Not a position, but a proposition (Galleria Moitre, Turin, 2015) was one of my biggest projects ever.
Starting in December 2014, for two months, I sewed and embroidered more than two hundred black flags, each representing one of the sovereign states in the world. Reproducing all the features of the national flags, except the colours, and strongly influenced by the work of anarcho-syndicalist writer and activist Rudolf Rocker (1873-1958), these flags are a reflection on the idea of nation.
A huge part of my research revolved around Rocker’s book Nationalism and Culture, released in 1937, of which I bought a used copy, published in 1978, when I was in New York in November 2014.
In Nationalism and Culture (R. Rocker, 1978) the author argued that “The nation is not the cause, but the result of the state. It is the state which creates the nation and not the nation the state.” (Rocker, 1978: 200).
The state “is an artificial mechanism imposed upon [human beings] from above by some ruler, and it never pursues any other ends but to defend and make secure the interests of privileged minorities within society.”(Rocker, 1978: 201).
The role of the nation is to reinforce state power and the military plays a huge part in it. As an artist and as a human being strongly opposed to war and militarism I cant’t ignore this connection and I can’t ignore that “under cover of the nation everything can be hid[den].”(Rocker, 1978: 252).
National flags are fascinating, not for the stories that they tell us, but for the stories and history that they disguise. According to Rocker; “The national flag covers every injustice, every inhumanity, every lie, every outrage, every crime. The collective responsibility of the nation kills the sense of justice of the individual and brings man to the point where he overlooks injustice done; where, indeeed, it may appear to him a meritorious act if committed in the interest of the nation.”(Rocker, 1978: 252). Therefore, black becomes the perfect colour for all national flags, showing anger and outrage at all the crimes against humanity perpetrated in the name of the nation while at the same time mourning its victims.
During my research, one of the ideas that fascinated me the most was the concept of “a people” as “the natural result of social union, a mutual association of [human beings] brought about by a certain similarity of external conditions of living, a common language, and special characteristics due to climate and geographic environment.” These communities “ existed long before the state put in its appearance” and have narrow boundaries, “but a nation, as a rule, encompasses a whole array of different peoples and groups of peoples who have by more or less violent means been pressed into the frame of a common state.”(Rocker, 1978: 201).
Not a position, but a proposition (2015) is not just a reflection on artificial separations and partitions within our society, but also a call for solidarity and mutual aid between human beings in different areas in the world, let alone nations.
This project is not a position, but a proposition: be anational.
Not a position, but a proposition (2015) was one of my biggest projects ever and more than 45 metres of 3-metre-tall black fabric and 5 kilometres of thread later, I’m still amazed that I made it.
Lavinia Raccanello (b. 1985) is an Italian artist and activist based in Glasgow. She has a background in European and Transnational Law and she graduated with honours in Painting and Visual Arts in 2013 with a final dissertation that discussed civil disobedience and resistance in art. Her work focuses on the relationship between human beings, society and social justice, with a particular emphasis on the power of dialectic and participatory practice, and the conflict between state power and personal autonomy and responsibility.
Rocker, R., (1978), Nationalism and Culture, Michael E. Coughlin, Minnesota.
Feature Image: Lavinia Raccanello, Not a position, but a proposition (2015), Courtesy of the artist Photo credit: Lavinia Raccanello