Reflections on Krzysztof Wodiczko’s projections

Aside from his critical vehicles, for which he employs “his practice known as Interrogative Design combining art and technology as a critical design practice in order to highlight marginal social communities and add legitimacy to cultural issues that are often given little design attention”[1] , Wodiczko makes use of cities’ monuments. After choosing the monuments on which visuals will be projected, he makes calculations to make sure the body or the body parts of the speakers would match the size of the structures, and then, people open up and speak up their intimate stories on certain issues, which are mostly kept private or silenced.

I admire his use of the public monuments, even though the opening up of the intimate stories could be a bit problematic. I think the use of the monuments in Wodiczko’s works is quite noteworthy since monuments are a part of the urban architecture and they are huge structures mostly built with the purpose of national history/identity making. As Wodiczko mentions, citizens mostly live in the shadow of the monuments. When Wodiczko uses the monuments as canvases to project the people’s stories, he claims the city back for the people. He breaks the spectacle of the State, and replaces it with people’s narratives. “When the public views its urban monuments with sidelong glances out of the corners of its eyes, it accepts the monuments as natural and uncoded. By intercepting vision with projections, Wodiczko replaces an unconsidered reception with a critical one. This is the lesson of the Russian Formalists, of Bertolt Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt and of Friedrich Nietzche’s understanding of Goethe’s belief that knowledge must quicken activity rather than lead to complacence.”[2]  “In the process of our socialization,” the artist writes, “the very first contact with a public building is no less important than the moment of social confrontation with the father, through which our sexual role and place in society [are] constructed. Early socialization through patriarchal sexual discipline is extended by the later socialization through the institutional architecturalization of our bodies. Thus the spirit of the father never dies, continuously living as it does in the building which was, is, and will be embodying, structuring, mastering, representing, and reproducing his ‘eternal’ and ‘universal’ presence as a patriarchal wisdom-body of power.”[3]

His project in Tijuana involved young women telling their stories of sexual abuse or work abuse. The “brave ones” as Wodiczko says in one of his interviews, spoke up and their faces were projected onto the Centro Cultural Tijuana. I understand why speaking up is important and this kind of an event has the awareness-creating and community-building aspect to it. However, when I think of this project in the Turkish context, (not the monument part but the sexual abuse/opening up part), it all becomes absurd. In Turkey, for example, domestic violence and sexual abuse are quite important issues which most of the time the sufferers remain silent about, even though the public is aware of these problems. I mean creating awareness is not even necessary but community building would be beneficial. But, if I started a project like this, most of the women who participated by speaking up might get killed by their own families in the following days of the projection.

For “Art After Deleuze” class, I’ve read “Relational Aesthetics” by Nicolas Bourriaud and then Claire Bishop’s response to him in her “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics” article. Bourriaud claims the artist, by making room for the audience participation, creates an environment that fosters democracy, equality and so on. Bishop on the other hand, argues, it is almost too naïve to believe that the artist “by encouraging an audience to join in, the artist can promote new emancipatory social relations.” [4]
Here is her talk “Participation and Spectacle: Where Are We Now?”, in line with her not-yet-published book “Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship.”

Claire Bishop’s “Participation and Spectacle: Where Are We Now?,” Presented as part of Living as Form from Creative Time on Vimeo.

But in the case of Wodiczko’s projections, the artist’s works can be said to be more than successful since he explains the aim of his works as follows: “My work attempts to heal the numbness that threatens the health of democratic process by pinching and disrupting it, waking it up, and inserting the voice, experiences, and presence of those others who have been silenced, alienated and marginalized. ” [5]

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