Tuesday, September 05, 2006

WOMS Flag controversy at Howland Public Library

There have been some complaints lodged at the Howland Public Library, and at least one letter to the editor of the Beacon Free Press (which can be seen in this week's issue) critical of the Windows on Main St installation of Elia Gurna in the window of the Library.
The installation consists of a replica of the American flag created by Gurna using translucent tinted vinyl, and a cd recording featuring a sound piece created by Gurna's collaboration project, einLab, that recites the Walt Whitman poem "I hear America Singing." Elia's piece share's the same title of the poem, and stands as a visual interpretation of the poem.
I understand the objections that have been raised stem from the offense some have taken with with the alteration of a sanctified symbol.
Below, I've posted Elia's statement on the piece. As an organizer of the WOMS project, I'll simply say for the moment, that it seems to me the intent and of the piece actually shares much of the sentiment behind the reasoning of those who object to the piece, and the divide rests within the nuances of "art" and not of message. I'm sure I'll have more to say soon, and I hope to be able to post some contrary opinions on the issue as well.

Elia Gurna

I hear America singing

A Piece based on and inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem of the same title

I chose to make a piece at the library because it is a public institution dedicated to the betterment of its community and because literature often inspires my work. I believe that all art, like literature, should be for everyone, not just the people that can afford to pay for it.

I hear America singing is an idealistic piece about hope in America for America. I chose Walt Whitman’s poem because it is homage to the working class. To me it serves as a reminder to preserve the public good (like the library!), at a time when the notion of the public good is being redefined by corporate and consumer interests. The piece is also about imagining and remembering an idealism that to me is specifically American – it calls to mind a vision of productivity and hard work towards a common constructive goal.

I chose to make a pink and green replica of the flag to accompany my recording and musical adaptation of the poem, because I mourn the America that Walt Whitman describes – that idealistic America with its belief in hard work towards a public good, and because I wanted to reimagine the flag. The traditional red white and blue is probably the most abused emblem that exists. It adorns chewing gum packets and signs announcing sales for corporate chain stores. It is my view that it has become a symbol used to promote unchecked capitalism and imperialist war.

I chose pink and green because they are lively colors of growth. I made the flag out of vinyl so that it would not block the light to the reference room and because I wanted passers by to see themselves reflected in it, to be a part of the piece and to consider the meaning of this emblem that is all over Main Street.

Sewing this flag is my gesture of hope, reminding myself that the first flag was sewn (by a woman!) as the symbol for a revolution from oppressive conditions, and that Walt Whitman’s (and in turn my own) idealism and love for the country should not be considered cynically or nostalgically, but are useful and most necessary today.

August 2006

The Library Board will be meeting tonight, at 7 pm. There will be a period for public comment, and if anyone wishes to share their thoughts on the piece, they are invited to do so. I will be attending the meeting tonight as will, my co-organizer, Karlos Carcamo.

Recap of the Howland Library Board meeting and text of the Whitman poem on which the piece is based.

Comments from Go North co-directors Karlos Carcamo and Gregory Slick.

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