30 Flags

Studio, prison, post office [June 2015]: It took three times as long as I thought it would to cut all the flags (roughly 2,000 of them) and sew them into sets before we could install. This was the most efficient installation I have ever experienced. It only took a few hours to create a tent-like feeling outside, hanging flags under the cement awning, in addition to stringing flags in between all the air vents inside.

Photo credit: James Colhoff, Jr., Dodge & Burn Photography

Photo credit: James Colhoff, Jr., Dodge & Burn Studios

To share the installation with the public, Reiko and Elizabeth and I had decided to have a ceremony honoring the participants and their work at CRCI. We invited people from the outside to come to CRCI to hear directly from the artists about their experience with the project (approximately ½ of the artists who worked on 30 Flags are still at CRCI). Cliff, Julian, Dakotah, Joe, and Jack elected to participate.

Photo credit: James Colhoff, Jr., Dodge & Burn Photography

Photo credit: James Colhoff, Jr., Dodge & Burn Studios

The logistics of having an “opening” at a prison are more precise than just telling people they can show up at this location during a window of time. The questions running through my brain included (but were not limited to): Did the workshop artists sign waivers to be photographed? Did my photographer send me a list of all the equipment he wanted to bring into the prison for the ceremony? Did everyone who was invited not only RSVP, but send me their Date of Birth and Driver’s License Number so that they can be cleared to enter? Will they remember to not wear blue shirts or blue jeans when coming to CRCI? Will they be on time?

Not to mention the non-logistical questions having an opening in a prison fundamentally grapples with: Have any of the guests ever been to a prison before? Will Cliff and Julian and Dakotah and Joe and Jack feel comfortable talking about their experiences? How do Reiko and I work to make a publicly-engaged space for honest questions and discussion inside of a prison, where the power dynamics are not only tangible, but literally in your face and unavoidable? When we all enter the prison to view the work – hosted by the artists – what does it feel like for the other men who are incarcerated at CRCI to see a group of outsiders walking their hallways, looking at an art installation? How do the people who didn’t participate in this project feel about this art hanging up in their place, changing the environment?

Photo credit: James Colhoff, Jr., Dodge & Burn Photography

Photo credit: James Colhoff, Jr., Dodge & Burn Studios

I am grateful that folks made time in the middle of the day on a Tuesday to come to CRCI to look at the work and listen to artists who made it. For me (and most other artists I ask, for that matter), there is an emotional cliff one topples off of during the process of finishing an artwork. It’s hard to let go, to figure out what the next work looks like. After the event, I still had to mail the packages of the flags to the folks that people had designated. I went to the post office and feeling both excited and reluctant. The inside of the post office falls under some type of federal protection law, so I can’t take photos, documenting the action of mailing. Because the post-production of this project took so long, a number of men who worked on the project are now free, living outside. I wonder where they have hung their flags.

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