaled projection-mapping spectacles that enhance and narrate heritage sites and city landmarks.

Another tradition within public art mobilises moving image media in the service of complicating place. In what follows, I explore nocturnal projections onto windows and landmarks that use moving images to conjure presences in the here-and-now rather than delimit views into a virtual space. Unlike the homogenising or aggrandising tendencies most often cited with regard to urban screen media, these works use the moving image’s inherent capacity for enchantment to point to pores, cracks and ghosts buried within the urban fabric. In one sense, these projects use screen media to juxtapose multiple places and temporalities, alluding to what Doreen Massey called ‘a global sense of place’. Unlike an introverted sense of place, which fixates on boundaries and us–them dynamics, an extroverted, global sense of place looks to how places are mutable, contested and always connected to other locations. Massey delineates four main components of this concept of place: that it is not static, that it is not bounded or enclosed, that it does not have a single identity and is full of internal conflicts, and that it is nevertheless important and unique.3 Moving image installation contains many of these same properties, particularly dynamism, expansion beyond the frame and an experiential quality marked simultaneously by its uniqueness and its mutability. When encountered in public spaces, artists’ moving image can produce moments that realise a place’s many interwoven temporalities and locations. Concluding with recent uses of projected images as a form of protest, this article examines how artists’ moving image explores place-specificity through interventions at the liminal site of the window and upon the declarative form of the monument. First, I turn to the question of moving images’ relationship to place more broadly.

Placing moving images

From the site-bound practices of Robert Smithson to the community-engaged work of Mark Dion, the concept of site has undergone radical transformation and further expansions since Rosalind Krauss’s famous 1979 essay ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’.4 Whereas modernist sculpture was marked by its simultaneous negation of architecture and landscape, artists in the 1960s and 1970s verged into and across both of these categories, Krauss maintained. The public art scholar Cameron Cartiere articulated a ‘further-expanded field’ to include site- and place-specific public art and installation.5 Similarly, Miwon Kwon has examined how site-specificity became ‘unhinged’ from any specific physical coordinates with the turn towards notions of community.6 Temporality, folded into so much contemporary art practice that involves participation, performance, sound and moving images, adds another dimension to Krauss’s axiomatic diagram, and moving image media in particular adds its own complex relationship to the notion of place.

Although the study of how films capture or create places within them has long intrigued scholars, only recently has the role of screen media and the moving image in the transformation of site-specificity in art been interrogated. Maeve Connolly considers how place informs artists’ film and installation since the 1990s, specifically how it allows institutions to ‘stage publicness’ through the moving image; in a reading of Stan Douglas’s work, Ji-hoon Kim considers how the penetration of gallery space by the moving image invites a ‘refreshed’ reading of site-specificity; and Giuliana Bruno’s influential studies of gallery projection read moving image artworks as forms of architectural and museological memory and movement.7 Rather than a single frame encountered by a seated audience, moving image installation produces an architectural situation where the spectator can be both more physically immersed than the traditional movie viewer and more keenly aware of their own body’s relationship to the screen.

British sisters Jane and Louise Wilson’s moving image installations fold an investigation of modernist spaces with the construction of architectural encounters with moving image screens. Their multiscreen studies of the ruins of modernism form what Maria Walsh calls a ‘haptic visuality’, both within the moving image and through viewers’ spatial apprehension.8 A Free and Anonymous Monument (2003) looks particularly at a mid-century ruin: Victor Pasmore’s Apollo Pavilion (1955), dedicated to space exploration and located in northern England. The Wilsons’ camera traces the spatiality and surface textures of Pasmore’s pavilion within the work’s many screens, and the multiscreen installation’s structure re-stages the ambulatory spaces in the pavilion itself. The work premiered at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, a converted flour mill in the artists’ hometown only twenty miles from Pasmore’s ruin. While not explicitly site-specific (the work toured after its initial exhibition at the BALTIC), A Free and Anonymous Monument points to the richness of investigating historical and physical notions of place through moving image installation.

Although much has been said about what the museological flânerie gallery installation brings to the moving image,9 spectators moving through public spaces and not intending to encounter a work of art are distinct from those who elect to enter into art institutions. Inheritor of the flâneur, this distinct ‘public temporality’ offers profound potential to work within the everyday movements and distracted engagement of diverse publics.10 Moving images in public spaces not only can be encountered at a glance but also have the capacity to enchant passers-by, redirecting attention and flows in space. To think of enchantment would seem to give in to the machinations of the culture industry or overstate the attentional power and visual trickery of moving images, but my use of the term enchantment instead points to a surprising encounter that can invigorate or enliven, drawing from philosopher Jane Bennett’s 2001 book, The Enchantment of Modern Life.

