Local artist pledges allegiance to the flag

“. . . Only rules were, I take all of them, every single one of them and going into the basements of [sic] Legions. Hallways were blocked off with them, they smelled, they were in poor condition, they were on the floor.”

Those were some of the opening remarks shared by student Michael Cimino, describing the conditions many American flags were in that were utilized in his Allegiance Installation. An installation is a genre of art that uses the three-dimensional form to influence a specific space, oftentimes an indoor location.

The Allegiance Installation held its opening reception on Saturday, Aug. 27 and is showing until Sept. 25 at the Arts Center of Saint Peter in St. Peter, Minnesota.

The Art Center’s front window display featured a pristine, 3’x5’ out of the package flag alongside a frayed and retired counterpart, whose origin was rumored to be from the early 19th century.

For this particular exhibit, Cimino collected over 600 colors from local city offices, American Legions and other military veteran organizations. Cimino secured them using T-pins, suspended them from the dropped ceiling tile Z-bars and carefully placed nails through the eyelets of flags to the ceilings and walls of the Colonel Theodore G. Moline Gallery.

“The idea took shape to exhibit them as contradictions to the pristine, saturated, spangled flags most often shown in the media. . . The intention of Allegiance is to overwhelm, not to desecrate. Several municipal and veteran’s organizations offered guidance and support to help ensure that the exhibition does not cross the line into satire or humiliation,” reads the artist’s statement, at the entrance to the exhibit.

“… Looking for a singed flag, Michael, is there one?” asked an exhibit patron.

“I brought those back to the American Legion. I do not want to exhibit them right now,” said Cimino.

“They were intentionally desecrated. It pisses me off. I didn’t want to use them,” explained Cimino when asked why he wouldn’t display them.

The square footage of the two story exhibit facility is insignificant. As the Stars and Stripes were draped on the walls and ceilings to quickly inundate the visitor with torn fibers, faded hues and soiled stripes. Cimino respected all US Flag Codes and kept the flags from touching the floor, merchandise or bodies of water.

Cimino described that the 3’x5’ flags were the standard residential flags.

“The 9’x5’ is, by definition, a casket flag. And I do not use those, without the weight of actually knowing that.” Said Cimino, as he meticulously described and genuinely paused to acknowledge the history of the collection of flags.

All of the flags were produced from polyester and nylon and made in the US, manufactured by companies like Annin, Valley Forge and Reliance.

“What will you do with them after you’re done,” inquired Nicole Soley, a gallery guest.

He then belabored into detail describing how three other galleries are interested in his installation. He also clarified that by extending the installation to other regions, the flags would survive longer.

“I’ve agreed with the American Legions, that I would be having my own decommissioning ceremony with them,” said Cimino.

“That’s cool,” expressed Soley.

The Mankato Boy Scouts agreed to help Cimino in properly destroying the ensigns.

“As a young person and not really understanding what it means to be patriotic, I don’t know if I would display a flag. I feel it makes people uncomfortable,” Soley said, “and people don’t know what it means, not all people, but some people don’t know what it means to have a flag in your yard. I feel like I could scare someone, by having it up in my yard.”

Two 22-foot flags, previously flown at Perkins restaurants, were secured from a higher elevation at the south wall and fastened to the lower elevation of the northern ceiling. They met in a triangular fashion, at the buildings southern wall. The convex shape of both flags, strategically divided the upper level atrium ceiling, into thirds, providing a framed view to the lower level, which seemed to serve as the focal point of the Installation.

“The show did not come without conflict and controversy, I received vague and direct threats against my well-being. Standing in the dead center makes me pretty damn nervous, and I always wondered why. I expected it, but why?” asked Cimino, hypothetically to the audience, in his opening remarks.

At this point, Cimino raced to find an inflatable plastic rifle. Adorned with the pattern of the US Flag, and “USA” stamped on the buttstock.

“This was given to me by my girlfriend. She got this at a carnival. A nine-year-old was actually holding it,” he said.

“Oh my God,” whispered an adjacent bystander.

“Budweiser has changed their beer to the name “America.” Surly, the brewing company in Minneapolis, has come out with a beer called ‘#Merica!’ But that’s okay. . .That isn’t disrespectful, that isn’t worthy of death threats?” questioned Cimino.

Elizabeth Socha, a visitor to the exhibit, shared her thoughts on the Installation: “It’s very patriotic. Great way of showing these, rather than sitting in someone’s basement. There are so many different ones, old ones and all so unique and beautiful. They’re interactive, the fact that you can touch the flags. You normally go to an art exhibit and you can’t touch anything, or take pictures.”

Emily Geiger, who accompanied Socha, said, “I wish that the protestors were here, to hear their side of the story, and why they think that this is disrespectful. Because I think that by showcasing them and hanging them we’re honoring all Americans, each flag holds history and by hanging them, we’re sharing that story.”

The iconoclastic artist hopes to take the Installation north, to the cities and south, to Alabama and Tennessee.

“What would happen if I did this show in Texas?” asked Cimino.

“. . .to me this show is about the responsible use of material, . . doing something with it that might be beautiful for somebody. . , making some use out of it because to me- that’s what I find America to be, . . that we take the best of what we have and we make the best of it,” concluded Cimino in his closing comments.

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