Today is 9/11, a day which 14 years ago claimed thousands of lives and two iconic towers in New York that will forever be etched in the minds of people across the globe. Six months following the attacks—on March 11, 2002—a public artwork emerged that has served as an international symbol of hope and remembrance ever since: “Tribute in Light.”
Illuminating New York City skies and visible to all those within a 60-mile radius every September 11th since 2002, “Tribute in Light’s” powerful beams of light return tonight, honoring “those who were lost and those who worked so hard to get…[New York City]…through that terrible trial” according to the Municipal Arts Society (MAS)—the presenter of this work for the first 10 years, before the 9/11 Memorial Museum took over the display in 2012.
Powered by 88 “refrigerator-sized” 7,000-watt xenon light bulbs positioned to create two shapes reminiscent of The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, “Tribute in Light” consists of two 48-foot square beams of light that extend from a roof near the World Trade Center site, four miles straight up into the sky. To date, this installation creates the strongest beam of light ever projected into the sky from the earth. Each year, the ethereal “Tribute in Light” shines from dusk on September 11 to the dawn of September 12.
Little did artists Paul Myoda and Julian LaVerdiere know in 1999 that their proposed Twin Towers public artwork would shift so dramatically. In 1999, Creative Time—a NY-based public arts organization—brought together a selection of artists and biologists to discuss ideas for proposals for public works that addressed genetic engineering. Among those in attendance that evening were Myoda and LaVerdiere, who eventually submitted a proposal for a “living light” public sculpture entitled “Bioluminescent Beacon” that Creative Time selected to literally bring to life. This public artwork was to sit atop the 1,300 mast of NYC’s One World Trade Center, where the artists and their team were also given a studio residency on the 91st floor for the duration of their project. On September 12, 2001, the day after the attacks, Anne Pasternak—president and artistic director of Creative Time—asked the artists to join in the relief effort by creating a rendering of hope for an upcoming New York Times Magazine issue. The resulting image, showing the NYC skyline with two illuminated apparitions where the Twin Towers once stood, was selected to appear on the cover of the magazine. This powerful image put the “Tribute in Light Initiative,” into motion. In the end, bringing “Tribute in Light” to life took a collaborative effort. In addition to LaVerdiere and Myoda, this artwork brought together the minds and talents of artists and architects—John Bennett, Gustavo Bonevardi and Richard Nash Gould—as well as lighting designer Paul Marantz and events producer Michael Ahern (under the auspices of MAS and Creative Time).
Perhaps the greatest beauty of this work is that it leaves so much room for interpretation. Everyone can have a unique experience of the piece. The cost to view “Tribute in Light” is free, and the viewing point is entirely up to the viewer. The installation gives viewers an experience that is all at once personal and communal. As Ahern explained, “…it’s so pure and simple and everyone makes it what they want it to be for themselves…it triggers a whole host of feelings and memories, and the things you aspire to that are without conflict and without aggravation. It’s symbolic of survival and carrying on.” To hear more from Ahern and watch some beautiful “Tribute in Light” footage, check out the video below.
We are grateful for this powerful and inspiring work, reminding us how public art has the ability to move, empower and heal.