Monday, May 18, 2020

Quarantine Flags, a new outdoor installation

 (Above:  Quarantine Flags at Saluda Shoals Park. Click on any image to enlarge.)

Last September I was contacted with regards to leftover scraps of "material" looking for an artist who might want to recycle them into art.  Was I interested?  Well ... of course!  So off I drove to CoverTech, a specialized contract manufacturer in North Augusta, SC.  CoverTech "helps in the development and manufacturing of products that cover, protect, contain, and enclose," including pop-up containment pools meant to catch hazardous liquid leaks.  The process of creating these pop-up pools also created literally thousands of bright yellow, plastic triangles.  I drove back home with three giant-sized boxes which I later condensed into two boxes (so heavy that I couldn't pick them up!)  They went into the garage because, at the time, I had absolutely no idea for them. 

Seriously, what was I going to do with this many double-sided triangles?  Each one had obviously been cut via a melting rod along one, long side.  I knew these could be used for an outdoor installation but I had no ideas beyond that.

 (Above:  Daniel Buren's striped flags along the High Line in New York City.)

Sure, I thought about Daniel Buren's striped flags. I saw them along the High Line in New York City earlier last year.  Of course, I could do something like that ... but why would I want to copy the work of an internationally known French artist whose installation speaks to rising nationalism around the world?  I don't want to "copy" anyone and I have no desire to evoke any thoughts about nationalism.  Wisely, I forgot about the boxes of yellow triangles.   I hoped and prayed that "something" would happen to spark an original idea that did speak to my experiences and concerns.

 (Above:  Man and His Dog in Quarantine.)

Then, "something" did happen ... COVID-19!  "Something" was being deemed "non-essential", sheltering in place, practicing social distancing, dealing with cancellations and postponements and isolation ... basically ... QUARANTINE!

Ideas started bubbling, especially with regards to "flags" ... or rather PENNANTS.  Triangular shaped pennants date back to the chivalrous knights of the Middle Ages, the mastheads of warships, and to more recent sports teams (as in "The Giants win the pennant!")  By stitching these yellow triangles together, I wouldn't be copying Daniel Buren at all.  I would be creating a length of cautionary flags that could express my thoughts on the current, global crisis. (Further below is my conceptual statement.)

 (Above:  Fastening Quarantine Flags to a gate closure.)

Last week I stitched and stitched and stitched.  I used nothing new.  The tape along which the individual triangles were stitched had once been decorative trim donated to me.  Even the yellow thread came from some other lady's stash.  While stitching, I thought about how these flags might look in nature ... separating one area from another.  I thought about the questions they would visually pose.  I thought about how people would interact with the flags and with the spaces they might outline.  Most of all, I thought about the physical demands and the installation process.  Just how was this going to work?
 (Above:  Tying the Quarantine Flags to a tree without damaging the tree!)

Finally, I contacted my friend Dolly Patton, executive director for Saluda Shoals Park Foundation, and shared my foggy vision for this installation.  I needed a "play date" in nature.  There was so much to learn ... like "How to attach the Quarantine Flags to a tree without harming the tree?" and "Does the recycled decorative trim hold up?" and "Will people pose inside enclosures?" and "Will photographs look like areas have been surrounded, contained, etc.?" Thankfully, Dolly truly understands the nature of art, the creative mindset for exploration, and has a willingness to try something new.  Yesterday morning, Dolly went with Steve and me to the park.  We installed the Quarantine Flags in four different locations and learned plenty!
 (Quarantine Flags: Trail Closed.)

We learned that wrapping trees isn't the best approach.  In the future, I will have short lengths of rope to tie around the tree.  Zip ties will attach the flags to the rope.  Zip ties will come in handy for other means of attachments too.  I learned that wide rick-rack is not strong enough to be used.  This was the only place that broke.  On a positive note, people are curious and willing to pose (and also sign model releases!)

 (Above:  Family in Quarantine I.)

Public engagement enhanced several images.  The pictures suggest a protective space.

 (Above:  Safety.)

They also pose questions about who and what we try to protect in safe places.

 (Above:  Love Forever in Quarantine.)

They speak to the reason society institutes quarantines ... because of love. Through quarantine measures we attempt to keep safe those we love.

 (Family in Quarantine II.)

Here's my conceptual statement.  It might change in the future and with other interactions in both nature and with the public, but this is a good start!

