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About Masstransiscope

Masstransiscope is a public artwork that consists of a 300 foot long painting made on reflective material and installed in the tunnel in the NYC subway. It is in a special enclosure which has 228 narrow slits on the front side near the train and the painting on the far side. The inside is illuminated by fluorescent lights. You see the work through the slits and the light reflects off the painting and back through the slits. To someone who's passing by, it looks like an animated movie.

How does it work?

Imagine sitting in a movie theatre—one that plays actual film reels. When the projector’s shutter is up, you see the frame of film. When it’s down—nothing. In fact, half the time you’re sitting in a movie theater, the screen is completely dark.

That intermittency—the “on and off” flicker between image and shutter—you need that to create the illusion of motion. But how do you create a shutter in the New York City subway?

“The way it works in the Masstransiscope is that you actually view the painting through a wall of slits,” Brand says. “So the painting sits inside a box that I created and put on the platform. In the front of the box, every 15 inches is about a half-inch wide slit. So as you pass by, you’re looking through that slit.”

You might ask why subway riders don’t notice a flicker. It has to do with how our visual system registers images.

“When you look at something, or when light passes through your eye, it creates these chemical changes and it persists for a period of time. And we all know that if you’ve had your picture taken with a flash bulb, you see this ball of light for a fairly long period of time that’s quite annoying. But actually that process is happening all the time, consistently, and if it didn’t, we probably wouldn’t see at all,” Brand explains.

You could think of each Masstransiscope frame like a camera bulb’s flash. It makes an impression on the retina that takes time to fade away. Not a long time, but long enough that if those flashes happen quickly enough, we won’t notice the gaps between them. In fact, we’ll swear we’ve been looking at one continuous image the entire time.

- text from Science Friday, NPR

View from inside the subway


Masstransiscope was conceived and created by Bill Brand with support from:

Theresa DeSalvio, Painter

Kathleen Ligon, Architect

Anita Contini, Executive Director, Creative Time, Inc.

Andrea Pedersen, Public Relations Director, Creative Time, Inc.

Nancy Princenthal, Exhibitions Director, Creative Time, Inc.

originally sponsored in 1980 by Creative Time, Inc. and supported in part by:

National Endowment for the Arts

New York State Council on the Arts

Con Edison

American Stock Exchange

Chase Manhattan Bank

among others

with in-kind support from

3M Corporation

Westinghouse Electric

E.E. Tech

Paul Marantz

among others

Restored in 2008 by Bill Brand with cooperation from:

MTA Arts for Transit

and with assistance from:

Michael Strasser, ShelterExpress/MetroClean Express

Miwa Yokoyama, NYU Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program

Alice Moscoso, New York University Libraries

Restored in 2013 by Bill Brand with assistance from:

Sandra Bloodworth, Director, MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design

Katherine Meehan, Manager, MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design

Bill Matheson, Transit Line Manager, MTA

New York University Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program

Elizabeth Hobson, Mike Smith, Yunsung Jang  at the New York Academy of Art



Shira Peltzman, Jieun An, Andrea Callard, Luke Callard Geller, Linda Fenstermaker, Walter Forsberg, John Klacsmann, Brian Spinks, Erik Piil, Jo Brand, Katy Martin


website by Jo Brand | (c) 2015