Contained within this surprise state are (1) a pleasurable feeling of being charmed by the novel and as yet unprocessed encounter and (2) a more unheimlich (uncanny) feeling of being disrupted or torn out of one’s default sensory–psychic–intellectual disposition. The overall effect of enchantment is a mood of fullness, plenitude or liveness, a sense of having one’s nerves or circulation or concentration powers tuned up or recharged – a shot in the arm, a fleeting return to childlike excitement about life.


Given the moving image’s own ontological tensions between here and there, presence and absence, materiality and immateriality, it contains within it – especially as employed by artists – the capacity for a kind of pleasurable, unprocessed and unheimlich sensation. This reading counters dominant critiques informed by the ‘society of the spectacle’ or the media city as a site of phantasmagoria.12 Although, as we will see, phantasmagoria is not entirely divorced from these artworks’ mode of address, they do not contribute to a sense of urban mediated spectacle that anaesthetises subjects. Rather, enchantment pricks viewers’ experience of place, prompting them to see their surroundings anew and realise presences and interconnections.


Film history is rife with analogies between moving image screens and windows, from the Hale’s Tours of the early twentieth century to the theory of André Bazin. Most often, the screen is configured as a window that opens up a view for a singular, central viewer to a wider world, echoing the pictorial plane as approached by Renaissance perspective. For André Bazin’s realist film theory, the window frame was positioned as a masking of a wider world.13 Anne Friedberg’s study of the window examines its shifting historical role as a means of framing a view into a dematerialised world, still presuming a relationship between a static viewer and a wider world delimited by the window frame.14 This window metaphor, however, became an increasingly unstable one as both artists and new technologies complicated the role of the screen. Expanded cinema of the 1960s and 1970s strained to break the limits of the window frame and merge with the material world of the spectator, pushing into peripheral vision, transgressing the delimitations of the screen, or accentuating the non-screen components of cinema. Francesco Casetti argues that the cinematic screen’s primary metaphors (picture frame, window and mirror) have been eclipsed by the logic of the display, understood by a more diffuse and interactive world of images on screens that act primarily as devices for interception rather than portals for spectatorial absorption.15

Windows seen from the street offer another form of expansion through a different vantage point. Windows also produce means of reading public space screen media outside the rhetoric of architectural dematerialisation. When looked into rather out of, windows signify an internal world only partially available for view. The viewer’s position is outside, mobile and shared with others, which is to say that it is decidedly public. Transforming architectural windows into screens is one means by which artists and designers complicate place and animate architectural surfaces by imagining goings-on within them. The architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Facsimile (2004), for example, featured a moving screen along the façade of a convention centre in San Francisco, melding fictional vignettes shot with a tracking camera with presumed architectural transparency. Their high-tech screen, on the one hand, was unintentionally short-lived due to practical concerns, pointing to the difficulties with producing permanent public art that involves moving image media. Projection, on the other hand, realisable without quickly outdated or damaged hardware, offers a means of transforming sites during the night.

Windows, as encountered from the street, have long fascinated media art pioneer Lynn Hershman Leeson. Her series of multimedia installations at department stores, including Bonwit Teller in New York (1976) and Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia (1980), took an urban mode of looking – window shopping – and turned a space of commercial display into a site for complex and reflexive tableaus. In the late 1970s, she also turned to nocturnal rear projection onto windows of buildings as a way to prompt public reaction. In a series she called Fire Works, the artist simulated fire through 16-mm projection in increasingly complex narrative public artworks. Two Stories Building (1979) at the San Francisco Academy of Art featured twelve projectors simulating a fire in a one-hour multimedia event. As the fire appeared to rage within the building, dancers leapt from windows and fog machines simulated smoke. As Hershman Leeson describes, the work was so convincing that someone actually called the fire department, who eventually began to hose the rear-projected fires – a physical collision between the material surface of the screen and the illusions of the moving image.16 The artist revisited this effect a month later at the Portland Center for the Visual Arts in Oregon for One Story Building (1980), a work with only six projectors but that included a narrative of characters within the building who embrace and drop a cigarette to start the inferno. Fire Sale (1980), an ‘impromptu performance’ in an attempt to raise money for rent, simulated a fire in the artist’s own apartment (the financial net of the project was sadly negative).17 Reflecting on Fire Works in a 2005 publication, Hershman Leeson claimed the series was an ‘intermission’ during a difficult period where she became a single mother and faced hardships: ‘fire was the motivating device for transformation … I hoped to extinguish the past, and, like the phoenix, rise from the ashes’.18 The works also made moving image installation into a decidedly public provocation, evoking fire to prompt maximum engagement, confusion and affective response.

