Friday, February 07, 2014

Flagging expectations

John Key’s how-about-a-new-flag diversion for the election sent us on a hunt for artist-designed flags. Didn’t have to go far. At the Dowse right now there are 10 of them designed by artists including Don Driver, Pat Hanly and Gretchen Albrecht (did the Dowse’s exhibition planner have an inside track on the Government's plans to run the flag thing up the public opinion pole again?). If nothing else the Dowse efforts show how flag making has skills of its own and most of the artists struggled to produce anything very memorable or indeed flaglike.

In the end we found great artist designed flags hard to find. American artists have often latched onto their own stars and stripes as content and critique since Pop hit the scene and no one has made the flag such a compelling metaphor as Yukinori Yanagi with his incredible decomposing flag ant farms. We did find a rather alarming suggestion by architect Rem Koolhaas for a European flag and an equally startling offer by artist Christopher Pratt for the flag of Newfoundland and Labrador. And then there’s the Hundertwasser perennial for NZ's own new flag.

The truth is everyone is secretly hoping for a flag design as clear and distinctive as that maple leaf Canada scored in 1964. It was designed by historian George Stanley on the rather wonderful brief that the new Canadian flag should be “instantly recognizable, and simple enough so that school children could draw it”.

All this brings us to Hamish Keith who in his Twitter stream recently made the observation, “flags aren’t about art, they’re about history”

Images: Top to bottom, left to right, Pat Hanly flag commissioned by the Dowse Art Gallery in 1980, Barbara Kruger’s Who is bought and sold? Who is beyond the law? Who is free to choose? Who follows orders? Who salutes longest? Who prays loudest? Who dies first? Who laughs last?, Yukinori Yanagi’s The World Flag Ant Farm, Rem Koolhaas's proposal for a new European flag, Christopher Pratt’s 1980 flag for Newfoundland and Labrador, Hundertwasser’s koru flag and the Canadian flag first flown in 1965. Local flag mad people can feed their obsessions here