I thought that I should finally post my project proposal. I have edited it since I originally submitted it and going over it was a good exercise to help me stay on track.

The City as Cinema: Media-based Public Art Projects in NYC


Ride the B or Q train in the New York City subway from Brooklyn into Manhattan and something may catch your eye outside the moving train. The monotony of your commute is interrupted by colorful shapes that dance and transform outside the subway car window. This is not your imagination — it’s a public art work called “Masstransiscope” installed in 1980 and sponsored by Creative Time. Artist Bill Brand used the technology of a zoetrope, the earliest motion picture device, to create the illusion that 228 hand-painted panels are one moving image. The experience makes the rider question what she has just seen and makes her reconsider her urban surroundings. This is the goal of most public art projects. Taking art outside the gallery or museum makes viewers more than observers — they become participants.

“Masstransiscope” is one of many public art projects in New York that has either used a video or early film technology to transform our movements through the city into a cinematic event. I would like to map six public art projects of this kind, from the 1970s to the present, that have been sponsored by either Creative Time or Public Art Fund.


Filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein in his essay “Montage and Architecture” wrote that he saw an essential connection between architecture and film.  He wrote that “an architectural ensemble… is a montage from the point of view of a spectator… Cinematic montage is, too, a means to ‘link’ in one point–the screen–various elements (fragments) of a phenomenon filmed in diverse dimensions, from diverse points of view and sides.” He thought that walking around the Acropolis was like watching an ancient film. Scholars like Walter Benjamin and Wolfgang Schivelbusch have also explored the historical relationship between the city, physical movement–whether it’s walking or riding a train, and cinema.  I want to understand how this relationship is exploited by public artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in New York City. I think that public art projects are a good vessel for exploring this topic because they use the city as a medium and are frequently experimental.

Formats of Media and Artifacts

Public art projects are a multi-sensory experience so I plan on making short videos from the artifacts I find. The Creative Time and Public Art Fund Archives at the Fales Library and Special Collections has promotional materials, photos, and videos of several of the projects I’m interested in.