For a short period on Monday night, a large projection appeared on the facade of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., that read “Emoluments Welcome,” along with an animation of the flags of nations where President Trump has business projects.
This was followed by a message that read “Pay Trump Bribes Here,” with an arrow that pointed to the front door of the hotel. Yet another featured an excerpt of the emoluments clause from the U.S. Constitution, which restricts members of the U.S. government from receiving gifts from foreign powers. (Trump is being sued by one watchdog group for potentially violating this clause.)
The projections were all part of an act of protest by artist, filmmaker and video editor Robin Bell, who has been creating these types of guerrilla light protests for more than half a dozen years. His latest action, however, began to go viral on social media almost as it was happening.
“We had a really great moment tonight with this projection,” Bell says. “This double-decker tour bus pulls up to the Trump hotel and everyone starts taking photos and clapping and people are cheering us.”
Bell has been working with projections in one form or another since 2001 — first for musical acts, then as a form of activism. This has included, for example, elaborate messages projected onto the facade of the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters, in collaboration with Defend Our Future, a project of the Environmental Defense Fund, in protest of the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA.
And there isn’t all that much the authorities can do about it.
“When we first started doing it, we were concerned and we reached out for legal advice,” Bell says. “But from the research we did, it was legal. The one thing we can’t do is block traffic. We can’t create an impediment on the sidewalk.”
Bell even has a specially outfitted van that can do mobile projections.
“Tonight we got really lucky and we had a great parking spot,” he says — one that allowed him and a team of friends who regularly pitch in on the actions to perfectly align a series of images against Trump’s hotel.
Bell says he enjoys doing these guerrilla projects since they can transform a random government building into a wild conversation piece. “People will hang out and start to talk about things,” he says. “The whole thing is that you’re trying to create this space.”
He also says it serves as a way of reminding others who disagree with Trump’s policies that they are not alone.
“I was reading this thing about when you deal with authoritarian governments, you have to create your own story,” he says. “If we’re reacting to these people all the time, they can just play us. So, part of the thing is making things that you can laugh at, that you can share, that aren’t just reacting to them.”
Monday’s projections didn’t last long — just 10 minutes, until a pair of security guards walked over and blocked out the light — but the photos live on in social media. Plus, this has only inspired Bell to develop new ideas for future protests.
Says the artist: “We’re not going to slow down any time soon.”
To view more of Bell’s projections, visit bellvisuals.com.