My 2017 project Flag of US has emerged and transformed through a 20-year process. Here is a breakdown of that process.
- Musical Table, 1994
I designed this break-the-ice activity when I was a student at Cooper Union, teaching in the school’s Saturday Program for high school students. It is inspired by the game of Musical Chairs—but in our version, no one is ever left out. In this activity, the students drew each other’s faces across a table to the sound of music. When the music paused, they stopped drawing, and moved counterclockwise to face and draw another face. Faces were drawn upon faces, appropriating, adjusting, or removing prior traces. Shifting positions around the table took place every few seconds for a period of twenty minutes to an hour of drawing, seeing, and measuring. By the end of their first day in class in college, the students were well acquainted, warmed up (and dirty!). I have continued giving this assignment as the activity on the first day in class with my students in college throughout the years—it is a kinesthetic, auditory, and visual activity that liberates participants from the idea of an outcome and the fear of getting it “right,” as the drawing is shared and changed constantly through the participation of others.
There were some other iterations of this idea, but I will jump ahead…
- 10×10, A Table, 2011
In 2011, I participated in a group exhibition on immigration called Our Stories/Our Voices at the Asheville Arts Council in Asheville, NC. At the time, I was developing an organization called 10^10, about the exponential power of design. My contribution for the exhibition played with that idea and also with the “100 stories on immigration” that the show’s title referenced. 10×10, A Table (to be pronounced in English and in French with slightly different meanings) was a collective drawing performed and created by 10 local immigrants to the stop-and-go rhythm of music created and improvised by another 10 local immigrants during the opening of the Our Stories/ Our Voices exhibition. I did a call for the artists through an announcement in a local newspaper. Visitors of all ages joined in, expanding the collectivity and also participating in the creation of the drawing. Through drawing and music, the most basic cross-cultural media of communication, the immigrant artists shared collective memory of transformation to reveal a permanent layered image of their emerging faces.
- Flag of US, 2017
This most recent iteration of the Impromptu Drawing project is a response to the divisive rhetoric and acts going on in our nation: the talk of building walls, the bans and raids, the rising tensions that have led to violence. I invited people in my community who were feeling affected and marginalized and those who wanted to be of support to transform our American flag into a flag of US.
Participants brought food and musical instruments to share. Drawing supplies were provided. We met around a large table that had been painted to represent the American flag. There, we ate together, and then we drew each other’s faces—and faces on top of faces—to the stop-and-go rhythm of the emerging music we created together. The three languages that we all understand—food, drawing, and music—guided us through the process. The Impromptu Drawing is a meditation on unity and sharing in which we break down imaginary boundaries that divide us while we create together playfully. (We are planning another impromptu drawing project to take place during the July 4th weekend in 2017. And as a future iteration of this, I would like to inspire others in our nation to join a larger collective effort to create more Flag of US.)