Hand Ships Sail: Sign Language projection art - CODAworx

Hand Ships Sail: Sign Language projection art

Submitted by Cathy Mager


Location: Bristol, United Kingdom

Completion date: 2022

Project Team

Director / Artist

Cathy Mager


Rod Mclachlon


James Merry


Vilma Jackson


Sophie Stone


Discover the beauty and power of sign language projection art. Sign Night – Hand Ships Sail is a poetic conversation in British Sign Language (BSL) – the vital, visual and versatile language of British deaf communities. Hand Ships Sail is giant mesmerising projection onto the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, UK and was installed for 1 week in March 2022, attracting a live audience of 170,000 people. Part of the Bristol Light Festival. Two deaf performers share their dreams for the future as they look out over the night sky. Intriguing and sensual, the installation explores communication barriers caused by mask-wearing, and the social isolation which has been experienced by many deaf people during the pandemic.


The installation integrated music and sign language choreography and poetic captions. Projected across an expanse of water there were also fascinating reflections into the surrounding water.


Hand Ships Sail is the second major projection work in Cathy Mager's "Sign Night" series, a body of projection and digital art that explores sign language poetry. Starring acclaimed performers Vilma Jackson and Sophie Stone, the work brings to life the vision of artist / director Cathy Mager, who worked with the team of deaf actors remotely in lockdown to generate the performance inspired by her own poetry. The performers were recorded in a socially distanced film shoot in a green screen studio.  The footage was initially projected on to historic buildings at Bridewell Island in Bristol and captured on film. The film went on to receive multiple international awards including Juror's Choice Award at Superfest and has been shown in seven different countries.