1. Managing Director
  1. Managing Director
  1. Managing Director
  1. Managing Director
  1. Managing Director
  1. Managing Director

Flag Kit - Dispatches 2-5

Textiles and hardware, 2017
Commissioned for the exhibition State of the World, H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute, ​Kansas City, Missouri

Catalog Essay

When James Woodfill was a student at Kansas City Art Institute, he made a living sewing for a local commercial flag company. This particular arrangement informed a twenty-year investigation of functionality, materiality, abstraction, and modes of signaling in both visual art and flags. With a resistance to producing static objects and an objective to “collaborate with the built environment,” Woodfill’s installations and public art projects use light, sound, video, and/or kinetic elements to activate the space of the everyday in the time of human perception.

Invited to create a site-responsive installation for this exhibition, Woodfill delivered a portable kit of handmade flags, weights, tethers, and hardware. Flag Kit - Dispatches 2-5 allows for multiple compositions or “dispatches” that can be easily scaled and quickly altered to suit a given environment. Flag Kit began in the artist’s studio as Dispatch 1, has since grown into Dispatch 2, and will continue to transmit messages as Dispatches 3-5, appearing at regular intervals throughout the exhibition. The first configuration is a sharp horizon of flags hanging from the ceiling, stationed at a diagonal to the walls in the alcove it inhabits, revealing itself slowly to a viewer as they enter the gallery space. This creates a surprising encounter that courts both the familiar: we recognize the flag as a form; as well as a sense of uncertainty: what do these strange flags represent? The functional apparatuses and hardware are revealed and in full view; however, the artist’s conceptual aims remain more elusive.

Each “dispatch” references systems of flag signaling without ever fully adhering to the parameters of the system. These flags are made of unusual materials and deviate from standard sizes. They may have individual significance, or  perhaps they only function in concert, each reliant on its position relative to others  in order to convey a larger meaning. While they do appear to relay some kind of free association—one can identify formal relationships, visual rhythm, abbreviated symbols, and even text; the rows of flags never quite materialize into fully-articulated communication. Instead they read as noise or chatter. Woodfill invites his audience to intercept this chatter, examine it, and deduce information from the patterns he presents. Questions proliferate about what each flag implies, if there is a flag code that corresponds to this kit, and whether these dispatches will reveal information about hidden intentions and actions.

While flag signals were invented to solve the problem of communicating over great distances,  Woodfill’s flags reward physical proximity. The configuration provides pedestrian space to move in and out of the installation; and tactility, color, transparency, and light summon an intimate investigation. These signals do not aim to breach a spatial distance, instead they endeavor to connect temporal intervals. An established flag vernacular has been reiterated into a present tense that anticipates future communiqués. Will the impending transmission be a memory or a message? And do we expect it to deliver an idea or an event?


Jennifer Baker
Assistant Curator, H&R Block Artspace