Artificial Moon of the Concrete Forest – Yasheng

Artificial Moon of the Concrete Forest

There is a contraction site near where I live in Rosslyn, Virginia. It is an ordinary construction site with one exception, an LED light embedded moon sculpture hanging over one of the cranes on the site. The moon displays various colors at different time, sometimes yellow, half red half yellow, and sometimes blue, which I assume is referencing the saying “once in a blue moon.” Despite its strange placement and unclear purpose, it is still an object attracts minimum attention due to the fact that it is in a construction site and Rosslyn is a place of business with busy commuters. I, on the other hand, do not work in Rosslyn and the moon is always the first thing catching my attention on my back from Georgetown.

So I started to wonder the meaning behind the moon and what it means to people in Rosslyn. I first talked to the construction workers. Three of those I asked all told me that they were not sure why the moon was there yet they made it very clear to me that they do not like it. When I asked why, they speculated that the moon has something to do with Islam and that really bothered them.

Needless to say, I was shocked by how these workers were able to generate Islamophobia from the moon. Became even more intrigued by the purpose of the moon, I quickly turned to Google for answers. Turns out, the moon is a temporary public art project – a brainchild of Brian Coulter, Managing Partner of Central Place developer JBG.[1]


Though I understood the origin and purpose of the artificial moon, it is still interesting to ponder what it means to different individuals.

One of this week’s readings maintains that we, human beings, have semiotic competence, which enables us to understand that, “things can mean something beyond their materiality as things or the mere perception of what strikes our eyes, ears, and other sense organs.”[2] Accordingly, based on our past experience, the artificial moon, a signifier, hanging over the construction site points to different signified to different individuals. To me, the artificial moon reminded me of an old song I heard when I was a child. The title of the song can be roughly translated as “Escape from the Concrete Forest”. The concept of an artificial moon hanging among many skyscrapers, AKA the concrete forest, is almost romantic to me. When I shared this with the construction workers, they laughed but one of them said, “that’s beautiful.” This week’s reading maintains that, “sign functions mediate our cognitive links to others and enable any social member to conceive an other’s meaning and point of view.”[3] Our distinctive interpretations of the moon open up a window into our inner psyches. The artificial moon made me nostalgic, yet is the manifestation of fear to some of these construction workers. The artificial moon, with accurate likeness to the real moon, through different layers of abstraction, created distinctive symbolic significances[4].

The moon was removed on July 24th for the construction of the north building was close to finish. Though the moon is gone, what it signified to people remain.

I took this photo on the day the moon was removed

I took this photo on the day the moon was removed

 Nevertheless, I wish in a perfect world, these constructions workers will remember the night they sat under the artificial moon enjoying the coolness of the evening instead of what they think the moon means to them.

Other Questions:

  1. Chinese charters (pictogram) are a likeness and a symbol at the same time, for instance, the character for sun is日. Though the form has changed throughout history, the original writing style has the affordance for people instantly understand its meaning. By this logic, can I argue that there is a lack, or at least less, of arbitrariness between Chinese characters and what they signify?
  2. I don’t want to be that person, but can the binary system really represent all thought processes?
  3. This is just a comment, but the quote “we make the meaning associations on the fly from the internalized codes and conventions of our language and culture, and we readily generate new signs (verbal expressions, images, diagrams, mathematical equations, etc.) to express understood meanings to others and they to us”[5] make me think about how we are all cyborgs because we are quite similar to our technology.

[1] “Giant ‘Moon’ Part of Continuing Central Place Construction in Rosslyn.” – Arlington, Va. – Breaking News, Opinions & Community Happenings, September 29, 2015.

[2] Irvine, Martin (2016). The Grammar of Meaning Making: Sign Systems, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics. Communication, Culture & Technology Program Georgetown University. Page 2.

[3] Irvine, Martin (2016). Page 12.

[4] Irvine, Martin (2016). Key Writings on Signs, Symbols, Symbolic Cognition, Cognitive Artefacts, and Technology Compiled and edited with commentary by Martin Irvine. Communication, Culture & Technology Program Georgetown University. Page 14.

[5] Irvine, Martin (2016). Page 12.