The Greatest Show on Earth
Fancied by our forefathers as a worldwide beacon of liberty and justice, American democracy lives and dies by the power of its symbols, the foremost of which is the US flag. This banner is meant to fly for freedom and fairness, but, especially since the 2016 election, I find myself overwhelmed by the hypocrisy paraded beneath it. With my latest installation, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” I have reconfigured the familiar stars and stripes into what I believe is a more fitting representation of the spectacle that is US politics.
Driven always by my fascination with patterns and their contexts, I spent considerable time manipulating the US flag in my studio. The recent and ongoing degradation of that symbol strikes me as so poignant, I had to find a way to make it more than just a metaphor. While our administration, among other atrocities, normalized xenophobia and bigotry, revered gun ownership over the lives of children, denied the undeniable facts of climate change, and attacked the free press along with the most basic rights of its non-white-male citizens, I stripped flags to tatters, I cut flags into pieces, and I bleached flags to the point where you could see the Russian flag I’d hung strategically behind it.
For “The Greatest Show on Earth,” I stitched, stretched, and strung up fifty US flags to create a thirty-foot circus tent anchored over a red and white striped vinyl floor. In experimenting with the US flag, I noticed its similarities to those big red and white canvas circus tents, and discovered a sobering juxtaposition. In much the same way the Ringling Bros. forged their legacy, the US political system is almost exclusively a “pay to play” game. Candidates have to raise absurd amounts of money to run for office and must begin fundraising for the next election the second they win, all while lobbyists with deep pockets possess inordinate influence and gerrymandering and voter suppression distort and squash the will of the people. Meanwhile, our elected officials are so wrapped up in what performance will let them keep their offices, they forget the promises they made to uphold those offices. Though boasted as the greatest on Earth, American democracy loses itself in pageantry and surrounds its citizens in an atmosphere that sours from awe-inspiring to claustrophobic, a feeling I endeavor to replicate within my star-spangled circus tent.