The Raddest Public Art I’ve Seen In a Long While

If you’re in New York, you have GOT to ride the Q train into Manhattan sometime soon. After you pull out of the Dekalb Avenue station, look right. Keep looking. *Through* the window, nimrod.

Overthinkers who live in and around New York City should make a point of riding the Q train from Brooklyn into Manhattan the next time they want to see something amazingly cool.  (No, I’m not talking about the waterfalls.  Those were lame, and are gone now anyway as far as I know.  This is way better.)

If you look to the right as the train sails through the abandoned Myrtle Avenue subway station, you will see a Yakov Smirnoff joke about Cinema:

It’s brief abstract film animated by the motion of the train itself.  It works on the same principle as the 19th century zoetrope, except instead of spinning a drum you just sit back and let the train do the work.  (Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what a zoetrope is — if google hadn’t come through for me, I had planned to write “one of those old timey spin-the-wheel-and-look-through-the-slot dealies.”)

What I like about the Masstransiscope is that you’re suddenly confronted with a piece of art while you’re inhabiting the least artistic space imaginable.  It also helps that it’s a film.  Usually when we see public art, it’s a statue.  A statue isn’t something that commands urgent attention.  You look at it for a while, you get bored, you stop looking, you wonder what you’ll have for lunch, you look again… as a result, there’s nothing particularly odd about ignoring the statues and murals that decorate so many of our public spaces.  Even if you went to a museum for the specific purpose of seeing statues, you’re going to spend a more time ignoring any given individual piece of art than you will spend paying attention to it.  But we are NOT used to ignoring moving pictures.  (At least not yet, although in the post-Tivo era that may be changing.)  When we go to a movie, we keep our eyes glued to the screen for the whole duration. If we look down even for a second, that second of film will be gone, and we won’t get it back.

Add to this the fact that we spend most of our time on the subway zoning out and not paying attention to anything.  So when you pass the Masstransiscope, you’re suddenly shocked out of this listless commuter-state into an incredibly active perception of this miniscule blip of beauty… and then it’s gone.  Like Keyser Soze.  Or, you know, a psychadelic jellyfish.

Anyway, it’s really worth seeing it for yourself if you can.  You might want to do this sooner rather than later.  There’s no plan to take it down, but it spent most of the last 20 years under an impenetrable coat of graffiti, and it probably won’t be long before it gets tagged back out of existence.

More on the project and it’s creator, Bill Brand, can be found here.

9 Comments on “The Raddest Public Art I’ve Seen In a Long While”

  1. Dan Miller #

    On the Washington DC Metro they use the same principle to show an ad for Target. Lucky that you guys got the cool one.


  2. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Now all they need is someone to write the soundtrack. Who could do that? Hmmmmmm…


  3. protogenes #

    The Montreal metro had that in the 70’s.


  4. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    I’m guessing they use this idea to create ads in 3, 2…


  5. Gab #

    Mlwaski, I propose John Williams. He’s America’s Composer.

    Or, since it’s in a tunnel and kind of dark, maybe Danny Elfman. Cute but creepy at the same time.


  6. fenzel #

    There were a few of these in Boston for a long time – not sure if any of them are still working. There were two I saw on the Red line, one between Harvard and Porter Squares and one on the way to Quincy (not sure if it was just on the Braintree line or before JFK/UMass).

    The weirdest one was a tourism ad of just some kayaks slowly paddling down a river in Vermont. It didn’t so much rouse you from your commute stupor as deepen it.


  7. dan #

    They have those on the Path!

    By the way, those waterfalls were lame.


  8. Noah #

    Sweet Jesus it’s back! I remember seeing that 20 years ago… and man, did I miss it.


  9. Ron Mwangaguhunga #

    I used to go to brooklyn tech in the late 80s and saw that coming home from school every day.


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