Last night, just a few hours after the Washington Post dropped the bombshell of a story that President Trump had disclosed highly classified intel to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, light projections began appearing on the façade of Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC — which is a 15-minute walk from the White House. “Pay Trump Bribes Here,” read one, with an arrow pointing perfectly to the entrance to the hotel. “Emoluments Welcome,” said another, referring to the clause in the US constitution that bars members of the government from receiving gifts from foreign powers. Yet another projected the full text of that clause.
The protest was staged by artist, filmmaker, activist, and “D.C. punk historian” Robin Bell, who, according to the LA Times, has been doing guerrilla light projections for years. “We had a really great moment tonight with this projection,” Bell told the Times. “This double-decker tour bus pulls up to the Trump hotel and everyone starts taking photos and clapping and people are cheering us.” A photo posted on Twitter by an onlooker captures the tour bus moment:
This wasn’t Bell’s first light assault on the local Trump International: back in November, shortly after the election, he projected “Experts Agree: Trump Is a Pig” on the hotel’s façade during an action focused on the EPA, City Lab reported. And he’s part of a growing group of artists and activists using light projection as a form of protest, from the Illuminator, which grew out of Occupy Wall Street, to immigrants rights group Movimiento Cosecha, which lit up the Midtown Manhattan Trump Tower last September with images of migrant workers.
In each case, the projections don’t last very long — last night’s went on for 10 minutes — but they create conversation, both on the internet, where the images often go viral, and in person, as passersby react and respond. They’re a way of reclaiming public space, which has been severely privatized over the past several decades, however briefly.
As Bell told the LA Times: “People will hang out and start to talk about things. The whole thing is that you’re trying to create this space.”