Yellow plastic triangles were the castaway material from pop-up hazardous waste containment pools created by Carolina Cover Tech of North Augusta, SC. They were donated to fiber and installation artist Susan Lenz in September 2019. At that time, the artist had no ideas for their use. That changed during the COVID-19 crisis. Lenz's custom picture framing business was deemed non-essential and like so many others, she adjusted to "sheltering in place" and maintaining social distancing on the rare occasions she left her house. Her mind turned to the yellow triangles as the means to pose questions about safety, containment, and even the protection of the environment. She stitched the yellow triangles into lengths of quarantine flags. The use of such flags is not unprecedented. In the language of International Maritime signal flags, yellow was the historical symbol of disease on either ship or port. A yellow flag also stands for the letter Q, as in quarantine. Positioning the flags at Saluda Shoals Park on Sunday, May 17 was the installation’s first engagement with nature and the public. The images taken that day ask questions about isolation and the ways society attempts to protect individuals, family, and even cities, states and countries. The installation speaks to the fragility of balance in nature. It poses questions regarding the inside and outside of the containment pools from which the materials were harvested.

(Above:  Inclusive Playground in Quarantine.)

The Quarantine Flags were finally installed in Saluda Shoals new inclusive playground.  It's called Leo's Landing.  This state-of-the-art space open just last August and is a safe place for people of all abilities to enjoy.  Grandparents in wheelchairs should be on the glider swing with their kids. Boys and girls challenged by any number of physical limitations should be on slides and making music in the Sound Garden and playing hide-and-seek among the sculptural elements.  They aren't.  This part of the park is still closed. The Quarantine Flags address the realities of social distancing with kids on a playground.  It hasn't been figured out yet.  Thus the meaning of "inclusive" has been transformed from "a place for everyone" to "a place denied to all." 

These images ask questions about both sides of the barriers and the fragile relationship between "inside" and "outside". 

Only in the playground did we have all the lengths of Quarantine Flags out.  This includes the smallest triangles which were cut into isosceles shapes.  The larger ones have a right angle. No matter which size or shape, the most obvious feature is the bright yellow color.  Even before doing a little research, I sort of knew that yellow is a cautionary color.  It is the color of yield signs and is the flashing light before a traffic signal turns red.  Later I learned that the human eye notices yellow before any other color.  There's a reason it is symbolically used to alert people to dangers!

I also learned that it is a very good idea to keep the long lines separated from one another.

We didn't do that on Sunday.  It took time to unload and sort the tangled lines. To keep them flat and ready for "the next time", they needed to be carefully placed in just one giant box.  The small flags were rolled around three pieces of a heavy corrugated tube.  Working out storage is just another task that is needed when working as an installation artist.

 (Above: Larger Quarantine Flags neatly folded in a storage box.)

(Above: Smaller Quarantine Flags rolled onto corrugated tube sections.)

Finally, I want to share a photo of one of the pop-up containment pools made by CoverTech.  It was from the construction of these environmental safe objects that my installation materials came.
(Above:  Pop-up containment pool by CoverTech.)


Ann Scott said...

That's an amazing project and interesting as well. And as usual very thought provoking. Thanks for sharing the photos and details... pop-up containment pools, who knew, not me!

Margaret said...

I am simply blown away by this idea. The connections and symbols are heart-touching. I'm at a loss for words.

Linda Laird said...

Susan, you think, create, and live deep in the land of Serendipity! And I want to add a shout-out to Ann Scott, who I knew as an artist in San Diego in the Seaside Quilt Guild. Hey, Ann, I used to be Linda Hodges, now Laird, now of Colorado Springs. Good to see you!

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

love it - including the initial acquirement of the "triangles" - yes caution tape is nearly always with a background colour of yellow. Plenty of that tape here right now in New Zealand.

Parts of public transport taped off, so we all have enter/exit via back door and the driver is safely away up the front. Although disabled people can access front door.

And where we can sit, giving the distance from some other stranger, unless they were from your own bubble.

Some playgrounds still taped off, I noted at local school (where school has resumed, cautiously) their play equipment still taped off.

New Zealand is now making it's way down through the levels, we are now on Level 2 a bit more or retailers are back including hairdressers, Finally yesterday after getting in a very short queue, my locks are back to normal! But there are still many restrictions...and I'm quite wary of it all.

So your installation sits very well with "today-time"

Susan Lenz said...

Thanks for all the positive feedback and nice comments! It is a small world when our connections happen serendipitously! I didn't know about pop-up container pools before the scraps came to me. As we start to open through various phases, it will be my job to look for new locations to install these triangles in order to continue the conversation about "inside" and "outside" the attempts to protect spaces.