19 – 8. Emptying flags

Sonja Hornung

Public Space

Through public interventions, Sonja Hornung approaches the representation of a borderless political space. Flags with no meaning are hoisted on flagpoles across the city.

Public space plays a central role in this exhibition project, insofar as the artist uses her work to bring into focus concepts of statehood and the significance of territorial spaces. Using installation and public intervention, Sonja Hornung attempts to approach a representation of a borderless political space. In the process, the artist annexes used and unused flagpoles within the city, hoisting flags that have no meaning whatsoever.


Ordinarily, flags carry cultural, religious, ethnic, or ideological messages. Loaded with historical and geographical significance, they are symbols of domination and power, predetermining identity, including some and excluding others. The symbolism of flags is part and parcel of a system of order that influences, at any given moment, each and every individual.


Using a self-devised system, Sonja Hornung generates patterns for flags that have no historical basis. Instead, these new flags are formed – as much as possible – by chance. The artist uses emptied flags to scrutinize the mechanism at the heart of the process that anchors a flag to its symbolic meaning and its actual territory.


Emptying flags approaches the (im)possibility of separating spaces from borders, meaning and matter, form and content. In doing so, the exhibition project opens a fleeting moment of borderlessness, whilst prompting questions pertaining to the consequences of constructing different possibilities of meaning. What happens, for example, when we can no longer draw meaningful connections between the perceived and the understood? What happens when the symbol of the flag, always so distinct, loses its symbolic decisiveness, opening out to nothingness?

Emptying flags

Sonja Hornung

21 June to 31 October 2012


„The problem […] is that for me the flags project sits a bit broader than any specific situation […]. For me it is a way of distilling this horrible question of whether it might be possible to deal with things in the world the way they are, without miscategorising them & then misusing them (people, land, borders, objects, coal etc.). How can you look at a thing for what it is in the context of everything else? The starting point is to empty it of meaning, and then begin again. I am not sure if it is my/our job to „fill“ the flag with a new meaning. I am just emptying it, and as far as I am concerned it should stay empty.“

— Sonja Hornung in an email exchange with the curators, 20 December 2012