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William Pope.L's 'Trinket' slowly tears away at an American flag

William Pope.L is a visual artist whose work defies easy classification. He’s best known for performance pieces focused on endurance, including “The Great White Way,” in which Pope.L crawled more than 22 miles over the course of nine years, all while wearing a Superman outfit with a skateboard tied to his back.

Pope.L's new show at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in downtown Los Angeles, “Trinket,” focuses on an installation of a massive American Flag that is being slowly shredded by the giant, high-velocity fans that Hollywood uses to stage tornadoes and hurricanes.

With the heavy-duty fans blowing away, we talked with Pope.L about letting fate handle the destruction of the flag and the meaning behind the grand gesture.

Interview Highlights:

If you were to come back here in a month and look at this flag, what kind of shape do you hope it will be in?

I hope it will still be alive, but maybe not alive in a way that I can predict. That's how people are — you don't see someone for several years, then, "Wow, dude, you look...different."

There are 51 stars on your flag. In your mind, what's the significance of the 51st star?

It could be Cuba, or it could be New Jersey, or it could be Vietnam, or South Korea...

Isn't New Jersey already a state?

Some people think that New Jersey should have two stars. Giants fans, maybe, I don't know.

Like the onions, it's important that your flag will decay. How do you figure out what will happen over a given period of time when it's whipped around by these 40 mile per hour fan machines? Is that something you know in advance?

I think you make an agreement with fate, and then you step out of the way. Every time I do a show that has organics or that has objects that perform of themselves, I can only predict within a certain quarter. After that, I have to let it go. It's sort of like the opinions of a person — I like the idea of pretending I'm millions of people, but alas alack, I cannot.

So people are going to bring to it whatever they're going to bring to it, and what they take away is to their own determination?

People like to say that about art, that you can bring what you want, but all of us have been brought up in this country in a certain way. The mavericks, free-thinkers, and geniuses that can step outside of ideology and the way we were trained in school to think about the flag and love of country — good for them.

But most of us have been steeped in certain lore about what the country is and what it can do. The United States of America is a fragile entity. It's really more like a flower than it is like a rock, and I think that that's what I'm trying to speak to, by using this object — a flag — to talk about aliveness.

"Trinket" is at MOCA until June 28.