Josephine Meckseper Untitled Flag 2 Pledges of Allegiance

This Exhibition Has Ended

August 22, 2017
July 31, 2018
Outside the Museum

The public art project Pledges of Allegiance was organized by Creative Time, a New York–based nonprofit organization committed to working with artists on contemporary dialogues, debates, and dreams. The project invites cultural institutions to participate in raising flags created by acclaimed contemporary artists to inspire community and conversation while supporting artists at the forefront of socially engaged art-making.

A new flag was hung outside the Johnson each month. Each of fourteen flags identifies an issue the artist is passionate about and will provide opportunities for dialogue about pressing contemporary topics. The artists represented were Alex Da Corte, Jeremy DellerLaToya Ruby Frazier, Ann Hamilton, Robert Longo, Josephine Meckseper, Vik Muniz, Jayson Musson, Ahmet ÖgütYoko Ono, Trevor Paglen, Pedro Reyes, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Nari Ward.

July 2018

Josephine Meckseper’s flag is a collage of an American flag and fragments of her earlier work Goodbye to Language, so titled in a nod to Jean-Luc Godard’s film about the failure of language in a capitalist and divisive society. A black-dripped color field resembles a United States map, divided in two. A single black-and-white sock also takes on a symbolic meaning of polarization, but simultaneously stands for initiating a conversation about our collective future across boundaries.

June 2018

Vik Muniz’s Diaspora Cloud flag features a cloud floating against a blue background and refers to an earlier work by the artist that was commissioned by Creative Time in 2001. Clouds was a “low-tech illusion” in which artist-designed cloud shapes were “drawn” over the Manhattan skyline by a crop-dusting plane, encouraging millions of New Yorkers to pause, look up into the sky, and ponder the fleeting nature of images. In a post-9/11 world, Diaspora Cloud expands on this idea to suggest that movement and change are persistent aspects of society.

May 2018

Ahmet Ögüt is a conceptual artist who lives and works in Amsterdam and Berlin. For work across a broad range of disciplines—including video, photography, installation, drawing, and printed media—he tends to seek out collaborators from outside of the art world. Ögüt’s work grapples with complex social issues ranging from migration to civil unrest in unique ways, often with a sense of humor. His flag is inspired by Dutch artist Marinus Boezem’s postcard-sized photograph entitled If you’d like this photo in colors, burn it (1967–69). Camouflaged in a reference to a still-living older artist, a very simple, unassuming black-and-white flag invites us to exercise our freedom of speech.

April 2018

LaToya Ruby Frazier asks for justice for the communities in Flint, Michigan, with a flag that reminds us of the number of days that residents have been living without safe drinking water (as of May 2017). The photograph is from her 2016 work Flint is Family, for which Frazier spent five months with three generations of Flint women as they faced the city’s water crisis—what Public Radio International called “an entirely preventable man-made disaster.”

A second flag was on view at Cornell's Mann Library on the Ag Quad in conjunction with People’s Climate Week at Cornell. 

April 2018

The text on Rirkrit Tiravanija’s flag translates the title of German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 film Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul)—a reference that first appeared in the artist’s 1994 installation of a bar in a storefront gallery in Cologne, Germany. Only serving beer and cola, Tiravanija’s project invoked the film’s opening scene, in which an elderly German cleaner and a much younger Moroccan Gastarbeiter (guest worker) first meet over those same drinks. A brilliant reworking of Douglas Sirk’s 1955 classic All That Heaven Allows, Fassbinder’s film chronicles a romance thwarted by social convention and prejudice, making it searingly relevant for today’s divisive times.

Known for being among the first artists to practice so-called relational art, Tiravanija is identified with immaterial projects that combine daily life and creative practice. For the past thirty years, he has cooked meals in galleries and museums around the world, representing his fundamental interest in bringing people from all walks of life together. 

March 2018

Known for an unflinching critique of the surveillance state, Trevor Paglen’s practice spans sculpture, investigative journalism, engineering, and many other disciplines. The image of a weeping angel in Paglen’s flag directly references characters from the Doctor Who television series—evil angels who can kill but become statue-still if a human meets their eyes. By surrounding the angel with code, Paglen refers to “Weeping Angel” becoming the name for a hacking tool the CIA reportedly developed to spy on citizens last year. Smart TVs would be retooled to be in a fake “off” mode but covertly send recordings back. In 2015, quantum physicists from Cornell published a study that also used the reference to explain experiments where entities cease to exist if one attempts to observe them. 

