In 2005, Polish-born artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, known for using video projections to animate existing public monuments and architecture in more than a dozen countries, exhibited his first large-scale indoor video projection titled “If You See Something…” at Galerie Lelong in New York City. This series of video projections responded to changes in public policy regarding immigration after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The title, inspired by an ongoing homeland security campaign in New York City, referred to posters that encouraged suspicion of immigrants by vaguely demanding, “If you see something, say something.” The Lelong exhibition, because of its site-specificity and controlled voyeuristic environment, allowed the artist to manipulate the dynamic of communication in the public sphere. Wodiczko inserted the voices of immigrants, the implicit targets of the campaign, while silencing those conditioned to fear these “strangers.” The figures, all presumed to be immigrants, acted out private dramas of pain through audible conversations that center on themes such as deportation, political harassment, racial humiliation, detainment, and exclusion.
What is significant about “If You See Something…” is that it is Wodiczko’s first projected video environment in a gallery space. The Lelong exhibition functioned similarly to his previous projections in process (the obtaining of private testimony for public display) and motive (the encouragement of democratic exchange). Yet, the gallery’s smaller scale and controlled interior environment drastically changed the effect of the projection on the viewers who were transformed into individual voyeurs rather than collective spectators. My overall approach to the installation seeks to establish an understanding of “If You See Something...” by addressing its complicated relationship to issues of the public and private consumption of art, memory and traumatic testimony, and postmodern monumentality. By looking critically at the effects of the installation’s content, style, and motive for both the viewer and participating subject (including the artist himself), I encourage an understanding of how the projection functioned as a challenge and alternative to the concept of conventional monuments.