The most developed of this series was Chain Reaction: An Environmental ‘Light’ Opera for Fog, Film, and Recombinant News (1983), a commission by Public Art Fund in conjunction with the New York Film Festival and installed to be visible outdoors at Lincoln Center. This project came on the heels of Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz’s well-known interactive piece Hole in Space (1980) at Lincoln Center, which featured black-and-white rear projection and audio satellite-linked to a similar installation in Los Angeles. The work also took place when Public Art Fund had just begun its landmark series Messages to the Public on the Spectacolor board in Times Square and after the New York Film Festival hosted a projection-based installation by Anita Tacher in 1980. Although many twenty-first-century projection-mapping events make claims to radical newness, as Chain Reaction and its predecessors suggest, these contemporary works are part of a long tradition of moving images as public art.

Projected onto a row of windows on Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Chain Reaction’s rear projections worked together with live performance, ephemera, props, a musical score by Will Power and fog machines to simulate an environmental disaster (see Figure 1). As the story goes, a wrench dropped by a subterranean worker triggered a PCB spill, signified by coloured fog on the street. Characters appeared as projections in the windows to tell their particular version of the story; one even appeared as an actor on the street. A limousine with black-light headlamps pulled up to reveal what appeared to be chemical traces on performers and the sidewalk as the narrative progressed.

In preparatory sketches for the project, Hershman Leeson mapped out how the story would unfold across the row of vertical windows.19 Opening with solid colours forming a test pattern across the row of windows, these sketches weave between accentuating the street wall of the building and developing spaces and subjects within it. A shade opens up on one of the windows and a character comes into view and begins to tell their side of the story. Shades and curtains continue to reveal and conceal various characters, each detailing their own perspective on the events that unfold on the street in front of them. Eyes and hands were to overtake the windows at various points as well, pointing to or watching various characters or events. Eventually, Hershman Leeson scripted a fire to break out inside the building, echoing the other projects in Fire Works. As smoke clouds the windows, ‘HELP’ appears as if scrawled on the window pane. Seen from the outside, the windows offer only glimpses of the narrative rather than a wider world to enter. The cinematic window becomes a tactile surface through the sliding shades and handwritten message, negating the cinematic window’s vast expanse, particularly continuity editing’s attempt to dissolve the boundary between viewing space and screen space. Hershman Leeson’s complex project also included a somewhat comical news reel, appropriating the visual language and forms of local news to relay the events and interview one of the characters as a witness. The tension between the windows as apertures into a coherent narrative space and as individual screens complicated the earlier works’ simulated fires with both more narrative content and multiple visual strategies for telling the story.

Initially, Hershman Leeson proposed a more general mystery story to be solved by viewers on the street. The project was then known as ‘Lady Beware’ and featured a story where a woman living in the building eventually leaves earth on a spaceship that lands on the roof.20 Chain Reaction’s environmental disaster narrative marked a turn away from the fantastic, expanding into the world of the street both conceptually and materially. The chemical spill story was inspired by two real events: an accidental PCB spill in San Francisco in May 1983 and an explosion at a missile site in Arkansas caused by a dropped wrench in 1981. Fake newspapers produced by the artist and available at the site featured a mixture of ‘recombinant news’ photocopied from recent events collaged along with details on Chain Reaction’s production, characters and terms. The photomontage and zine aesthetics of this document echoed the fake television news reel and work’s multimedia engagement on the street, which included cans marked ‘P.A.C.E.’ for ‘protection against contaminated environments’ (a product woven into the work’s diegesis), an actor who also appears in one of the windows and black-light effects. Like Hershman Leeson’s famous alter ego Roberta Breitmore and the Bonwit Teller Windows, fact and fiction interweave public and private spheres in ways that unearth injustices or expose vulnerabilities. The windows appealed to the street, to an audience of random passers-by who became witnesses to an event rather than invisible voyeurs.

