The medium is not the only message: making a case for the importance of content (and context) in media as public art

Documentation of the installation of Between You and Me at FLUX 2010

Curator's Note

The video to the left is a short document of the installation Between You and Me.  The work is a kaleidoscopic view of six characters as their paths intersect and are connected by the objects they carry. These characters inhabit the vestigial spaces of personal interaction in an increasingly “online” world – a librarian, a postman, a waitress in a diner.  Five synchronized projections create one “screen,” covering the façade of a building and measuring roughly 80 feet high by 710 feet wide.  

The projection of people (and moving images in general) onto a building animates the inanimate, and effectively turns the building inside out – placing the action on the outside.   The building that received the projection is the now-empty Norfolk Southern Railroad Building: a monument to an industry in decline.  The content is a reflection of the location.  The location is part of the work (not in an incidental way, but in a considered way). The work is positioned at a point of transition.  Freight trains rumble by in front and below (adding their sound to the score, often in synch with the projected image of man or woman riding aboard a passenger train) and skyscrapers tower above and behind.  The installation is positioned in this liminal space; the same space occupied by the characters within the projections.  

I think that Between You and Me addresses a common problem with media as public art: the precession of the influence of technology on the work.  The technology being used often asserts itself within the work to a great degree, rather than being the means for the delivery of the work.  This is something I struggle with because there are exciting things afoot, but, when I begin with the technology, my brainstorm sessions often result in things that are more “gimmick” than “art.”

Technology is not enough.  Projecting massive images on the side of a building is not enough.  Commercial displays, will most always be bigger, brighter, have greater resolution, be installed longer, and have better locations.  Where media as public art has the opportunity to differentiate itself is through careful consideration of the content and context of the work.


 The music you hear on the documentation is a mixed-down version of the score that accompanies the work.  During the installation the score was broadcast from speakers, hidden from sight, distributed around the main viewing area.  Each speaker played only one element of the score, so as the viewer moved about, the “mix” was altered. The dialogue/monologue/diegetic sound could be accessed via cell phone, giving the viewer the option to engage with those elements of the work.

With the decreasing cost of computers and projection systems, media makers of the non-commercial sort are being freed up from the confines of predetermined screens and audience viewing methods. And, as you say, this emerging form of communication is as much about technology and content, as it is about context (the urban surface and location and the people who congregate there). If we think of anyone besides a large corporation as a user, then we can refer to the new media artists as users or players in the real world. Instead of the term “breaking the fourth wall”, these media artists are adding another live dimension to our real space. In virtual worlds such as games and social networks, the user is allowed to control more and more about that space and how they are represented in that space as an avatar. As our real world becomes virtual with media morphing all sorts of surfaces, there is a desire for each of us to participate and release our avatars into the real world  (like WILDLIFE) and to virtually manipulate aspects of the real world (like Between You and Me). These works enhance the dialog each of us has with our urban landscapes and makes our surroundings that much more immersive.

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