American Flag Refreshed for 2015

Vice President Joseph Biden unveiled today the work of an until now little-noticed White House task force that has been looking at ways to improve America’s image, at home and abroad. The result: a fresh new American flag for Spring 2015, that will be made official by an executive order to be signed this afternoon by President Obama.

Vice President Biden, @VP
Vice President Biden, @VP

Biden explained,

No aspect of our national brand is more important than Ole Glory, but the Task Force on Reinvigorating the American Dream (RAD) uncovered some troubling findings.  After exhausting interviews with branding and design experts in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, and Dubai the RAD force discovered that our current flag was just, well, old and boring — and long overdue for a makeover.

“But wait!” I hear you say, “You can’t just go around redesigning the American flag!  It’s a sacred relic of our national civic religion!”  To which I say:  Is the Pope not Argentinian?  But not to worry.  We pushed back against some of the more radical advice we received, and in close consultation with the world-renowned authority on color, Pantone LLC, we have come up with a way of keeping the beloved design intact with only some subtle, but highly fashionable, changes to the official colors.

Old (but Boring) Glory.
Old (and Boring) Glory.

Color is key, the vice president and frequent Amtrak user asserted.  To be fashionable, he said, you have to keep on top of the “in” colors as they change from season to season.  And for 2015, the Pantone Color of the Year is 18-1438 Marsala:

Much like the fortified wine that gives Marsala its name, this tasteful hue embodies the satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal while its grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness. (From Pantone Color Intelligence: Why Marsala)

Don't take our word for it.
Don’t take our word for it.

So, this afternoon, the president will order that instead of Old Glory Red, the US flag will use Marsala — or Old Glory Marsala, as it will henceforth be known.  “Replacing OG Red with Marsala was basically a no-brainer,” Biden continued.  “As the folks at Pantone found, it’s equally appealing to men and women, and while dramatic, it’s at the same time grounding.”

Old Glory Marsala.
Now known as Old Glory Marsala.

The darker, some might say dried blood color of Marsala challenged the task force to come up with a replacement for Old Glory Blue, which if combined with OG Marsala would have resulted in a “way too somber” flag.  Looking at the Nine Other Approved Colors in the Pantone Fashion Color Report for Spring 2015, RAD rejected the too-similar 19-4052 Classic Blue, opting instead for 16-4725 Scuba Blue (now renamed Old Glory Scuba Blue).

Now known as Old Glory Scuba Blue.
Now known as Old Glory Scuba Blue.

The resulting flag may not be to everyone’s taste, but it will certainly make America and the world stand up and take notice:  America is all about change you — and Pantone — can believe in.

Flag of the United States of America, as of 1 April 2015.
Flag of the United States of America, as of 1 April 2015.

US Flag Patches

Here is the US flag as it appears on (left) shoulder patches.  (The flag is often reversed on the right shoulder, so that it faces “into the wind” as the person walks forward.) Most of these variations were created to be part of camoflage uniforms. Together they illustrate some of the many ways the US flag can be adapted and still be identifiable as the US flag.

ROTHCO American Flag Patch
Normal
Rothco OD Green / Black American Flag Patch
Olive Drab
Subdued green
Subdued green
Rothco Forward American Flag Patch-Multicam
Multicam
Rothco American Flag Patch - Black/Khaki
Black/Khaki
Black/Silver
Black/Silver
Black/Yellow
Black/Yellow
Black/Blue
Black/Blue
Black/Red
Black/Red
pink
Pink

Flags Buried Alive

The artist AA Bronson returned to his New York home after the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

What I found there is inscribed indelibly on my brain: a thick chalky dust of glass, concrete, paper, asbestos and human flesh that covered everything; and American flags, everywhere. Within a month I had purchased my first flag on eBay.

I made 10 paintings, each constructed of a used American flag, mounted on raw linen, and coated in layers of an antique preparation of rabbit skin glue, Champagne chalk, and honey. This compound was, historically, used to prepare the ground upon which a painting was made. But here the ground becomes the painting itself, shrouding each flag—with their history implicit in torn edges, holes and rips—in a dusty poetic silence.

Americans are famously obsessed with their flag, even disposing of used flags through burial or cremation. But my form of burial is more akin to 9/11 itself, kind of burying it alive, transforming it into an emblem of loss and mourning, not only for 9/11 but also for the America I once knew. [From an interview with Sara Hay in i-D, 2 Feb 2015]

AA Bronson examines one of his flag-canvasses in process of producing the White Flag exhibit at Galerie Esther Schipper, Berlin. From his twitter feed.
AA Bronson examines one of his flag-canvasses in process of producing the White Flag exhibit at Galerie Esther Schipper, Berlin. From his twitter feed.
Production of a white flag.  From the artist's twitter feed.
Production of a white flag. From the artist’s twitter feed.
A large production.  From the artist's twitter feed.
A large production. From the artist’s twitter feed.
"The final painting for WHITE FLAG at #EstherSchipper. Still wet. " From the artists's twitter stream.
“The final painting for WHITE FLAG at #EstherSchipper. Still wet.” From the artists’s twitter stream.

