About

WHO WE ARE

The Illuminator is an art-activist collective comprised of visual artists, educators, filmmakers, and technologists living and working in New York City. We are currently an eight person collective, united by a desire to smash the myths of the information industry and shed light on the demands of the 99%.

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. The images generated circulate across the internet as vivid talismans of trespass within the suffocating visual culture of commodity capitalism. 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. We view these interventions as acts of incitement and invitation to join in that struggle. We adopt a superhero persona in order to communicate in a pop-culture vernacular so that all may understand our mission: to summon forth the hero that lies within all of us so that we may together rise up in a broad-based popular movement to challenge entrenched power and initiate the radical political, social, and economic transformations that this critical moment demands.

Fighting against Foreclosure, and for the 99%.

How and why we got started

The Illuminator emerged out of the context of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the wake of the successful ‘OWS Bat Signal’ projection onto the Verizon building. That artistic intervention was seen by tens of thousands of marchers crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on the night of the three month anniversary and simultaneous eviction of Liberty Square (aka Zuccotti Park) in downtown Manhattan. Millions more were exposed to it via online media, television, and print publications.

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, using a 75% modified consensus decision making process based on the work of Diane Gilman. We were able to initiate the project thanks to a generous benefactor who funded our initial purchases of equipment and our fabrication costs. We have been independent of that arrangement since July 2012. Since then we have been self-funded through the commissioned work that we do for organizations that can pay us. We are officially a worker-owned business, operating since February 2014.

The Van & Gear

Projecting under the Brooklyn Bridge.

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

We have two projectors- a Sanyo PLC_XF1000 or a Sanyo PLC_XP200L, which are 12,000 lumens and 7,000 lumens respectively. The bigger one is brighter, the smaller one more nimble and has the advantage that it can be checked as luggage when traveling by airplane. We power them in one of two ways: either by using a 198 amp hour deep cycle marine battery, with a 2000 watt pure sine inverter, or by using a 2,000 watt Honda silent generator. The batteries are quieter and allow for greater mobility. However, charging them, or knowing how long the charge will last is always a challenge. We can pull the projector, battery and inverter onto our handcart, for instance, and wheel it around on the sidewalk. The generator is noisier, but works very reliably for long periods of time (as long as we have enough gas). 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 are running these programs off of an Apple MacBook Pro. 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.
Projecting under the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Illuminator in action mode.
The Illuminator in action mode.

Presentations & Workshops

Open Engagement Conference: Place and Revolution
April 17 — 19, 2015
Rachel Brown, Kyle Depew, Grayson Earle, Mark Read, Chris Rogy

Open Engagement is an international conference and platform to support socially engaged art. The conference highlights the work of transdisciplinary artists, activists, students, scholars, community members, and organizations. The theme of the 2015 conference, held in Pittsburgh, was Place and Revolution. The Illuminator’s presentation was entitled “The Battle for Public Visual Space,” in which we presented a history of our work followed by an investigation into our continued battle over the visual environment of New York City and beyond.

REFEST: Hybrid Performance and New Media Festival
November 22nd, 2014
Rachel Brown, Kyle Depew, Grayson Earle, Mark Read, Chris Rogy

At CultureHub’s REFEST, The Illuminator presented some of their recent work to a crowd of artists, activists, and technologists. After the discussion, in the spirit of “surveillance” – the theme of this year’s REFEST – The Illuminator projected a dual channeled video onto buildings on the street below. One channel showed video of US drone strikes from the on-board drone cameras; the other channel showed images acquired from Flickr that were geo-tagged from the same location as the drone strikes pictured. Images of families, birthday parties, landscapes, and normal life of people in the targeted regions.

Publications

All of Our Grievances Are Connected
Public Arts Dialog
The Illuminator
2015
The Illuminator
First Person Scholar
Grayson Earle
2015