CULVER CITY, Calif. – Now, before you get too excited, I mean “moving” in the sense that flags and banners tend to flutter with the passing breeze. Their constant interaction with the physical and visual space, even hanging from a pole, let alone agitated during a demonstration, is exactly what differentiates a flag from a poster, a painting or a mural.
Almost every nation and every movement in history has had its banner culture. Even stateless anarchists (whom you will also find at the Wende exhibition). I remember an anarchist flag I once saw that had several symbolically colored stripes flowing separately from a flagpole, but what was most important about the flag, I was told, was the open spaces between them.
The medium is the message: flags and banners is on display at the Wende Museum until Sunday 23 October and is well worth a visit. An accompanying exhibition of Relics of the Cold War: Photographs by Martin Roemers makes a visit particularly rewarding, as you will ‘move’ outside the old armory building proper into the rear garden, where Roemers’ photographs continue.
Dating back centuries and originally used to identify soldiers in battle and ships in international waters, flags represent vast geographical territories or royal kingdoms (when warriors did not fight for their country but for their king or Pope). Like monuments and national anthems, they aim to reinforce a sense of identity based on a shared past, present and future; and in some cases to remind people who is counted “in” and who is counted “out”. In this regard, consider “national” flags which carry specific religious symbolism that not all citizens may want to identify with, or our own national anthem which, in a verse almost never sung but is still officially part of song, slaves in America are warned that they better not try to escape! No wonder people are kneeling!
Socialist countries in the 20th and 21st centuries have also produced their share of flags and banners, and still do. They were ubiquitous at military parades and national demonstrations, sporting events, schools and public gatherings. Besides national flags (and each of the Soviet republics, for example, had its own), many organizations produced their own elaborately decorated flags and banners. The Wende Museum holds over 2000 of these ornamental textiles in its collection, but only very few, less than three dozen, can be displayed here in an exhibition, carefully curated for variety, range and interest. Most come from Eastern countries, but a few come from China, Vietnam and Cuba. There is even a banner in French saying “For the defense of peace(Stand Up For Peace) dropped and archived at an early post-war World Federation of Democratic Youth festival.
A strangely shaped banner in the show is not an original, but a 2018 recreation by Debra Marlin. It was part of a Soviet “hippie” art exhibition in September 1975 by “The Hair Group”, which was closed and confiscated. Where he is now, if he still exists, is unknown. But from a photograph of the installation, a new banner was sewn. Reminiscent of the bright red of the communist flag, it calls for a “world without borders”.
In four discreet display cases are displayed homemade banners of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the military wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, supporters of Stepan Bandera. The Banderists, active between 1942 and 1949, engaged in guerrilla warfare against the USSR during the Nazi invasion and occupation, aiming to establish “a free and self-governing Ukraine independent of the Soviet Union”. Although Wende didactics claim that in 1943 and 1944 the UPA “officially rejected any ‘racial and ethnic exclusivity'”, after World War II its militia continued to fight the neighboring Polish People’s Republic until in 1947, and the Soviet Union until 1949. The Soviets dismantled this pro- or in fact Fascist group, seizing the four banners from this exhibit and placing them “into a secret KGB archive which has been disused in the 1990s. The Wende Museum acquired them in 2002.” These are fascinating historical artifacts that are certainly worth displaying at this particular time, although of course we are not being asked to endorse what they represented in Ukraine. – and in the Azov Battalion and many other quarters still do.
Le Wende often modernizes and contextualizes its exhibitions by adding recent works of art offering a critical reflection on the here and now. Artists in protest and counterculture movements around the world have repurposed flags to change or subvert their original meaning for decades, and many such examples are included on the surrounding walls of the museum. Some are emigrated artists from socialist countries, while others come from the United States or elsewhere.
I mentioned at least one anarchist on the show, and that would be Carolina Caycedo, a Colombian born in London and now living in Los Angeles. Three of his series of banners, initiated in 2010, are displayed here on top of each other, themselves forming a sort of three-striped flag. “These banners carry personal and adopted statements (quotes),” says Caycedo, “that reflect my own ethics and my social, political, economic and feminine beliefs. They can also be read and used as calls to action. The banners are inspired by visual culture: material for protest, demonstration and direct action as a place for building democracy…. “Crisis is a means of governing” is a quote from Tiquun, the Franco-Italian anarchist journal that published documents relating to anti-capitalist, anti-statist, situationist and feminist movements…. ‘Trust Each Other’ reimagines the motto ‘In God We Trust’ while borrowing its color from US one dollar bills. To finish, ‘Neither Dios, Nor Patrón, Nor Marido‘ [Neither God, Nor Master, Nor Husband] quote colors and anarcho-feminist statements.
Others of the contemporary installations make equally cutting statements about the nation, democracy, surveillance, alternative futures, aspects of modern capitalism, and other important themes. Discover the catalog of the exhibition. You will find all the images here with brief credentials. Another thing I have to give the Wende a lot of credit for is his ability to find the necessary funding for such provocative and questioning work. This exhibition, for example, is generously supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Cotsen Foundation for Academic Research.
Cold War relics
The Cold War, like all wars, had lasting consequences on people, but also on architecture and landscape. Years after the return of Soviet troops, US and NATO troops and equipment continue to dominate the security apparatus of Western Europe and, more recently, the East. Dutch photographer Martin Roemers began to explore the places left behind by the warriors of the cold. By the time he started this project, in 1998, enough time had passed for the processes of decomposition to set in, graphically symbolizing the end of this pivotal period.
For several years, Roemers conducted “photographic archaeological research” on physical remains from the Cold War era. He seeks stillness in the remnants of a military infrastructure that is slowly and steadily being overtaken by nature. He finds rusting tanks and destroyed monuments, final resting places and remnants of housing and schools for military families. Descending into underground bunkers, it captures an ever-present sense of paranoia and hyper-vigilance. In ten countries, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, from London to Moscow, he finds an enormous number of nuclear shelters, airbases, firing ranges, rocket launch pads, border fences, military towers. observation and radar stations, all built with the shared fear of Mutually Assured Destruction (not called MAD for no reason).
Cold War relics is a reflection of global cultures that have prepared for nuclear winter and their own demise. Yet the visual meditation on abandoned military infrastructure left in disrepair also considers the desire for de-escalation and coexistence. Roemers’ images are iconic and haunting runes, a virtual museum of naked survival, a testament to the universe that human beings nearly bequeathed to cockroaches. With all the current urgency around climate change, these images can still tell us about what will outlive us in our fragile biome. See more of his work at martinroemers.com.
The Wende Museum is located at 10808 Culver Blvd., Culver City 90230. Admission is free. The museum is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Advance reservations are encouraged for groups of six or more. For inquiries, email [email protected] or call (310) 216-1600. Free guided tours of the museum and exhibitions are offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. at 13h. The capacity of public visits is limited to 10 participants. Free parking is available in the municipal car parks adjacent to the museum. Charging stations (EV) are available near the Veterans Memorial Building (4117 Overland Blvd) and the Senior Center (4095 Overland Blvd).