tilts windmills

James Downey (Internet performance artist)

James Downey is a US author, book restorer and Internet performance artist, who has organized two relatively high-profile stunts.

Lasers at the moon (Paint the Moon)

In 2001, working off an idea in a book he was writing (Communion of Dreams), Downey theorised that that there may be enough laser powered pens to change the colour of the Moon. He created a simple website and dubbed the project Paint the Moon. As a 'collective lyric fantasy', he encouraged anyone in possession of a laser pen to point it at the Moon at a specified time on a certain date, theoretically to create a dot on the Moon's surface. "Uniting millions of people around the globe to attempt this ostensibly impossible task is a new kind of performance art," Downey wrote on his site. The idea was picked up on the web and in the media, and generated a lot of world-wide attention. Though many responded back with e-mails notifying Downey of their participation, the project was a failure in its ostensible goal. Eric Van Stryland, director of Center for Research in Electro-Optics and Lasers at the University of Central Florida noted to USA Today that although it's "still a fun idea", such a project would need "at least a few million billion red laser pointers to see a big red spot on the moon."

Harry Potter Nobel Prize letter writing campaign

In 2003, Downey attempted to win Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling a 2004 Nobel Prize for Literature, by organising a letter writing campaign via e-mail. Attempting to get author Rowling considered for the prestigious award, he created a website launched in July 2003 called the "Nobel Prize For Jo", urging the global community to participate. On his web page, he was quoted as saying that "I bet if we sent them a few hundred thousand letters, they'd pay attention." Hailed by the BBC as an "Internet crusade", it failed to get any letters sent in, and Downey happily concedes that it is probably his greatest failure to date. "Even the Harry Potter fans hated the idea," said Downey. Only one hundred people are reported to have e-mailed to the address provided.

Only literary professors, members of literature academies, and past winners of the prize may submit suggestions for Nobel recipients. A fan-based campaign alone would not have caused Rowling to win the prize.

Websites Downey has created

  • Paint the Moon (no longer up, but archived here:
  • Nobel Prize for Jo (also no longer up, archived here:
  • a fine line . . .Downey's writing and 'projects'
  • Communion of Dreams, the full science-fiction novel free for downloading.
  • Book conservation service Downey offers


  • Berman, A. S. "Laser pointer project tilts windmills in the sky", USA Today, 17 January 2003
  • "Magic fails in Rowling fan drive", BBC News, 21 August 2003
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