Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reason #14873 to Love New York City: the Masstransiscope

Last week I was sitting on the B train on my way into work, looking out into the blackness of the tunnels as we left the DeKalb station for Manhattan, when I saw odd flashes of light on the northern side of the train. This in itself was not unusual -- there are lots of strange lights in the tunnels -- but the lights came at regular intervals, and more than that, they seemed to reveal abstract shapes: geometric figures forming, germinating, blossoming against a white background, like an animated film. I stared openmouthed, but nobody else on the train seemed to notice this amazing display. The next day, I watched carefully after we left the DeKalb station, and it happened again: black pillars, white background, with brightly hued boxes opening and unfolding, blue jellyfish shooting away to the horizon. And again nobody else on the train seemed to notice -- it seemed to be my own private artwork, or hallucination.

So it was a pleasure to discover this website and video explaining the phenomenon: the Masstransiscope.

It is an artwork, installed by the artist Bill Brand in the abandoned Myrtle Avenue subway station in 1980 -- a series of paintings that work on the zoetrope principle to give the appearance of movement. The video above shows three contemporary news reports; you can also click here for a modern (if fuzzier) view, complete with a brief pause in the tunnel for an anti-terrorism message. This is by far the coolest New York thing I've learned about in some time, and I'm grateful to Mr. Brand for creating such a wonderful installation and brightening my morning commute.


  1. that is completely fabulous!

  2. That's so fantastic. I miss New York so much, so thank you for this glimpse into something so New York.

    And a clip from channel eleven before it was the WB, or CW or whatever it is now!

  3. Fabulous.

    Also fascinating is just how very covered with graffiti the inside of the subway cars were back then compared to now. It's like a whole 'nother world.

  4. That's amazing! Thanks, Cheryl. (Told you I'd stop lurking.)

  5. Very cool...another reason to go to New York!

  6. I love discovering secrets like that in real life - Brava to you for noticing it! (It's very "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," isn't it?)
    Thanks for sharing this,