Harvard Gazette: John Harvard ‘Speaks’

This article was originally published by the Harvard Gazette on April 20, 2015

As part of public art project, students help to animate Harvard’s iconic campus statue. Harvard GSD Professor Krzysztof Wodiczko in his office.
As part of public art project, students help to animate Harvard’s iconic campus statue.

This week, the John Harvard Statue comes alive.

Don’t be alarmed if you amble past the famed bronze sculpture after dark and it speaks to you. It’s supposed to. For the next week, Daniel Chester French’s iconic work will be animated by the faces, voices, and gestures of Harvard students as part of “John Harvard Projection,” a video installation created by artist and Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) Professor Krzysztof Wodiczko.

“The sculpture is already a student,” said Wodiczko, who added that projecting images of current students onto the statue will entertain, create conversation, and refresh the statue as a work of art of many voices. “In this way,” he said, “the statue can be a kind of vehicle for creating some sort of community.”

Born in Poland during the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, Wodiczko uses large-scale projections on monuments and public facades to engage challenging social issues and often a lend voice to those who are unable or reluctant to speak. His 2012 animation of the Abraham Lincoln statue in New York City’s Union Square offered veterans and their families the chance to discuss the trauma of war. In 1998, he illuminated Boston’s Bunker Hill Monument with the images and voices of mothers whose children had been murdered. Other projects have involved immigrants and homeless men and women.

At Harvard, the artist wanted to offer students from across the University ­— some of whom might want their voices to be heard more ­­­— the chance to express themselves. He encouraged them to discuss their undergraduate or graduate experiences. Many also chose to speak about their lives before Cambridge, or their post-graduation plans, hopes, and dreams. Their years at Harvard represent “the present time in which the past and the future dwell,” said Wodiczko, “from which one becomes a new person.”

Tiffany Agard ’15 welcomed the chance to briefly become part of one of the world’s most-photographed statues. “You representing John Harvard, and John Harvard representing you is a very powerful statement for owning your place on this campus and for really affirming your spot and your presence here,” she said. “I think it also provides an incredible platform for discussion.”

Read the entire article on the Harvard Gazette.