When New York-based projection mapping art collective Dawn of Man revealed their latest site-specific installations, they performed an act of alchemy: turning “inner” into “outer,” “outer” into “inner,” and inviting passers-by to reimagine their identities within the convoluted boundaries of the city. Projection Napping is a play on words, projection mapping video of dozing human beings onto walls and bridges, turning the exteriors of buildings into seeming-cubbyholes where citizens drowse fitfully, their crooked bodies awkwardly attempting comfort in the city’s odd geometries.
The project doesn’t merely play a trick on viewers’ eyes by adding a dimension and implying that we’re not just looking at, but looking into giant boxes. It also ruptures expectations. Just imagine for yourself the shock of stumbling across a scene like this while walking home from work at night:
A city is a kind of human hive, and living in such density with fellow people dulls us to the chaos and intensity of urban spaces. In a way the metropolitan existence, far more so than country living’s permeable silence, reinforces boundaries between the cyclone of society and storied self as center of the storm. In another way, it joins us in the solidarity of anonymity, the little ego dwarfed by grandiose, impersonal, transcendent architecture. The city’s alienation paradoxically creates an opportunity for awe, a crack through which surprising tenderness can flow, a moment when the shells we carry round are overwhelmed and temporarily forgotten.
What happens in that moment of surprise, when people first encounter such a vulnerable display, a sleeping stranger fifty feet in height? The line between the public and the private isn’t there. The chatter in your head is interrupted, and experience invites you past the guardedness of city living, back to when we slept en masse in caves together, back to when we had no need for names. Projection Napping offers us a chance to see ourselves and our environments anew – and maybe even ask about the boundaries we have placed by habit in between the landscape and the body, mind and the environment. What separates us waking sleepers from our city dream?