Black Flags

William Forsythe

“This work is viscerally intimidating, yet mesmerizing, creepy and wonderful in spite of the obvious classical patterning strategies.” (William Forsythe)

Black Flags is an performative installation by professional dancer, choreographer and producer William Forsythe, consisting of two industrial robots and two large black silk flags.

The imposing powerful devices collide in a smooth moment with the waving silk fabrics. In their large movement, the waving flags describe and claim the entire exhibition space by their enormous size.

Flags in their social meaning, are often used in contexts of political rallies, ceremonies and events as means of communicating and expressing and are mostly moved by their human bearers in a complete abandonment. The bearers interact with their entire body with the flag in order to use this as an extension of their own body, to create the largest possible expression. For Black Flags, the human component is replaced by high-performance industrial technology, which have six joints, thus generate an absolutely wide surface complexity in their range of motion.

Held by foundation plates of eight tonnes, they complete their tasks in generous linear elegance. From their technical design alone, they are able to operate in a radius of five meters, but actually Forsythe extends this by full carbon rods to another eight meters, to a total of 13 meters. Fast and powerful passages, calling to mind aggressive gestures, alternate with subtle movements of the light fabric, resembling an absolute deceleration of time, reaching all the way to stasis. In this state of stillness, which is almost unattainable for the human body, the air in the exhibition space alone induces the moving moment of the flags. These float gently towards the ground, to be accelerated again by the enormously powerful arms of the machinery. The almost immaterial air is the second substantial counterpart of the robots. Together they create a spatial sensation, whose units of measure are obscured, so that the observer has no valid reference point of time nor space.

Movement is the descriptive element that establishes contact with the visitor and breathes human traits into these industrial machines. The large black surfaces cut through the white of the exhibition space, standing in evident visual and materialistic contrast to the architectural space. The static white cube meets pure kinetic energy.

The absolutely precise movements of the two robots leave no doubt to their origin and the technical requirements behind their actual field of application. Nevertheless, William Forsythe manages to build a connection to the human viewer and to create a choreography where the machines’ essence is portrayed in a completely different way.

The perceptible operating noise of the robots unites with the overall movement, which was programmed with a digital algorithm. Dramatic contrapuntal movements obey minutely pre-determined sequences that conceal very high forces, still managing to seem effortless and graceful. Synchronicity alternates with seemingly chaotic patterns of movement, within the conception, the fabrics and robots are able to approach each other to a hair’s breadth. In their complete autonomy, the two robots evoke a gentle sense of discomfort, which is based on the enormous forces that they are able to develop.

Black Flags is a unique gravitational movement that captures the viewer immediately by its dominant appearance, seeming composed just as erratic in its conduct. The heavy robots, as a present-day monumental abstract sculpture, apparently lose their actual mass and transfer this through the silk flags into pure performative dynamics.

„The evidence of pattern, and the observer’s anticipation of emergent structure makes for a slightly absurd lecture in the pleasures of choreographic apprehension.” (William Forsythe)