Anne Thompson | July 1 – September 22, 2023
Maritime TXT merges two forms of short-hand visual communication: texting abbreviations and the International Code of Signals for maritime flags, each representing a letter of the alphabet.
A stack of three maritime flags can easily spell out a common text. Maritime TXT complicates this idea with flags that are double sided, sewn to communicate complimentary yet contradictory messages. One side says BRB, or “be right back,” while the other reads OMW, or “on my way.” The message you receive is largely up to chance—where you are, what time it is, and which way the wind is blowing. At times, the sun might make the flags transparent, blending the forms and colors of individual letters into abstract geometry. (The above image details the double-sided “R” and “M” flag when backlit.)
Flags usually represent certainty in declaring affiliations to nations, groups or ideas, especially in the current moment of polarized values and nationalist zeal. Maritime TXT represents, even celebrates, uncertainty. BRB and OWM together embody a state of absence, one message signaling a promise of return, the other a promise of arrival, both reflecting situations where someone is expected but isn’t there.
Maximizing the flag as a double-sided form, Maritime Text mixes formats with opposite modes, effects and intentions: analog versus digital; fast versus slow; language meant to be seen up close (on a phone) versus symbols designed for maximum visibility from a distance (at sea).
Each flag is 24 x 30 inches and sewn by the artist, using 2000-dernier nylon typical of professional flag making.
Anne Thompson is an artist and curator. Her recent projects include “Trail Signs,” (2020-22), a solo exhibition of enigmatic symbol posters wheat-pasted on hiking kiosks across the museum campus of the Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, Mass. During 2014-17, she created and curated the nationally acclaimed “I-70 Sign Show,” which positioned the Missouri interstate as a public-art corridor for cultural and political commentary. She currently is Director and Curator of the Suzanne Lemberg Usdan Gallery at Bennington College, where she serves on the visual arts faculty.