On the title of his solo show at Galerie Esther Schipper, Berlin:

The title describes the paintings, but it also alludes to the plant, White Flag, or Cemetery Iris, a white flower popular in Muslim and Christian cemeteries that’s been cultivated for over 3500 years. I’ve been working with poisonous plants for the last few years, plants associated with witchcraft, magic and medicine. White Flag is highly poisonous, invasive, and infertile. Indigenous to North Africa and the Middle East it travelled with the Muslims to Spain and then with the Spanish to America. It’s strange that a flower with such a long history in Muslim cemeteries has now come to represent Christian cemeteries as well! [From an interview with Sara Hay in i-D, 2 Feb 2015]

Iris albicans
Iris albicans, the White Flag or Cemetery Iris. From Wikipedia.

See also:

Proposal for a New American Agriculture

Proposal for a New American Agriculture, by Claire Pentecost.  Vermicomposted cotton flag, 5' x 9'.
Proposal for a New American Agriculture, by Claire Pentecost. Vermicomposted cotton flag, 5′ x 9′. ca. 2012.

Claire Pentecost is an artist/activist focusing on food, soil, and bio-engineering; and a professor of photography at SAIC (the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). For Proposal for a New American Agriculture, she placed a US flag in a composting bin in her basement in Chicago, removing and photographing it after worms had transformed most of it into soil.

One reading of this striking image: It points to the unsustainability and inevitable collapse of America’s corporate-dominated, anti-environmental economy and ecology, and the need to weave a new American fabric to fill this gap.

See also:

Outkast’s Stankonia flag

OutKast are a celebrated hip hop duo from Atlanta.  For their critically acclaimed 2000 album Stankonia, in what became an iconic image, they appear on the cover in front of a huge black and white variant of the US flag, with inverted stars.

Paste magazine ranked it 21st in their list, The 25 Best Album Covers of the Decade (2000-2009):

Stankonia‘s album cover presented OutKast’s Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton as they were and are—strong, smart, funky and ready to “[give] the youth the truth from this booth.” Most striking of all is the stark, black-and-white-American-flag backdrop, hinting at a separate America—a place that exists apart from the country experienced by the masses. A place called Stankonia. Fun fact? This flag is actually enormous and hangs on the wall in the tracking room at OutKast’s northwest Atlanta recording studio. We saw it there, and it was awesome.

Cover of the album Stankonia.
Cover of the Outkast album Stankonia.  Art direction and design by Mike Rush.  Photograph by Michael Lavine.
The Stankonia flag.  Image from Wikipedia.
The Stankonia flag. Image from Wikipedia.
Outkast performing in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, September 27, 2014.  The flag design is similar but not identical to Stankonia's: the stars are right side up.
OutKast performing in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, September 27, 2014. The flag design is similar but not identical to Stankonia’s: the stars are right side up. Image from Wesley Hodges’ review in the Consequence of Sound.

See also:

Young Jeezy: Put On

This video for the Grammy-nominated hip hop song Put On by Young Jeezy popularized the monochrome, “black and silver” adaptation of the US flag.  The song was on an album entitled The Recession, and the flag was used in the video as a symbol of the Great Recession.  For most of the US, the recession started in December 2007, but for African Americans it started long before that.

Here is a censored version of the flag-filled music video:

Official video, directed by Gil Green.  Published December 19, 2009.  Currently has over 9.5 million views.

The first appearance of the flag in the video.
The first appearance of the flag in the video.
Large version used on stage.
Large version used on stage.
From one of a number of scenes of characters posing with the flag.
From one of a number of scenes of characters posing with the flag.

See also:

Machine Gun Kelly: Raise the Flag

Hip hop has a thing about flags.  This week, we’ll look at some examples.  Here is a music video by American rapper Richard Colson Baker, known as MGK (Machine Gun Kelly).  The song is Raise the Flag (uncensored).

Official video, directed by JR Saint. Published on Oct 14, 2014.  Currently has over 3.8 million views.

