Two artists are making the Empire State Building their canvas to highlight the plights of threatened species
Travis Threlkel was standing on the roof of a building on Fifth Avenue and 27th Street looking uptown at his canvas. It’s the Empire State Building, and on Saturday evening, he and his collaborator, the filmmaker and photographer Louie Psihoyos, will project digital light images of endangered species onto the building in an art event meant to draw attention to the creatures’ plight. Threlkel explained: “We’re going to try to create something beautiful. Not bum people out.”
On Saturday, using 40 stacked, 20,000-lumen projectors on the roof of a building on West 31st Street, Threlkel and Psihoyos, director of the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” will be illuminating the night from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. with a looping reel showing what Psihoyos calls a “Noah’s ark” of animals. A snow leopard, a golden lion tamarin and manta rays, along with snakes, birds and various mammals and sea creatures will be projected onto a space 375 feet tall and 186 feet wide covering 33 floors of the southern face of the Empire State Building — and beyond.
Four years ago, Psihoyos’ Oceanic Preservation Society hired Threlkel’s San Francisco company, Obscura Digital, to put on elaborate light shows to help draw attention to the alarming rate at which species are dying out. The men began discussing “the most dramatic thing we could do to get the world to know about what we’re losing,” Psihoyos said. They wanted to use the photography of Psihoyos’ colleagues at National Geographic and project the images on a newsworthy facade. The Empire State Building was an obvious choice for the project, not only because of its high-profile global status but also because it is one of the sustainable buildings in New York.
“The concept of incorporating art into the urban fabric and making a statement is wonderful,” said Anthony E. Malkin, chairman and chief executive of Empire State Realty Trust. Malkin called Psihoyos “a fellow traveler in trying to make our time on Earth more certain for a long period of time.” But getting the city to “buy in,” as Psihoyos put it, was more difficult. The city has strict laws regarding the projection of images on buildings, and Psihoyos’ efforts to get approval were frustrated for three years until television producer Norman Lear, supportive of liberal causes, stepped in to assist, using his connections to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office.
Psihoyos and Threlkel got the green light with just four weeks to put together the production. Threlkel was enthusiastic about a projection of a giant ape, like King Kong, that will appear to climb the building up to the 71st floor and set off the top spiral lights, which will be in sync with the images throughout the performance. Two helicopters will also circle the building. The images should be clear to anyone within 20 blocks downtown of the Empire State Building. Below 14th Street, the images will be visible but not as discernible.New York Times.