In 1884, famed sculptor Daniel Chester French enlisted a Harvard University student to serve as a model for a bronze statue of John Harvard, now an iconic element of Harvard Yard. More than a century later, Materials & Methods collaborated with renowned artist Krzysztof Wodiczko on a public art installation that activated the statue with projections of current students, creating a more accurate reflection of the diverse voices and range of experiences encountered at the Ivy League school today.

The “John Harvard Projection,” commissioned by Harvard University’s Committee on the Arts, brought together crowds of strangers passing through Harvard Yard throughout its run, facilitating a community experience and sparking dialogue in the center of campus.

“Public space should always be used or animated by the voices of those who are not understood and not recognized,” said Wodiczko. “That space should also make some people more open to communicating and others to come closer and hear.”

During the run, the final video loop was superimposed onto the statue using a Christie 14K HD projector, and a 600W audio system was used to broadcast sound across Harvard Yard.

Materials + Methods also worked with Harvard’s head conservationist to locate an appropriate coating for the statue, as initial tests determined that projected light was not visible on the surface due to its highly polished finish. After research and testing, a removable rubberized paint product, which was optically clear but maintained a perfect matte finish once dry, was applied to the statue. It was safely removed after the project, leaving no residue and causing no harm to the sculpture’s wax finish.

On evenings from April 20 through April 27, the statue was animated with an hour-long video of about 30 students from across the university speaking about their experiences and observations at Harvard, as well as other issues on their minds.

“This type of public art installation is a really powerful one. It’s a great medium—something that repurposes public space through a creative lens,” said Jeff Grantz, founder and creative director of Materials & Methods. “

To create the projections, Materials + Methods worked closely with Wodiczko and his students from the Harvard Graduate School of Design to conduct interviews with the subjects. During filming, they were positioned to replicate John Harvard’s pose, their heads supported in place by a rig and their hands placed on armrests whose proportions mimicked those of the statue’s chair. Four different cameras captured each interview—three situated to the right, left and center of the subject and a fourth zoomed in to capture only the face. Afterward, segments from each video were edited in After Effects and warped onsite through a projection mapping program to combine the various angles and align perfectly with the statue’s features.