New York Stories
The sense of immediacy when picking up a paper; the sometimes instructive, other times entertaining time we have; and once we’re done with it, the illusion that we’re somehow keeping track of what’s happening in the world we live in today. It’s another day on earth and we’re part of it. But there’s also another reason why a newspaper still holds a special place in our heart in an online world. It’s an object - and an uncommonly intense one. It ages quickly; you can’t use it twice; and yet, just like a burning match, over its brief vital cycle it harnesses our attention. If video art’s chief benefit from the media age was the reinvention of documentary as an art form, the print media has found its niche in Michalis Pichler’s sculptural work.
Pichler planted the seed to his tree in New York about five years ago, when he was on a residency. As many post 9/11 visitors, he could hardly fail to notice the huge wave of emotion and patriotism that affected the city and its inhabitants, often translated in an exuberant display of stars and banners. Inspired by the events as well as Michael de Certeau and Walter Benjamin’s writings, Pichler started to put together a visual archive by documenting barely perceptible political signs spread around the streets only to reemit them in the flux of the city’s street life undercover.
For New York Times Flag Profile (2003), Pichler picked up the 9/11 anniversary copy of the newspaper, carefully removed every American flag from the issue and subsequently pasted it on a series of blank sheets of paper along with a schematic description of their original context. Initially conceived as a sculpture, New York Times Flag Profile subsequently developed into a form closer to the original. Reprinted in a larger edition, it was priced at $1 and distributed with other daily papers in outlets in Brooklyn and Manhattan exactly one year later.
WAR Diary (2005)is an edition made of collages, and has the artist proposing a variation of the method adopted for New York Times Flag Profile, this time using front page headlines from theDaily News and merging them with images from the New York Times. In line with Dada tradition of collage, the random mix of visual references and sensational lines from the two rival papers produces startling results. Ground Zero-photographs of faces frozen in horror during the attack or mourning the losses in the aftermath are juxtaposed with columns of Dow Jones and Nasqad indexes, scrolling in the background like a Matrix-based wallpaper. In a not too subtle metaphor, titles and events end up outdoing headlines such as ‘Outrage’ and ‘Baghdad’, and the fading b/w images selected by the artist, which dramatically sink in a sea of stock exchange numbers and figures.
New York Garbage Flag Profile (also known as Stars and Stripes) (2005) is part of a larger body of works, some still unpublished. They all focus on symbols and signifiers reproduced on common-property objects and their ephemeral urban phenomena status is reflected in titles like Soviet Stars(2003), hearts (2005), and ‘political’ (2006/07).
NYGFP’s is characterised by a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. Combining Ronald Reagan’s first ‘Anti-flag-burning amendment’ and Garry Trudeau’s response to publish an American flag in one of his Sunday strips to emphasise how the amendment wouldn’t let you dispose of your newspaper, NYGFPis a book that chronicles the artist’s trip through the streets of New York looking for literally anything with an American flag stamped on it – from cardboard boxes to paper cups. Every item is photographed and reproduced with its original text, generating amusing combinations like ‘Home of the brave land of the free extra cheese sausage mushrooms’ or ‘United we stand open 24 hours door to door courteous service’.
"For me, collecting objects in public space and documenting their appearance and disappearance is about the object but also about the space it leaves behind” acknowledges Pichler. “If one pays attention not only on the objet-trouvés themselves, but also to the place where they have come and disappeared from and the situation their disappearance leaves behind, this focus constitutes the objet-perdu.”
Whereas the first two projects explored a bias towards representation of stars and stripes within the media, Pichler’s idea of mapping New York though American flags is a reflection of the influence that the media had on the resident population in return.
New York Times Flag Profile’s paradox was that the flag, once taken out of its highly emotional patriotic and yet inappropriate context, looked much more dignified. And its hefty warning, namely, that a symbol is not made for marketing strategies, clearly indicates where this road leads to – the trashcan.
Michele Robecchi is Senior Editor of CONTEMPORARY
Robecchi, Michele, "New York Stories," The Newpaper 1 (2007), 2.