Riot and Quiet: @ The Flagpole Gallery with Elan Greenwald

Kuan Hwa’s Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori at Flagpole Gallery

Flagpole Gallery squats on the fourth floor balcony of the Contemporary Arts Center at the University of California, Irvine. The structure is just over fourteen feet high and built from unfinished 4 x 4 wood posts, commercially-available concrete piers, and traditional flagpole hardware.  The arrangement of the wooden supports and concrete footings is a postcard-perfect image of excess strength.  Set up all at once on a cold February night, Flagpole Gallery instantly became the only site for long-term, student-generated exhibitions on UCI’s campus.  Flagpole Gallery‘s fort aesthetics—brutal and basic—takes a forked approach, territorializing in function, welcoming in its structural simplicity and readily-apprehended use of materials.  Two recent projects, one current, underscore the political possibilities of the structure and address these divergent traits.

At a time when two members of Pussy Riot continue to be held in a Russian prison colony and attacking women’s rights remains a successful strategy in American politics, Martabel Wasserman proposes Write-in Riot (2012), a political project leveraging the aesthetics of presidential campaigns and embodied in campaign buttons; print-at-home posters distributed online through Recaps Magazine; and a flag sited at Flagpole Gallery, on view through November 6, 2012—Election Day.  Wasserman’s project points to the very real stakes of political choice and political action, right here and now, and their embodied subject.

Write-in Riot (2012) follows Kuan Hwa’s project Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.  Hwa’s work, a large, white cotton percale sheet with unfinished edges the artist hand-sewed to Flagpole Gallery, suggested a prolonged surrender—with all the sustained effort, strength, and compassion necessary to take on this ethical position—where desire for coexistence and concern for the other takes precedence over self-interest.  Visible from the entrances to the UCI’s sports facilities, Hwa offered a direct alternative to contest.  Under low wind conditions, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori draped low, placing it in the space of the body, generously allowing interaction and serving as a reminder of the ultimate signified content embedded in all flags.