Sunday, September 14, 2008

Letter from L.A.

I‘m currently in Los Angeles and as I drove along the Pacific Coast Highway today, I happened upon this remarkable sight on the campus of Pepperdine University. A memorial comprised of 2,977 flags mounted on thin aluminum rods, the display stands for the number of lives lost during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It was installed this past 9/11 and will only remain in place for one week. It has not been widely written about and surprisingly few people pull over to photograph it, walk amongst the flags, and reflect.

The project, called "The Wave of Flags" was conceived of by Ryan Sawtelle. the president of Pepperdine’s College Republicans and funded by a number of strongly right wing outside donors. This, naturally, became a reason for much debate on the campus but the "Wave" was ultimately supported by both the university administration and the undergraduate Young Democrats. So it is at once a memorial, an almost Christo-like art installation, and a tribute to freedom of expression.

Set against the deep green grass of the campus front lawn on one side and with the Pacific Ocean across from it on the other, it does what so little of public art does - be accessible and profound, beautiful and mysterious, and constantly changing. It is both joyful and surprisingly abstract and conceptual. And perhaps most importantly and paradoxically, all these qualities serve to depoliticize a symbol that has for too long been co-opted by one end of the political spectrum.

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