Thirty years later, Ofri Cnaani’s Moon Guardians (2013) similarly featured characters appearing in windows through rear projection, except that Cnaani’s work employed looped digital projections without an overarching narrative (see Figure 2). Moon Guardians was commissioned by More Art, a New York-based non-profit organisation founded in 2004 that is focused on realising public art projects with themes related to social justice. The looped ‘video haikus’, as Cnaani calls them, haunted a three-story residential building in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Formerly the site of subcultures, nightclubs, prostitutes and the meatpacking plants for which it is named, by 2013 the Meatpacking District was primarily a luxury neighbourhood with expensive restaurants and nightlife for fashionable elites. Working together with public school students, Cnaani gathered testimonies from long-time and former residents of the neighbourhood and used them to develop silent loops where characters would sit or stand in windows and a doorway. Since the characters appear to interact or at least confront life on the street, the piece produces an interface between the neighbourhood’s past and present through the liminal surface (rather than the delimiting view) of the window. In a particularly enchanting projection in the building’s doorway, a shadow of what appears to be a portly man poses and grooms. The shadow reaches to the side to pull back a curtain and step in front of it as a colour video image of a trans woman peers out into the camera and onto the street. Like the drawn shades and foggy windows of Chain Reaction, this transition disturbs the screen’s status as cinematic window, appearing to pull a layer back in a manner analogous to Bill Viola’s high-definition video Three Women (2008). In this work, what appears to be a grainy black-and-white image is revealed to be the view of three women shot through a scrim of water – a moment dramatically realised when the figures pass through the water and into colour and high-definition. With Moon Guardians the transformation is not analogous to a spiritual transfiguration (as with Viola) but rather a literal move into the space in front of the screen – the space of the street.

Chain Reaction and Moon Guardians, as well as many similar public artworks, use the window’s liminal position between inside and outside as a surface for exchange rather than a delimiting view into a wider world. In so doing, they turn the cinema’s window metaphor inside out, or rather, they walk around and view it from the other side. The stories or poems play out across a set of windows we peer into, but unlike Jeff Jeffries in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), viewers do not watch from the safety and anonymity of their homes (nor with the visual aid of a zoom lens). Instead, they encounter moving images together in a public space through artworks that directly address and acknowledge them. Hershman Leeson’s fictional narrative, inspired by real environmental catastrophes, ideally prompts a renewed understanding of environmental threat and infrastructural fragility. Cnaani’s research-based loops bring the past into the present, asking viewers in a trendy neighbourhood to remember what has been lost and displaced. Moving images in these artworks induce confusion and curiosity that in turn contribute to an extroverted and ever-shifting sense of place. Encountered by passers-by on the street unprepared for viewing moving image artworks, these window projections prompt moments of enchantment that not only transform the built environment into a kind of haunted house experience but also enrich viewers’ understandings of place through the multiplicity of perspectives from the past, present and potential futures. The gaze from outside in prompted by these window screenings is intimate and liminal, lingering on the threshold between the public realm of the street and an interior world unknowable to it. Moving image artworks can also complicate the far more public address of the monument, even in ways that transform the edifices of official narratives with the intimacy of personal histories.


Moving and projected images also frequently complicate urban sites commonly associated with fixity or a romantic view of the past, such as the monument and the urban ruin. For decades such sites have hosted son et lumière extravaganzas, and increasingly these events leverage the moving image through projection mapping. In the summer of 2019, for example, the Washington Monument, one of the most iconic landmarks in the USA’s capital city of Washington, DC, transformed into a rocket, specifically the 363-foot Saturn V rocket that took the Apollo 11 team to the moon in 1969 (see Figure 3). Titled Apollo 50: Go for the Moon, the projection was realised by 59 Productions and commissioned by the National Air and Space Museum on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Unlike a traditional son et lumière, where the content of light, sound and moving image narrates place, this projection transported the monument to the launch site of the rocket.

