The Illuminator is an art-activist collective comprised of visual artists, educators, filmmakers, and technologists living and working in New York City.

The collective has staged hundreds of projection-interventions in public spaces, transforming the street from a space of passive consumption and transit into a site of engagement, conflict, and dialogue. Our work calls attention to the many urgent crises that confront us, in support of the ongoing struggle for a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.

Current members include Emily Andersen, Todd Anderson, Zoe Bachman, Rachel Brown, Kyle Depew, Grayson Earle, Anna Ozbek, Shaun Persaud, and Chris Rogy.

Former members included Margaret Campbell, Betsy Fagin, Susan Forste, Hugo Genes, Daniel Latorre, Mark Read, Ivan Safrin, Athena Soules, and Lucky Tran.

How and why we got started

The Illuminator emerged out of the context of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The Occupy “Bat Signal” shines on the Verizon Building. Photo by Brandon Neubauer

After spending several months designing and building a customized cargo van that would function as a mobile projection unit (see below), The Illuminator was launched on March 3rd, 2012 as part of the Low Lives: Occupy performance art event (video of that first night can be seen here)

How we keep doing it

We function as a democratically run collective. We were able to initiate the project thanks to a generous benefactor who funded our initial purchases of equipment and our fabrication costs. Since then we have been self-funded through the commissioned work that we do for organizations that can pay us.

The Van & Gear

The Illuminator van is a white 2002 Ford Econoline 350 diesel. We hacked it, installing a periscoping platform that can raise and lower a large projector through the roof, and then tilt and swivel as needed.

The Illuminator on the Prowl.
Behind the scenes in The Illuminator van.
Madagascar Institute installing the periscoping platform. Photo by Piotr for the New York Times Photo by Piotr for the New York Times

For projection mapping we use MadMapper, VDMX, or a piece of custom mapping software developed by collective member Grayson Earle, which you can download here. We also frequently use a nifty tool we developed that we call the People’s Pad, which allows individuals to write on buildings in light, in real time. You can see the demo here, and learn more about it here.

Projecting under the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Illuminator in action mode.