THE FLAG | 2005

video | 01 | 02 | 03 |

For the exhibition "Das neue Österreich" (the new Austria) on the history of the country in the twentieth century, an installation was developed that makes the austrian national flag the narrator of the (hi)story. the flag is the connecting element of the entire exhibition, interweaving analogue and digital media in a narrative ribbon that takes visitors though Vienna’s belvedere castle.

The exhibition was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of austrian independence. One hundred years of austrian history were to be conveyed through historical artifacts, art works and various documents, including the original austrian independence treaty.
three parties had been involved to design the exhibition. an exhibition designer was assigned the task of presenting the historical documents and artifacts on the left-hand walls of the castle. an art curator select thematically related artworks for the wall surfaces opposite. for the space between art and historical artifacts the installation "the flag" had been designed which developed a 250-meter long austrian flag taking visitors through the entire exhibition and containing a total of 17 media installations.

The exhibition opens with original sound bites of leading political figures from the first decade of the 20th century. By leaning close, the visitors can hear for example emperor Franz Joseph’s voice sounding from an “ear trumpet” extruding out of the flag.

In order to create a direct and personal confrontation with the brutality of war, small images from the WW I are woven into the flag, that can be seen with the help of a magnifying glass.
When Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938, it lost its national flag. In the exhibition this historical caesura is reflected in the flag that changes from the national red-white-red to brown. At this point an original film of marching Wehrmacht soldiers is projected onto the floor, which visitors have to cross in order to follow the rest of the story. Visitors are literally forced to march with the soldiers, the pounding sound of the marching feet around them.

Information about the allied occupation after world war II is made available to visitors via a virtual typewriter keyboard projected onto the flag. By typing an initial letter, a term connected to the occupation is shown with explanatory texts and associated images.

In a further section, historical radio recordings require visitors to get very close to the vertically suspended flag and the loudspeakers embedded in it. As the recordings are very low volume, visitors are obliged to bend and listen, assuming a posture that could also be interpreted as a respectful bow to the national flag. Visitors thus become part of the presentation and part of the overall picture.

In the room exhibiting the austrian independence treaty ratified in 1955, the national flag is not medially expanded — a gesture of respect for the original document. Instead the flag finally seems to fly free in the room.

In one of the corner rooms dedicated to the subject of clichés, the flag is sucked into a large bowl, reappearing inside as a miniature, virtual banner. The virtual banner meanders around chaotically, like noodles in a soup, which can be “stirred” by visitors. This interaction causes text excerpts and pictures to “surface” that represent all sorts of clichés commonly associated with Austria.

In the space dealing with austrians economy the flag becomes a sculpture representing the gross national product over the last century compared to the european GNP
A further installation uses a very well known device as an interface: a super-8 camera is mounted on a slide bar, which visitors can point along the flag and browse private film recordings by austrians over the last seven decades. In another room LED strips are woven into the flag showing quotes from the most important austrian literature.

To portray the relationship between modern Austria and Europe, as well as an individual in this community , a table was built in the shape of Europe. the flag cuts through the table and is only visible within the borders of Austria. in this section, a microscope serves as the interface, through which visitors can see the country from outer space. the focus wheel of the microscope enables visitors to zoom down into Europe and Austria, to Vienna and through the virtual roof of belvedere castle and into the exhibition rooms, finally seeing themselves through a zoomable camera attached to the ceiling. this way the visitors are encouraged to see themselves as individuals and members of community in the larger context of Europe.

The media installations woven into the flag casts visitors in different roles and requires different forms of interaction. The visitor alternates as a listener, observer, researcher and user of interactive media, a change of perspective that enlivens the historical material and makes it more accessible. Each part of the exhibition is designed to work on its own and in association with the other elements in the exhibition.