Once the show began, a cinematic narrative of the mission – including a dramatic takeoff – unfolded on the vertical screen of the monument and across a flanking row of screens visible to an outdoor audience situated at a distance down the National Mall. Unlike the peripatetic apprehension of the ruins of the Space Age in Jane and Louise Wilson’s multiscreen projection, Apollo 50: Go for the Moon folded the literal scale of the massive rocket and the monument’s grandeur into a proscenium space. In between the looped projections, the rocket stood waiting on the surface of the monument. Unlike the flanking row of screens, this projection was visible up close as well as from the viewing area, prompting a sense of awe at the scale of an object most people know only through television’s small screen and amplifying the nationalist and military rhetoric behind much of the Space Race through the symbolic form of the monument.

Whereas the rocket projection took the grandeur and proclamations of the monument at face value, in effect harnessing monumentality to make similar claims about the advances of American science and industry, many public artists have leveraged the monument to different ends. Taking the monument as his screen, the Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko amplifies the bodies and voices of marginalised communities. As Lisa Saltzman contends, his works employ the etymological root of the term ‘video’ and enact a kind of bearing witness.21 Giuliana Bruno also contends that ‘Wodiczko has incessantly used the medium of projection to interrogate the face and façade of architecture as a dense surface: a permeable site for the mediation of memory, history and subjectivity.’22 Bunker Hill Monument Projection (1998), for example, took a form that resembles the Washington Monument in Boston’s Charlestown neighbourhood and transformed it from a Revolutionary War monument into a site for members of the community impacted by violence to mourn the dead and tell their stories.

More recently, Wodiczko has turned to figurative sculptures in ways that produce quieter, more intimate encounters in public spaces. In two New York City public artworks since the early 2010s, Wodiczko’s collaborators spoke from pedestals, but were nearly life-sized, superimposed onto two heroes of the Union in the American Civil War: veterans of recent foreign wars appeared on a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Union Square in 2012; and refugees from recent civil wars around the world who claimed asylum in the USA took over the Admiral David Glasgow Farragut Monument in Madison Square Park in 2020 (see Figure 4). The looped projections, titled Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection and Monument, were commissioned by More Art and Madison Square Arts, respectively. The works feature harrowing testimonies from participants; each veteran or refugee appears for a few minutes and the video fades to darkness in between each clip to offer a brief glimpse of the bronze statue.

Mapped to overlap the bodies sculpted by Henry Kirke Brown and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, video of participants’ faces and hands bounced off the reflective metal screen and shifted and moved as each subject spoke, disturbing the monument’s ability to project its grand narratives and the veteran or refugee’s ability to be seen. By deploying the monument as what the artist calls a ‘transitional object’,23 victims of trauma are able to bridge the gap between their unthinkable experiences and the mundane paths of busy Manhattanites walking through the park, allowing them to bear witness in public space to things rarely discussed even in the private domain. They also – through projection – force the monument to wear the individual past and present traumas that arise from war.

While sound carries the narratives into public space, the works solicit the attention of passers-by through the enchantment of the moving image: the attention-grabbing capacity of illumination, the strangeness of an animated sculpture, and the pop-up cinematic viewing space – a kind of transient architecture produced through the presence of a moving image – shared with others. Screens in public spaces most often display the larger-than-life faces of known celebrities or anonymous models, but here they become sites for refugee portraiture. Wodiczko’s projections, appearing as apparitions at human scale rather than billboard faces, could be said to partake in what Noam Elcott has called the phantasmagoric dispositif: ‘the assembly, in a single space and time, of spectators and images (seemingly) freed from material supports’24 – though clearly here the material support (the monument) remains in view, if altered significantly.

This genealogy points to how the spatial encounter with moving images expands far beyond the normative bounded frames of television, film and advertising. In public spaces, this kind of co-presence can model intersubjective exchange and encounters with strangers, such as in the interactive and responsive public projection-based works of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Wodiczko freed his phantasmagorical images from the ground in Loro (Them) (2019), which featured a swarm of drones carrying LED screens of immigrants’ eyes and audio recordings of their stories in a public park in Milan. The project was realised again in 2020 in New York and titled Ustedes (Them).25 Like Shimon Attie’s Night Watch (2018), which featured a large LED screen with silent video portraits of asylum seekers and refugees moving along the Hudson and East Rivers on a barge, Loro’s screens pointed to the presence of refugees within the city through forms that moved fluidly through space, taking on the non-human movements of rivers and swarming bees and leaving the material supports of the built environment.

