2016 Halyard ALT (Protocinema)


"Alt art space presents New York based artist Michelle Lopez’s installation Halyard, 2015, a silver pole that extends from the floor to the crown of one of Alt’s many historic vaulted ceilings. At first approach the works reads as a minimal sculpture which later reveals to be the base of a 40ft. flagpole with its halyard and cleat clearly visible. The rope constantly brushes against the cleat of the pole, while the sound of a huge flag flapping in the air is audible above. In the glaring absence of a flag, this well-orchestrated emulation of the ultimate symbol of nations hints at the artificiality of these ‘imagined communities’ [1].

(Lopez creates sculptural inversions of cultural iconography, revealing notions of human failure. Exploring abject forms of violence and entropy through monolithic Minimalism to national flags, in this instance evoking the invisibility of power infused into our everyday architecture.) In a country where gigantic flags are a common symbol of state, Lopez’s intervention in Istanbul also brings into question its site- the historic Bomonti Beer Factory. First established by Swiss brothers Adolph and Voltaire Bomonti during the last decade of the 19th century, the factory was nationalized after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1934 as part of the bigger project of having an (industrialized) “national economy.” At a time when definitions of nations are subject to more open debate but still fuel wars on a global scale, Lopez asks what our affiliations are made of and how much substance there is to them. This gesture of removing the flag itself drains the “flag” of its primary purpose of nationalism and patriotism, and tampers with the familiarity of such public spaces in order to unravel the police state within its whipping sound. The sound of a flag then becomes its own character." [1.] Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities. Verso: London and New York, 2006."

Alt (Protocinema) presents Michelle Lopez, Alt, Istanbul, April 14 to July 3, 2016 excerpts from the press release.


"A barren flagpole punctures the gallery ceiling while a halyard flaps back and forth, sometimes gently, sometimes violently, accompanied by matching audio. This sound and kinetic installation dynamically inhabits the room to suggest subversive, monolithic assertions of power.

The amplified sound of a gigantic flag whipping in the wind is strategically installed throughout the gallery – while the synchronized subtle movement of the rope, in tension with the cleat, alludes to the motion of an actual flag flapping high above the gallery roof. As the sound swells violently throughout the space, the halyard mirrors the movement of a flag in motion. The contradiction stems in the flag’s absence.

The statement, “it was a Banner Year” implies a period of waving flags to signify success. A banner’s automatic notion of triumph becomes ubiquitous in public spaces. I take these cues and eliminates the banner, to lay bare its function: to mitigate our own human fears. The gesture of removal drains the “flag” of its primary purpose of nationalism and patriotism. The sound image of a flag then becomes its own character."

Banner Year, solo exhibition, Spring 2014, Simon Preston Gallery, excerpt from press release.

Halyard at Protocinema

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6 multi-channel stereo-sound installation: 11 min. loop, speakers, sound software, rope, steel cleat, 40 foot aluminum flag-pole puncturing roof of gallery
ALT, Istanbul
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Having worked on the flag to its end and potentially its death in the show at the Aldrich (2014), I wondered where the idea could go from there.

Was I directly objectifying the flag in a way that was too removed from the flag itself? Was it an idea of the idea? I began thinking of doing an installation with the actual flagpole itself at full scale and in context.

Often I’ve had this urge to puncture a space—go through a wall to hang a tree (2008), and in this case I wanted to go through the roof of a space to insert a flagpole. For me I was interested in this idea of invisibility-- the flag being heard but not seen, violent but also manicured subversively into the architecture.

I had been considering the notion of iconography and the conditions of identity and power. Could I de-saturate an image by its removal? Could the trappings and the hardware of an image be enough of an undoing?

Jonathan Mildenberg and Andy Clifford, sound artists helped me develop the concept. Mildenberg helped me design a soundscape audio of a flapping flag. Andy Clifford further enhanced it with computer software that tracked the sound of the flag through the speakers to create a sculptural movement to the sound. Andy also designed the halyard rope to move in synchronicity with the sound of the flapping by exploiting the capabilities of a speaker as a motor. The ropes were attached to a speaker, and every time the flag flapped, its vibrations moved the rope. As a result, the flagpole becomes this lone figure.

People have asked why the mirrors with the flagpole? So much of my work has been shaped by a kind of post-9/11 lens, that experience that leaves a residue that is perceptually and cognitively so wrong, and then there is the clean-up and absence. So much of my experience of 9/11 was looking up in wonderment and confusion.

The summer I was making the mirrors, the Ferguson riots were happening. I was fascinated by images of the rioters standing in the smoke clouds. I had had this idea for a long time but its collision seemed right. Those Ferguson images seemed both a literal and metaphorical understanding of the experience of violence—its ghost-like quality and presence in the aftermath. This kind of veil was the thing I was most interested in because its disappearance was the content.

I’ve had a nagging feeling about sculpture. I’m attached to the object mainly because my experience as a child of seeing a great work of art from another time, shifted the data for me, so I believe in it.

To me I thought the absence in both of those pieces was magnified by the sound piece as it moved through the entire space. It was both romantic, humorous, and I hope overturned the language of our public and private spaces.