US flag made from printed fabric.  Image from official video.
Red, white, and blue US flag made from fabric printed with MGK’s trademark “EST 19XX”, EST = Everyone Stand Together (his crew, fans, label, movement). Image from official video.
Here is a black-and-white version of the US/EST flag, with a standard US flag attached to it.
Here is a black-and-white version of the US/EST flag, with a standard US flag attached to it.
A large black-and-white version of the US/EST flag, used as a backdrop.
A large black-and-white version of the US/EST flag, used as a backdrop.

See also:

Leo Villareal’s Living Flags

By Scott Mainwaring

Leo Villareal is a celebrated American artist who uses computer-controlled light patterns as his medium.  He created two major works, both entitled Flag, based on the US flag.

Leo Villareal. From villareal.net/bio.
Leo Villareal. From villareal.net/bio.

His 2008 sculpture Flag consists of 13 narrow strips (stripes) of enclosed LED lights, with the gaps between them roughly three times wider than the stripes themselves.  Colors spill out from each stripe, illuminating the gaps between them, sometimes more strikingly than the light-strips themselves.  The blue “union” of the flag is set apart only by color, rather than structure. Proportions of the piece are correct for a US flag: 1.9 times longer than it is tall.

Flag (2008) by Leo Villareal.  From villareal.net/light-sculptures.
Flag (2008) by Leo Villareal. LED tubes, custom software, and electrical hardware. 75 x 144 x 4 inches. From villareal.net/light-sculptures.
As installed at the Armory show, New York, 2009.  Photograph from Casey Gollan's blog.
As installed at the Armory show, New York, 2009. Photograph from Casey Gollan’s blog.

The piece has been displayed both mounted conventionally on a wall, and mounted on a ceiling of an elevator (for the That Was Then … This Is Now show at the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center).

"Leo Villareal's new LED Flag installed in the P.S.1 elevator@Museum".  Photograph by Kenzo Hsieh, 2009.
“Leo Villareal’s new LED Flag installed in the P.S.1 elevator@Museum”. Photograph by Kenzo Hsieh, 2009.

Carolina Miranda captured this video of the P.S.1 installation:

Writing for Complex, Leigh Silver has this to say about Villareal’s 2008 work in a posting entitled The Most Important Independence Day Art Pieces:

Taking an image already imbued with symbolism, Villareal casts it as a looming image. Like Johns’ work [Flag, 1954-55], we ask if this is a commemoration of the symbol or a devaluation, cast in the same lights used for bar signs.

(I have yet to see complex LED lighting like this in a bar, but I can see a resonance.)

Villareal’s second Flag (2010) uses a 13 x 30 array of LED tiles encased behind plexiglass. The effect is both more diffuse, but also more pixelated.  It also directly references cellular automata and Conway’s Game of Life (more on this connection later).

.

"Leo Villareal's Flag - Americana for LEDs and custom software."  From ARTLOG.
“Leo Villareal’s Flag – Americana for LEDs and custom software.” From ARTLOG.

Like ARTLOG, the editors of Artspace also see this work in terms of patriotic Americana:

A darling of the tech-industry collector set, Leo Villareal is probably best known forThe Bay Lights, an $8 million installation of 25,000 LED lights illuminating the cables of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. This exquisite sculpture puts those LEDs to a different and proudly patriotic use, composing a version of Old Glory that hearkens back to Jasper Johns‘s revolutionary 1954 encaustic portrait of the American flag. Wheel this showstopper out on the Fourth of July and your friends are sure to be impressed. (From 6 Artlworks to Invest in This June, June 23, 2014.)

The market and market value of these works aside, both of Villareal’s immersive meditations on the US flag beautifully illustrate fundamental aspects of flags in general:  a dynamism that can only be captured in movement, and their aliveness (reflected, for example, in the US Flag Code: “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing”).  These are not just features of flags, but features of computers and software as well.  In animating the US flag through software, I don’t see Villareal making a patriotic statement as much as a biological one.

In this way he is following Jasper James, in making popularly accessible art that has something important to say about the layers of meaning embodied in living flags. From a perceptive interview with Villareal by Daniel Terdiman on CNET’s Tech Culture section:

“My work is focused on stripping systems down to their essence to better understand the underlying structures and rules that govern how they work,” [said] Villareal… “I am interested in lowest common denominators such as pixels or the zeros and ones in binary code. Starting at the beginning, using the simplest forms, I begin to build elements within a framework. My work explores not only on the physical but adds the dimension of time combining both spatial and temporal resolution. My forms move, change, interact and ultimately grow into complex organisms.

‘Inspired by mathematician John Conway’s work with cellular automata and the Game of Life, I seek to create my own sets of rules,” he continued. “Central to my work is the element of chance. The goal is to create a rich environment in which emergent behavior can occur without a preconceived outcome. I am an active participant, serving as editor in the process through careful selection of compelling sequences.”

