As Time Goes By: Locost Queue Brings Old Clocktower to Life

Craft & Design
As Time Goes By: Locost Queue Brings Old Clocktower to Life


Photo courtesy of Mitch Waxman
Photo courtesy of Mitch Waxman

A clocktower stands at the intersection of two very major roads and one end of a 3,000-foot-long bridge of the borough’s namesake, in Queens, NYC. This 14 story, approximately 210-foot tall building, completed in 1927, was the tallest structure in the area until the One Court Square building was completed in 1990. So for over 60 years this former Bank of Manhattan structure was as high up as you could get in the borough of Queens.

While offices are scattered throughout the upper eleven stories of the building, there are also many vacancies and the giant three-story chamber that is the ground floor where the bank once operated is unoccupied. That is until an arts organization stepped in and proposed an exhibition to utilize the “vacated space” of the limestone-supported main entrance. And also the clocktower atop the building.

Locost Queue

Meet artist-maker Chris Jordan (or simply CJ) and his project Locost Queue, a spinning carousel projecting human silhouettes depicting daily population fluctuations of NYC:

(this animated GIF speed does not show the projection in real-time)

CJ looked at recent rates of population increase and decrease, accounting for births, deaths, and migrants moving into the boroughs. In a city that already accounts for 8.2 million inhabitants, to lose 152/day and to add 343/day still results in a net gain of around 70,000 people a year! That’s a truly staggering thought when you try to contemplate what is needed for a city to grow at that rate. Yet every evening from dusk to midnight apparitions of those souls are projected inside this otherwise abandoned clocktower.


CJ and his assistant Enki photographed passers-by in the lead up to the project, for a total of 21 silhouettes. Printed on one 5-foot long piece of transparency, they are themselves a mere drop in the bucket of this borough of 2.25 million, but also nod to the varying body shapes, sizes, and statures that make Queens the most diverse county in the United States.

Working with a paltry budget that would not even purchase one evening’s stay at some NYC hotels, CJ cobbled together the hardware necessary to conduct a 360° projection of light. This included hacking a power supply from a conference phone; modifying a hula hoop to hold the aforementioned transparency (using shower hooks no less); mounting the four-way lamp that he bought from a local film industry surplus seller onto a tripod that he got for free at an annual Geek Xmas tech swap; calculating the throws necessary to use fresnel lenses salvaged from overhead projectors; and many other creative reuses of everything from lumber to mounting hardware, sourced from previous project builds.

The control box which regulates the speed of the carousel. Only the #2 pot, rated at 10KΩ, is needed for this installation. It was salvaged from a previous build.
The control box which regulates the speed of the carousel. Only the 10KΩ #2 pot is needed for this installation. The box itself was salvaged from a previous build.
The fresnel lenses are mounted in such a way to give each lens independent focus, with several degrees of articulation.
The fresnel lenses are mounted in such a way to give each lens independent focus, with several degrees of articulation.

In the end the result of projected souls spinning in a clocktower over 200 feet high up in the air is mesmerizing. And even though the building has recently been eclipsed in height by boons in condo development and civic government architecture, the clocktower itself can still be seen from many vantages after sunset, including as far as away as Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and likely from Manhattan itself. For a city whose nickname of Gotham conjures up idealized and even romanticized notions of NYC as a place of noir and constant flux, Locost Queue is a maker-made piece of public art that reinforces this perception in a subtle, but powerful way.

Photo by Enki
Photo by Enki showing the view from the clocktower, which makes me wonder from how far away can one see the silhouettes in the clocktower.

Locost Queue is on view every evening from dusk to midnight through March 13, 2013, located here in Queens, NYC. Take the N/Q/7 subways to Queensboro Plaza and walk east to see the projection from street level – look up! Or take the N/Q trains one more stop to 39 Avenue and you can view the tower from the elevated tracks.

