PLAN 72: Article
Projecting The Voices Of Homeless Veterans

Wodiczko's Veteran Vehicle Project at the Democratic Convention

During last summer's Democratic National Convention in Denver, visual arts professor Krzysztof Wodiczko transformed a military Humvee into a work of public art, projecting the words and voices of homeless veterans against silent city walls.

The Veteran Vehicle Project was presented at dusk from August 22 – 26 on the facade of the Performing Arts Center near the Convention Center and on the wall of Denver’s Aromor building, currently being transformed into permanent housing for homeless veterans. A fundraising event before the premiere helped generate additional funds for the housing project.

The goal of the project was to give a public voice to soldiers in transition from the battle front to civilian life – a population that has no cohesive platform for self-expression – as a way of bringing attention to their plight and of stimulating dialogue for a solution.

Involving seven months of work with more than 40 Denver-based homeless veterans and their families, the multi-media project offered intimate portraits of their experience through audio and text. A film documentary of the project is in the works and will include one of the veterans’ recording sessions. In the meantime, to see a video clip of the projection, visit kwodiczko.com/WarVeteranVehicle/.

The project became, in Wodiczko’s words, 'a creative speaking-telling workshop'. He went on to quote Judith Herman, author of the classic Trauma and Recovery, saying that the struggle for recovery from trauma – to 'finding a narrative voice through testimony' – has a greater chance of success when performed as a public speech-act, even moreso 'when directed as a social utterance to and on behalf of others'.

The last projected voice in the Veteran Vehicle Project was an appeal from one of the veterans to his son to break his nine-year silent refusal 'to have anything to do with me'. A sound byte of the father’s voice was broadcast on National Public Radio and after the first night's projection, Wodiczko received a call from the father reporting that his son had just called to say he would attend the next night’s projection. 'So it's possible,' says Wodiczko, 'that the projection helped the call to happen. Now there are many, many new problems for their relationship (the world of completely new problems for them to sort out) instead of one (silence). Better.'

Sponsors of the event were America's Road Home, a new non-profit focused on ending family homelessness in the US, in partnership with Dialog:City, an arts and culture event produced by the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs during the Democratic Convention that invited renowned designers and artists to create participatory, interactive site-specific works in ten neighborhoods across the city.

All proceeds from the fundraising event went to America's Road Home in support of their Denver partner, Denver's Road Home, the city's ten-year plan to end homelessness in Denver. The plan is unique in its approach to serve not just the chronically homeless, but to offer opportunities to all persons living on the street, in shelters or doubled up with family and friends. Since its implementation in 2003, Denver's Road Home has reduced homelessness by 36%.

In addition to his role as Professor of Visual Arts, Wodiczko is Director of MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies. He is internationally renowned for his large-scale slide and video projections on architectural facades and monuments. Since the late eighties, he has also developed a series of nomadic instruments for both homeless and immigrant operators that function as implements for survival, communication, empowerment and healing. His work can be viewed in over twenty of the most prestigious museums around the world, including the Contemporary Arts Center in Warsaw, the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.