But it doesn’t end there, Villareal said.

“These selections are then further refined through combination with other sequences through simple operations such as addition, subtraction and multiplication,” he explained. “The sequence’s opacity, speed, and scale can all be manipulated through custom software. Ultimately, complex compositions are formed and then displayed in random order and for a random amount of time in the final artwork. I am interested in the idea of generative art and rendering the patterns on the fly, but have not found a way to generate compelling sequences enough of the time.”

(I’d like to thank Bill Trinkle for calling my attention to Villareal’s work in the Flag Art group on Facebook.)

Flags and Occupy Portland (2011)

By Ted Kaye, revised by Scott Mainwaring
Originally published in The Vexilloid Tabloid #31 & #32, Dec ’11 & Feb ’12

Occupy Portland, the protest movement and encampment in downtown Portland, has used flags in interesting ways. Ted Kaye observed a march in late October in which the flags used included USA, Cascadia, Tunisia, and red (IWW) and black (Anarchists).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doug_Flag
The Cascadia flag.
Flag of Tunisia
The IWW flag. From sitt.wordpress.com blog (photo not from Occupy Portland)

Part of a national movement, the Portland group created a logo based on the flag of the city of Portland, a wonderfully innovative use (what would Doug Lynch have thought?).

An Occupy Portland logo based on the Portland flag.
An Occupy Portland logo based on the Portland flag.

This unusual “Gadsden Variant”, drawn on cardboard by an artist named Bobby, turns the well-known rattlesnake into the “99%” image reflecting the movement’s motto “We are the 99%”.

A 99% variant of the Gadsden flag.  Photo by Ted Kaye.
A 99% variant of the Gadsden flag. Photo by Ted Kaye.

The US flag was very popular, often flow upside down to indicate the nation in distress, or as a background for writing.

From the “Domo Adventures” blog (domoadventures.org). Posting by “Tommy D” on October 6, 2011, “Domo Occupies Portland!”

Peter Orenski’s TME Co. designed and manufactured 99% variants of the US flag and gave them away to Occupy movements across the country in return for a photograph of them in use for publication on TME’s website. One made its way to Portland via Ted Kaye.

99% US flag, designed and manufactured by Peter Orenski’s TME Co.  Ted Kaye delivered this one to the Occupy Portland    protesters in early December 2011 at Salmon Street Springs.  Photo by Ted Kaye.
99% US flag, designed and manufactured by Peter Orenski’s TME Co. Ted Kaye delivered this one to the Occupy Portland protesters in early December 2011 at Salmon Street Springs. Photo by Ted Kaye.
TME's “Occupy” U.S. flag variant, with the 50 stars in the canton rearranged to say “99%”; the “%” made up of smaller stars.
TME’s “Occupy” U.S. flag variant, with the 50 stars in the canton rearranged to say “99%”; the “%” made up of smaller stars.

What If There Were No Third Flag Act?

Blog post by Scott Mainwaring

On April 4, 1818 the US Congress enacted the following:

An Act to establish the flag of the United States.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled, That from and after the fourth day of July next, the flag of the United States be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be twenty stars, white in a blue field.

And be it further enacted, That on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect of the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.

It established the rationale for every version of the US flag that followed:  each new state gets an added star, but the 13 stripes, representing the 13 original states, remain the same.  Before this, the last official US flag had been defined in 1795 to represent the new states of Vermont and Kentucky with two new stars — and two new stripes:

A 15-star, 15-stripe US flag from the period between 1795 and 1818. This particular design (note the “dancing” stars) was used for the “star-spangled banner” that Francis Scott Key wrote a song about.

As Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee joined the union, the official flag was unchanged.  New states were acknowledged by a variety of unofficial flags that added stars, and sometimes stripes as well (the Zaricor Flag Collection has some of these).  But it wasn’t until the 1818 Flag Act that the new states were recognized on the official flag, and a general rule for additions to the flag defined.

PFA member Michael Orelove wondered what would have happened if this Act never happened and instead the flag got a new star and new stripe for each new state.  He found some red and white striped fabric and brought this speculative flag to a meeting in 2011:

Michael Orelove and his 50-star, 50-stripe US flag.
Michael Orelove and his 50-star, 50-stripe US flag.

It’s still recognizable as an American flag, but it demonstrates the wisdom of the Congress in 1818 to rein in over-enthusiasm in the stripe department. We speculated that the field would look pink from a distance, a form of “American Pink Ensign,” and wondered how many other flags had pink fields.

(BTW, the only pink flag we could think of is the unofficial Newfoundland tricolor.  Do you know of others?)

The “Pink, White and Green” Newfoundland tricolor.