March 2018

Jeremy Deller’s flag reflects the political intention of much of his art. Focusing on people, icons, myths, folklore, and cultural history, he weaves together high and low, popular and rarefied, to create unique and thought-provoking work. The emoji-style faces make this flag look humorous and familiar, while at the same time encouraging us to stay—or get—engaged.

February 2018

Alex Da Corte’s flag is a replica of a drawing made by American feminist artist Ree Morton (1936–1977) sometime between May 1974 and June 1975 as part of a project idea called “Something in the Wind.” The physical version of her flag was never realized, although many other flags were made with her friends’ names on them. In celebration of Morton “and all of the friend families we form,” Da Corte notes, “may we grow stronger and stranger every day,” a reference to a monologue by Tom Waits in the 2006 film Wristcutters: A Love Story.

January 2018

Pedro Reyes’s project pUN: The people’s United Nations puts regular people in place of career diplomats at his version of the UN. As an experimental conference, pUN applies tools from social psychology, theater, art, and conflict resolution to geopolitics. Imagining a massive encounter group, pUN uses role-play to engage participants in subjects of magnitude that otherwise be overwhelming. To date, pUN encounters have gathered participants from more than 160 different countries. The first encounter took place in 2013 in New York City, followed by Los Angeles in 2014 and Kanazawa, Japan, in 2015.

“The flag of pUN,” Reyes notes, “is inspired by the hamsa (literally, ‘five’ in Arabic). The right palm with an eye at the center has been a cross-cultural symbol of protection for millennia. Originating in Africa, the hamsa predates Christianity and Islam. Workers’ and peoples’ movements have often been represented by a hand—sometimes holding a tool or closed in a fist. Here, the hand is open, its fingers spread in a salute. This benevolent hand placed over an orb is meant to signal our mission to protect the planet. And here, its five fingers represent the world’s five populated continents. pUN’s motto is ‘Hands-on with a vision.’ Join us.”

December 2017

The image on Ann Hamilton’s flag FLY TOGETHER is drawn from an early children’s alphabet book. With two birds holding a piece of cloth between their beaks, Hamilton explores the potential of mutual cooperation. She asks, “Using their mouths as we use our hands, perhaps they hold a piece of the sky? A cloth that will protect or warm? It’s impossible to know but to carry the cloth’s weight, to allow the cloth’s movement, they must hold it with gentleness and tenacity. They must work and fly together.” Like Yoko Ono’s the previous month, Hamilton’s flag asks us to stand together for shared goals and to realize the power of community.

November 2017

Imagine Peace is inspired by a concept developed by Yoko Ono and her late husband John Lennon. Ono has spread their message of peace to a global community in more than twenty-four languages on billboards and posters, in newspaper ads and tweets, and through many other media over the decades. Since the 1960s Ono has challenged viewers’ understanding of art and its role in society with work that involves collaboration, audience participation, and social activism. This flag continues Ono’s peace campaign, a movement that is more timely than ever in our current political climate of aggression and divisiveness. 

October 2017

“Musson’s flag forces the viewer to engage in an all-too-befitting commentary in our political present,” said Nato Thompson, artistic director at Creative Time. “While Walter Benjamin referred to the history of civilization as a history of barbarism, Jayson Musson sees this phenomenon in the spirit of Saw, Leprechaun 2, and The Exorcist.” The artist himself stated, “Patriotism is a part of the progression of history in which a few mighty sovereign states crushed nearly the entirety of the globe underfoot in pursuit of their inalienable rights, which more often than not was simply the pursuit of riches.”

September 2017

Of his flag Untitled (Dividing Time) (2017), the artist Robert Longo said, “I based this flag on a large-scale charcoal drawing I completed on the day of the most recent presidential election. The drawing, Untitled (Nov. 8, 2016), consists of a left and right panel, with five inches separating them. I chose to draw the right panel larger but with fewer stars; my intention is to present the current symptomatic divide in the United States.”

August 2017

Breathing Flag (2017) by Nari Ward references the flag of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and an African prayer symbol known as the Congolese Cosmogram, which represents birth, life, death, and rebirth.

“Several of these hole patterns are drilled into the floorboards of one of the oldest African American churches in the United States in Savannah, Georgia,” explains Ward. “It is believed that the drilled pattern functioned as breathing holes for runaway slaves who, hiding under the floor, awaited safe transport north. The union of that moment and of Garvey's black nationalist flag acknowledge the resilience of the human spirit to survive even as we continue to need to be reminded here in America that Black Lives Matter.”