As you might have guessed, most of the work involving the projection
of images onto steam is experimental or semi-experimental in nature.
However, it has been done numerous times.
The person who did the most experiments using steam as a projection
medium is the late Stan VanDerBeek. Here are some references to his
My recollections of the 1981 UNC-G Film Festival
"Vanderbeek projected films onto steam escaping from holes in aluminum
tubes. This presentation (in the garden between Aycock and Taylor
Theatre) was fraught with technical snafus but it was still a lot of
fun. (In a retrospective article* about him--he died in
1984--Vanderbeek's wife recalls that these events were 'hauntingly
beautiful, if, at times, technically flawed--one steam-projection
presentation in Paris was marred by rivulets of water running on the
The Wizard of the Magic Screen
"Through the late '60s and early '70s, VanDerBeek toured North
America, Europe, Japan, and the Middle East with his films and his big
ideas, creating massive environments of images and light, sometimes
for days at a time, using multiple projections and novel screen
configurations. He also experimented with TV simulcasting at WGBH in
Boston and projections onto steam, which Johanna and VanDerBeek's
second wife, Louise, remember as hauntingly beautiful, if, at times,
technically flawed--one steam-projection presentation in Paris was
marred by rivulets of water running on the museum's floor."
"His desire for the utopian led him to work with Ken Kwolton in a
co-operation at the Bell Telephone Company laboratories, where dozens
of computer animated films and holographic experiments were created by
the end of the 1960's. At the same time, VanDerBeek taught at many
universities, researching new methods of representation, from the
steam projections at the Guggenheim Museum, to the interactive
television transmissions of his 'Violence Sonata' broadcast on several
channels in 1970."
VISIBLES by Stan Vanderbeek
"In the 1970s he designed global fax murals, steam projections and
interactive television programs."
"Eventually, VanDerBeek would take the screen away entirely and
project images onto walls of steam."
Re: Water Screens
"Stan Vanderbeek projected into steam at the Whitney museum in New
York in 1980. The steam screens emanated from pipes on the ground,
and you were supposed to put your face in the steam and look through
the tunnel of light into the projector beam."
Re: Water Screens
"'Steam Screens' by Stan Vanderbeek, was a film performance which took
place at the Whitney in the sculpture court in 1979/80, in which Stan
Vanderbeek projected a number of films onto high walls of steam, from
pipes placed maze-like on the floor."
An artist who is still alive and using steam as a projection medium is
Trimpin. Here are two references to him:
The Sound of Genius
"During a performance, water will be dripped onto heated metal plates,
producing both a hissing sound and providing a steam screen, on which
an image of the lips will be projected during the spoken-word portion
of the performance."
Taming the Elements with MIDI
"Trimpin's work continues to evolve as he explores new sonic and
technological frontiers. Upcoming projects include a theatrical
collaboration with composer Robert Ashley, involving FireOrgan and
visual projections on steam clouds (MIDI controlled, of course, by
regulated dripping of water drops onto heated plates)."
A steam screen may have been used as part of Year 2000 celebration for
a student research project at Yale University. At the very least, the
idea was researched. The page I found about this apparently is no
longer available, but it exists in the Google cache (so check it out
while it's still there):
Yale Research Areas
"Steam Screen: A New Projection Medium for the Year 2000 New Year's
Celebration" (sponsored by the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts),
Roman Caudillo, Tobin Fisher, Warren Jones, and Jemal Smith. Adviser:
Dr. Nathan Delson
Linda Lewett, an independent producer/director lists steam projection
as one of her accomplishments:
"The Making of Steam Projection for performance artist Sherman Fleming
at the Philadelphia Art Museum during the John Cage exhibition
Rolywholyover: A Circus."
Here's another reference to a steam projection:
Projecting Through Things
"re waterscreens, etc: In the early seventies in Australia the
Cantrills projected a film of a boiling jug onto the steam from a row
of boiling jugs."
Steam has also been used for display of images at laser light shows:
A Brief History of Laser Light Shows
"In the summer of 1978 the Smithsonian Institution in cooperation with
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sponsored "Icarus", a sky
opera seen nightly over Washington DC. The music for the show was
composed by Paul Earls and the images by Otto Piene both of MIT's
Center for Advanced Visual Studies. The laser images which included
flying birds were projected onto steam screens which rose from a 52.5
meter (175-foot) array of perforated pipes dubbed 'Centerbeam'. The
array of pipes formed the centrepiece of the show and was used to
display sculptures and art works created by others from MIT including
10 solar-tracked holograms by Harriet Casdin-Silver."
And another, final reference to steam screens:
20th Century Art
"PIENE, OTTO and ELIZABETH GOLDRING, eds. Centerbeam. 131 pp., over
100 illus., 16 color photos, essays, photos and profiles of
participants. The record of a kinetic group work of laser projected
images on moving steam screens, helium-lifted sky sculptures, and
more, exhibited at Documenta 6 (1977) and on the National Mall in
Washington, D.C. (1978) 4to, wraps. Cambridge, MIT, 1980."
I hope this helps you with your research.
I tried a number of terms with variations of "steam," "film,"
"projection" and other terms; the one that finally got me some success
was "steam screens" with the quotes. Then I used VanDerBeek's last
name and Trimpin's only name as a search term to find references to
Search term: vanderbeek steam
Search term: trimpin steam