Cars driving by on Jefferson Drive slowed down to a nervous creep. Joggers on the Mall stopped in midstride and stared. And guests leaving an opening party at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden stood in the drizzling rain and said little.

A floating 68-foot-high right hand clutching a Smith and Wesson revolver aimed at the heart of Washington. Another opposite it grasping even more tightly a lit white candle. And in between four menacing microphones under the long balcony that suddenly became a huge mouth.

Who could say what it meant?

And that was the point of "Krzysztof Wodiczko WORKS," which appeared last night for the first time on Mall side of the Hirshhorn's stark exterior walls from 8:30 p.m. to midnight. The Polish-born artist's startling public projection, part of an ongoing series of temporary site-specific installations at the museum, will also be shown tonight and tomorrow.

"Everyone takes away his own meaning," said the intense and bespectacled 46-year-old Wodiczko as he worked in the rain, fiddling with five projectors. "For me, it is what I think of politics in this election, resembling more and more a crime story.

"For example, {Republican presidential candidate} George Bush on one hand is for the death penalty and on another is antiabortion, on one hand he goes on about 'a thousand points of light' and on another defends guns and a strong militaristic policy.

"Media and microphones are also used as weapons."

To get his message out, Wodiczko came to Washington many times this year, "to meditate on the building, trying to teach it to speak in terms of what I want to say." For his voice, he used ordinary 750-watt lecture hall projectors, doubling images up to increase brightness.

The artist, who now lives in New York City, has made more than 35 politically charged projections worldwide since 1980, including missiles on an arch in New York, suffering people on the Calton Hill Memorial in Scotland and a ghostly man clad in a gas mask on a cathedral in West Germany.

"It is a way to say what I need to say," said Wodiczko.

And those gathered to watch, necks craned, had their say too.

"It reminds me of the violence in Washington," said artist Merry Bean of Arlington.

Her husband Bill disagreed. "Maybe it's a hopeful, you know, light a candle in the darkness."

"It's about the right wing and fundamentalists," said one voice.

"No, it's about what's important in Washington -- power," said another.

A soft-spoken security officer who was guarding the equipment had yet another opinion. "It's about reality, which is pretty scary," he said. "It's shocking, but it's supposed to be."

A second component of the show, a videotape explaining the meaning of Wodiczko's works, will be played continually inside the Hirshhorn from Nov. 1 to Jan. 22.