14 thoughts on “As Time Goes By: Locost Queue Brings Old Clocktower to Life

  1. chuck says:

    I recently acquired an old overhead projector and a microfilm reader and was wondering what to do with all the surplus optics… hmmm.

  2. Dekorasyon says:

    Very nice design

  3. Sue W says:

    Loved Chris Jordan’s art for some years. Great idea.

  4. Joe Belknap Wall says:

    Nice! I manage the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower in Baltimore, Maryland, a 288 foot clock tower originally built in 1911 to advertise a tranquilizer-laden hangover cure, and when I was trying out ideas to bring a little new attention to the Tower to celebrate its centennial, I worked with the artist Kelley Bell to use those splendid frosted glass faces as rear projection screens. There’s a quick sampling of the two month-long displays (summer and late autumn) we did here at vimeo:

    I’m so pleased to see more people taking advantage of the potential of revisiting these wonderful old clocks as a new form of canvas, and I especially enjoy the ingenuity that this project shows in terms of making so much out of a meager budget. We’re working with a new artist for the next installment in our project, Zoe Friedman, who is a terrific artist working in intricate cut-outs and mixed media, and I’m definitely sending this along to her as an inspiration.

    Good stuff, and thanks for sharing it with us!

    – Joe Wall

    1. Nick Normal says:

      Thanks for your note Joe. I was not aware of Bell’s work (love her “Oracle” piece!), or of the Arts Tower and the projects there. Is the Tower publicly accessible? I plan to be in Baltimore in early April for the Kinetic Sculpture Race, and would love to pay a visit, to see the old mechanisms, the city from up high, and to see Zoe’s work if it is up then, or hear about how artists and makers find residency there. Such an intriguing prospect, if clocktowers and abandoned towers all across the country could join forces and have rotating artworks and projects for public art!

      I notice your tower also uses four IIIIs instead of IV for 4 – do you know was that the convention at the time? I’ve heard various reasons why this was the standard.


      1. Joe Belknap Wall says:

        Race day is May 5th this year, so don’t get here too early! I’m the official spiritual figurehead of the race, so you can easily track me down—just look for the bearded nun.

        The tower itself is generally closed to the public except for open houses on the first and third Saturday of each month, but if you drop me a line, I may be able to make arrangements to get you in. The projections ended up happening at Bromo because I’d done a fair amount of work over the years with rear projection for events at the American Visionary Art Museum, and when I first started at Bromo, I thought those glass faces would be a perfect canvas. I’m not a video artist myself, so I recruited Bell, and she really got the je ne sais quoi of the place right off. There’s something wonderful about finding new ways of making people look to a building that they’ve seen for years and years.

        I’m not sure on the IIII vs IV matter, though there’s much about the tower that’s odd and awkward. It was built as a sort of lo-fi copy of the Palazzo Vecchio, but capped with a giant rotating Bromo bottle and with clock faces that spell out the name of the titular product, so it may have just come down to the continuing odd whims of the Emerson Drug Company’s larger-than-life founder.

        – Joe

        1. Nick Normal says:

          Hey Joe – Thanks for your note, sorry for the slow reply. Yes I was looking at my calendar wrong – I’ll be there in May! Bearded nun you say? We didn’t meet, but yes I saw you there last year: – I really look forward to meeting more of the participants and makers this time around, now that I know what to expect.

          Maybe I should plan for May 4 also, to squeeze the clocktower open house tour in? Otherwise another time. I’m really glad you saw the tower as an opportunity for artistic expression, and I look forward to hearing your stories on how that developed.

          I love all the back-story too – so odd, so unique! Thanks again, and see you in May!

          cheers, Nick

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I'm an artist & maker. A lifelong biblioholic, and advocate for all-things geekathon. Home is Long Island City, Queens, which I consider the greatest place on Earth. 5-year former Resident of Flux Factory, co-organizer for World Maker Faire (NYC), and blogger all over the net. Howdy!

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