Unlike these floating and flying screens, the statue projections forced – in a single space and time – the displacement and traumas caused by war onto official monuments to war heroism. This collision of image and screen expands Sergei Eisenstein’s notion of dialectical montage to include the cinematic situation. The moving image becomes both an apparition and an urban pore that connects historical displacements to present ones, brings passers-by going about their business into confrontations with the lived realities of veterans and refugees and reframes the monument’s assumed connection to the past.

Another recent project in New York City took haunting as a theme for projection onto an urban ruin. Tony Oursler’s Tear of the Cloud, commissioned by Public Art Fund, featured a multi-channel video and sound projection onto the gantry and surrounding site of the 69th Street Transfer Bridge in the Hudson River during October 2018 (see Figure 5). Thematically tied to Halloween and full of historical references, Oursler’s work pointed only obliquely to the actual history of the transfer bridge, a dock to transfer rail cargo across the river. There are no narratives of industry or trade aggrandised on its surfaces, nor any smooth crossovers between the industrial and postindustrial city laid out through video projection, as would be expected in the son et lumière tradition. Instead, the site became a meeting place for forgotten histories, legends and troubling pasts to re-emerge and produce new connections and crossovers. In effect, Oursler leveraged the enchantment of the moving image to produce a global sense of place through both the superimposition of image onto landmark and the many references stitched together through viewers’ spatial and haptic paths.

Scrolling text acknowledging stolen indigenous land opens a complex and rhizomatic montage of imagery and cinematic vignettes related to histories along the Hudson River. A damsel in distress from Edison’s early silent films shot in New Jersey swings across the gantry; the bearded king of the Millerites, a nineteenth-century doomsday cult in upstate New York, makes cryptic proclamations; hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash raps about Nyack-born, Queens-based artist Joseph Cornell; and a computer-generated chess piece alluding to the first computer to beat a chess grandmaster developed at IBM in New Jersey floats in a tree. Walking down the park’s pier, more images appeared on the surface of the river, including a haunting image of Mary Rogers, whose mysterious death and discovery in the Hudson inspired one of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. The projections and references weave a complex web, alluded to in Public Art Fund’s intentionally labyrinthine on-site and online educational material. The history of technology excavated by Oursler is one filled with superstition, spiritualism and colonial violence. The moving image becomes a place where these histories return and haunt the site, and the narratives move in multiple directions, like the tidal flow of the Hudson River itself. Likewise, the work’s cinematic address featured multiple points of entry and loops of various lengths, producing a spatially unfolding series of connections and networks produced through what Susan Bennett calls ‘peripatetic spectatorship’.26 To walk through the work and experience its overlapping sights and sounds was to conjure ghosts from the margins of history and plot the multidirectional flows between them.

By using a former port and river as its site, Oursler’s phantasmagoria also pointed to urban porosity in terms of sites of cultural and economic exchange. Like Wodiczko’s witnesses to trauma, the moving image forces a co-presence of conflicting narratives that opens up place to become more extroverted, particularly in acknowledging its many pasts and connections to elsewheres. These moments in public art that destabilise the heritage sites of the monument and landmarked ruin offer frameworks for considering how moments of enchanted encounter between viewers and places produced through the moving image can contribute to a global sense of place and an ethical public sphere just as much as they can be deployed as celebratory spectacle, as in the case of Apollo 50: Go for the Moon. Demanding attention yet relying on the obscurity of darkness and night, projections like Wodiczko’s and Oursler’s can help us rethink the role of landmarks, monuments and heritage sites in the city as sites not simply of narratives of the past, but where multiple temporalities, subjectivities and locations enact a contested sense of place in the present.

Conclusions from a moment of crisis

At a moment where people around the world have recently taken to public spaces to demand an end to systemic racism, often forcing a reappraisal of monuments to men of empire, white supremacy and settler colonialism, projected images again become places of encounter, sites of spatial copresence of images, viewers and monuments that trouble dominant narratives of place and history. During the June 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, projections appeared nightly on the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Virginia. Produced by local artists Dustin Klein and Alex Criqui, projections featured George Floyd, the Black man whose murder by Minneapolis police galvanised a movement, as well as others killed by police violence and historical figures like Angela Davis, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. These images most often appeared on the graffiti-covered base along with protest slogans and quotes, while the white letters ‘BLM’ haunted the mounted figure of Lee himself, leaving the figure to fade into the obscurity of night and transforming the inert monument to violence and exclusion into a dynamic gathering place for change produced through the enchantment of projected light and the spectatorial expectation of new images and juxtapositions. The ‘surface tension’ that Giuliana Bruno alludes to in media both tears away at the symbolic fabric of the monument and weaves together the histories of violence and resistance suppressed by its singular form.

