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.