Watch a film about Dazed’s Address The Nation project

Together with The Illuminator, we shone statements about the state of the UK on landmarks across London — watch a film about the action here

In case you missed it, on July 10, Dazed went full guerrilla, projecting the concerns of our readers onto iconic London institutions like the Houses of Parliament and Nelson’s Column. Teaming up with activist group The Illuminator, statements like “EVICT THE GOVERNMENT” and “PROTECT THE NHS” lit up the skyline — end-times invectives that sought to put pressure on key power sources.

The week we launched #AddressTheNation, it felt like London was ready to boil over: a cabinet firesale saw the resignation of MPs Boris Johnson and David Davis, Vote Leave had been found guilty of breaking electoral law, trans people had been abused at London’s Pride parade, football was coming home (until it wasn’t), and President Trump’s helicopters pitter-pattered overhead.

“There’s a lot of blood on these buildings” says Anna Ozbek of The Illuminator, an eight-strong cell spawned from the Occupy Wall Street movement. For the group, the project was an opportunity to score a line of solidarity across the Atlantic in time for Trump’s inaugural visit. “At this particular moment, we’re seeing a lot of our fundamental human rights eroded in the United States, in the UK and globally,” she continues. “The actions of both the US and the UK are extremely sinister, so now is such an urgent moment.”

For obvious reasons, Trump has been in The Illuminator’s crosshairs before. The group had its projector confiscated by the police at a rally in Manhattan, before shining “There’s a rapist in the White House” across the president’s hotel in Washington DC. Elsewhere, the collective projected onto the Brooklyn Borough Hall to protest the proposed Muslim immigration ban, travelled to Detroit to raise awareness of the city’s water-access crisis and mapped original graffiti onto the 5pointz building in Queens that had been pegged for demolition.

Watch an exclusive film about the project, above, and read our full chat with the collective below. 

How did The Illuminator form?

Zoe Bachman: There was a march crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and some people who were involved in Occupy had made the decision to project a bat signal featuring the logo ‘99%’. From there, we acquired a van and spent a lot of time driving around New York and projecting that bat signal on different buildings. Over time, the collective has evolved to collaborate with different organisations, address a range of issues. We still have the van, but the membership has changed and grown in different ways.

How important is it for young people to empower themselves with information about their rights to protest and to think creatively about dissent?

Anna Ozbek: I would say that it’s extremely important that young people are protesting or are raising their voice and organising in different, creative ways — it doesn't necessarily have to be in the traditional form of marching down the street. There are all kinds of ways that people can get involved and try to change and shape what's going on, and doing that with other people is really important. It’s of course important to know what your specific rights are, especially for those who come from communities that are more targeted by the police, but it’s really important that we don’t just go by the book that our governments have created: these spaces where it’s okay to let off steam. It’s important to show your civil disobedience in a specific way. I feel like that is going to be the way to the future, in terms of really making change.

Tell me about the ways you feel projecting is linked to protesting.

Zoe Bachman: I think one of the reasons we’ve chosen guerrilla projection is that, particularly in urban spaces, a lot of walls are covered with mass media and advertisements. It’s a way for us as a people to reclaim a space that belongs to us, so we can take our own messaging, choose a wall that is in a very popular space and put up a message that will resonate — not only with us I hope, but with anyone who happens to be there to see it.

What’s also interesting now is how even this has become co-opted. Now you can walk around cities like New York and people are starting to use projection for advertisements. Going back to Anna’s point, there has to be constant creativity when it comes to making political work and getting political messages out there. We may be doing guerrilla projections right now, but the next generation will find other ways of appropriating mediums.

This was your first ever project in the UK. Are there any Address The Nation projections you’re particularly proud of?

Anna Ozbek: I really love the “EVICT THE GOVERNMENT” projection, it looked amazing on the Houses of Parliament. There’re so many layers to it. Our group, and other groups that we work with, do a lot of anti-gentrification, anti-displacement work in New York. I know these are huge issues here, as well. It played into how the government is contributing to the mass displacement of people in the UK, how people are being thrown out of their homes, made homeless, how they have made housing unstable. There are many other ways that the government do not deserve to be in that building — and if anyone in the world deserves to be evicted, it’s them.

Zoe Bachman: From a couple of different perspectives, Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square — it’s such an iconic location in England and being able to project, “NO TRUMP” on there and really echo a message that’s obviously important to us as Americans... To be able to bring a political statement that is near to our hearts and share that with the UK youth, I thought that was really incredible. 

Emily Andersen: I’m also really glad we did the “TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN” and “TRANS MEN ARE MEN” projection, in light of what just happened here at the Pride parade. As a queer person, it’s shocking to me that there’s still so much anti-trans rhetoric, especially from within the LGBT community. It's like, what are you doing, why are you being so divisive and hateful?

Tell me about projecting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

Emily Andersen: It was Sexual Assault Awareness month, and we projected “There’s a rapist in the White House” about the current president. Honestly, the reaction from police there was sort of okay (laughs). I guess they were kind of down with it in a way, or just used to it. We did get a passer-by in DC trying to shut it down, and engage and yell all sorts of weird slurs while it was happening. It sort of became a dancing game – trying to keep them away from us while trying to also tell the police, ‘it’s fine, we’re not actually doing anything illegal’. That’s a dance I think we’re familiar with.

Emily, you were detained by the anti-terrorism task force once, which seems like a particularly barbaric betrayal of your right to protest.

Emily Andersen: It was during a protest outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But my worst run-in with law enforcement was when we were projecting onto the UN. We just hung out too long, really. It’s a sensitive building obviously, it’s the United Nations. We had our projection up, thought we’d hang out around there for a while and do another one and that turned out to be a terrible idea because six black SUVs pulled up and all these people were like, “Get against the wall!” It was horrible.

At the same time we were projecting, there was some sort of false report about a terrorist attack in Texas, so they were on high-alert. They scooped us up, but they didn’t know what to charge us with or what to do with us, so they put me in a cell. I was the only woman in the crew for that one, and they were like, “What's your name, what’s your job, where are you from and who in the group are you dating?” I was like, “None of them!”. It was just bizarre sexism from the interrogation squad. Like, ‘surely this isn't your idea, you just got dragged into this, because you’re dumb and you’re dating one of them.’ Luckily, after that, I just refused to answer their questions. It was absurd.

Finally, what can you say about the legal parameters of projecting onto buildings, especially doing so in the name of protest?

Anna Ozbek: I think our primary strategy is that basically what we’re doing is legal. However, there are many small things... You can be charged with trespassing, if you're projecting onto a building. We were charged with illegal advertising at one point, which was kind of amusing because our whole mission is to amplify the voice of the people, to be the opposite of advertising. However, the police can always come up with something.

A lot of it is a negotiation with them — they come, they say you have to leave, and if they’re particularly vicious, they can immediately start scooping things up. There’s also the angle that, in addition to being a political project, we are an art project. I think that even the police have a respect for art in and of itself (group laughs). If you say it’s an art project, they look at it differently. For some reason, there’s an excusability to doing art in weird places. There’s a certain risk that is acknowledged with making art that they’ll excuse. It’s just a matter of distracting them — trying to engage with them long enough to keep them away from the equipment, so that we can continue projecting.

#AddressTheNation was spawned from a piece about culture-jamming in the summer 18 issue of Dazed.

Visit The Illuminator's site for advice on DIY guerrilla projecting.