While these monuments face iconoclastic acts of graffiti tagging and destruction during the day, these nocturnal interventions contain within them a sense of strangeness and enchantment, haunting both the monument to a racist past and the surface residue of contemporary anger with the faces of the dead or the histories too often left off public pedestals. These spectres have even left their material grounding in monument culture, as in The George Floyd Hologram Memorial Project, which features a transparent screen with Floyd’s portrait and name that moves in front of different racist monuments to reimagine their symbolic spaces. These projections live on as ghosts in the memory of those who encountered them, and their immaterial images circulate widely on social media. They visualise, and in some ways realise, an alternative monument culture that seeks not for bounded and fixed declarations of place and identity but for apparitions untethered to the official surfaces of power, for moments of enchantment that disrupt our everyday ways of being in the world and point to more inclusive and just forms of belonging.


  1. Augé, Non-Places.
  2. McCarthy, Ambient Television; and Halegoua, The Digital City.
  3. Massey, Space, Place, and Gender, 146–56.
  4. Krauss, ‘Sculpture’, 31–44.
  5. Cartiere, ‘Coming in from the cold’, 13.
  6. Kwon, One Place after Another.
  7. Connolly, The Place of Artists’ Cinema; Kim, ‘Into the “imaginary” and “real” place’, 255–76; and Bruno, Public Intimacy.
  8. Giuliana Bruno discusses in particular how multiscreen installation produces a kind of mobile spectatorial gaze, whereas Maria Walsh looks to floating camerawork and sensed spatiality within the frame in earlier installations like Stasi City (1997); see Bruno, Public Intimacy, 59; and Walsh, ‘Film Space’, 155–61.
  9. Païni, ‘The return of the flâneur’, 33–41.
  10. Bouman, ‘The temporality of the public sphere’.
  11. Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life, 5.
  12. Debord, Society of the Spectacle; and Lahiji, ‘Phantasmagoria’.
  13. Bazin, What Is Cinema?, 105.
  14. Friedberg, The Virtual Window.
  15. Casetti, ‘What is a Screen Nowadays?’, 28–9.
  16. Hershman, ‘Private I’, 49.
  17. Hershman, ‘Private I’, 51.
  18. Hershman, ‘Private I’, 51.
  19. These appear in Lynn Hershman, ‘Chain reaction overview booklet’. My descriptions are based on these sketches, as video documentation of the project has been difficult to locate.
  20. Hershman, ‘Lady beware story synopsis’.
  21. Saltzman, Making Memory Matter.
  22. Bruno, Surface, 76.
  23. Wodiczko, ‘Open transmission’, 87–109. Wodiczko derives this term from psychotherapist D. W. Winnicott.
  24. Elcott, ‘The Phantasmagoric Dispositif’, 286.
  25. Both iterations were realised by More Art.
  26. Bennett, ‘The peripatetic audience’, 8–13.


Many thanks to Andy Buchanan for his constructive editorial feedback and to Graham Cairns and my co-presenters at the Architecture_MPS 2020 conference ‘Connections: Exploring Heritage, Architecture, Cities, Art, Media’ for their comments and discussion. The ideas in this article are developed further in my book, The Moving Image as Public Art: Sidewalk Spectators and Modes of Enchantment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).

Declarations and conflict of interests

The author declares no conflicts of interest with this work.


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Figure 1
Figure 1

Lynn Hershman, Chain Reaction, 1983, Lincoln Center, New York City, presented by Public Art Fund, 10/1/1983–10/2/1983 (Source: Public Art Fund, 1983).

Figure 2
Figure 2

Ofri Cnaani, Moon Guardians, Gansevoort Plaza, New York City (Source: Author, 2013).

Figure 3
Figure 3

59 Productions, Apollo 50: Go for the Moon, Washington, DC (Source: Author, 2019).

Figure 4
Figure 4

Krzysztof Wodiczko, Monument, Madison Square Park, New York City (Source: Author, 2020).

Figure 5
Figure 5

Tony Oursler, Tear of the Cloud, 2018, multi-channel installation, courtesy of the artist (Source: Nicholas Knight, Courtesy of Public Art Fund, New York, 2018).