Untied (Flag), (2009)

2009, textile patchwork with texts painted in black textile paint, 500 x 330 cm

Untied (Flag) is a collaboration with Sébastien Berthier that was carried out in Paris, with point of departure in the French-African community Quartier de la Goutte d’Or in the 18th arrondissement. A large patchwork assembled by African fabrics constitutes an uncanny version of a French flag, by its colors and dimensions. Spread over the flag are printed names of local bars, shops, hotels and travel agencies: phrases which suggest themes of color symbolism, otherness, exile, geographic distance and traveling. Not only a critique of the outmoded idea of a “united” nation state or people, the intention is to represent alternative voices, perspectives and interpretations of the contemporary urban situation and carry out a research on Paris as a city. The piece was shown for the first time in the exhibition Jeune Creation 2009 in Paris, a yearly exhibition with young international artists, that year held at the CentQuatre Établissement Artistique de la Ville de Paris.

« In our world the flag has always been a symbolic object, meant to represent and identify a certain people with its country, a nation with its state. It endorses a finite and simple meaning, by a finite shape and composition: three vertical stripes constituting a rectangle, the width double to its height, and by color code: blue and red for the city of Paris, surrounding white for the king and God. In Untied (Flag) the plain color stripes are replaced by a complex and diverse patchwork of African fabrics. To this composition of stripes, a second composition is added, with fields containing names of beauty shops, travel agencies, hotels and bars in the French-African community. The names are scattered on the tri-colored surface: L’Empire or Fair & White at one side of the spectrum, and Doctor Revolution or Espoir Exotique at another. The logic of the flag as a symbol, where shape and meaning merge, is twisted twice and becomes an allegory where shape is an interpretation of meaning. Emblems of a society, such as monuments and flags, can no longer assemble a unified and homogeneous population, as it did during the 18th century. Instead the effect is the opposite: it highlights the outdated assimilation process established by a state, which stipulates that in order to be counted as French you have to encompass all French values. The name of the piece – Untied – whose definition is “to free from something that binds or restrains” can easily be mistaken for its anagram United, a goal which should not be pursued anymore. The purpose of the work is to make sense of a reality, a situation where certain people are not audible, where their voices are considered as noise. Like the craftsmen were for Plato, clandestine workers are not able to participate in the political and public life. They are not heard by the current political order, and the recent clandestine workers’ demonstrations are an outburst shaking this order in place. Jacques Rancière would state that these banners act out a form of a dissensus. By the appearance and recognition of an occulted part of society, the distribution of the sensible, or the division and sharing of the places, visibility and ability within a society, is put into question and subject to a redistribution. »
(Text by Sébastien Berthier)