With Love and Light: The Story Behind “New York Loves Boston”


the-illuminator

The Illuminator art collective shines a light on urgent issues, such as the explosions at the Boston Marathon. Photo by Michael Galinski.

As law enforcement officials intensify their investigation into Monday’s bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, activist-artist Grayson Earle recounts a creative response to the tragedy.

3:44 PM Alexander: um
3:45 PM a bomb just exploded at the boston marathon
me: what??

The news hit me in that familiar way. I was in the middle of making adjustments to some software we were using for the action we had planned for that Monday evening—a public projection of a subversive video game to celebrate Tax Day entitled “Tax Evaders.” A malaise was getting the best of me as I Googled through a few headlines and sank into my chair. I couldn’t care less about taxes at that point; the word “politics” left a bad taste in my mouth. Honestly, I just wanted to hug somebody.

I’m part of an art collective we call “The Illuminator” that spun off of the Occupy movement. Our history begins with Mark Read installing a projector in a residential building across from the Verizon highrise on November 17, 2011 and projecting a very visible “99%,” which came to be known as the “Bat Signal.” Soon after that Mark and some fellow occupiers were given enough money to buy and modify a van, adding a swivel and vertical crank below a projector mount with the purpose of mobile projections around New York City and beyond. As a collective, we’ve joined underpaid workers on picket lines and promoted public festivals, among many other endeavors, literally and figuratively shining a light on issues that move us.

Something we care about deeply is the reclamation of public space, which we attempt to accomplish through public art installations. I view this is as being in contrast to things like Internet activism that take place in the comfort of our homes. While I appreciate the modes of sharing the Internet has enabled, I find that public art’s value lies in the human connections it facilitates, offline. That said, we witnessed the power of social media in full effect on Monday night.

The Illuminator projecting messages of peace on the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Photo by Lucky Tran.

The Illuminator projecting messages of peace on the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Photo by Lucky Tran.

 

When I arrived at the rendezvous to meet fellow Illuminator Kyle Depew, I lamented our Tax Day mission and mulled over calling it off altogether. “What about doing a Brooklyn Loves Boston kind of thing?” I thought out loud. He agreed and we called up MarkLucky and Athena, and everyone was in agreement. The gravity weighing on my heart reversed directions like an ascending satellite and our entire outlook on the day changed. We realized that we had an amazing opportunity to brighten the day, if only by 12,000 lumens. Athena poured through her glow-letters to spell PEACE and LOVE (with a bit of black tape to correct the deficit of a “P.”) Lucky and I created some images to project, and Kyle readied the van. It was a beautiful moment of teamwork that I’ll never forget.

We parked illegally outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music and cranked up the generator. At one point, two BAM security guards came out to halt the operation, but when they saw what we were using their building for, they snapped a photo and let us be. A crowd quickly gathered and the atmosphere was that of a connected, mourning community. Peace signs, heart taps, and even nods from police officers driving by sustained the positivity. A custodian came outside to see what all the fuss was about and told us that he’d like to see “Togetherness is the Key” up alongside the “NY loves Boston” logo.

Though it won’t bring back the lives we lost on Monday, I think that what we did meant something to those who saw it. It was our way of wrapping our arms around the folks that were too far away to touch. We may not know you, but we love you. I can’t express enough gratitude to all the kind words we’ve received in the past 48 hours. You have all warmed our hearts and inspired us to continue our work as a collective with a renewed optimism.

The Illuminator is Mark Read, Lucky Tran, Annabelle Heckler, Susan Forste, Daniel Latorre, Kyle Depew, Athena Soules, and Grayson Earle.

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