In the summer of 2020, as Americans cautiously emerged from the first Covid-19 lockdown, multimedia artists Joe McShea and Edgar Mosa left New York City to walk on Fire Island, a long stretch of land south of Long Island, and began raising flags to produce . McShea began photography while Mosa was training to be a goldsmith, but the two, who are now work and life partners, have long explored the interaction between fabric and the elements. 2018 Inspired by the Baroque frescoes in the 13th-century Palazzo Monti in Brescia, Italy where they were artists-in-residence, they developed a series of ephemeral sculptures by wrapping stone stairways in ribbon and photographing fabrics in water. In hindsight, they also created a flag out of ribbons taped to a cardboard tube. Though simple, they felt it had power, and indeed it took off two summers later when the duo began sewing brightly colored hand-dyed silk, dead-stock ribbons and tulle into ribbon lengths that, doubled, act as drapes acted—or, as they refer to them, hoist ribbons—and tie them with simple bows to foraged bamboo poles they planted on the beaches of Fire Island Pines.
Although the poles only sat in the sand for several hours at a time, they proved it on sunny intervals with high winds (“We always watched the sky for the perfect moment to let them fly,” says McShea). an invitation: An eclectic crowd gathered at the same spot to watch the couple’s latest creations unfold in the wind. “People were drawn to them,” McShea recalls. “They had a hypnotic quality.” The gatherings, in turn, allayed his and Mosa’s concerns about Fire Island, which is known as a party destination. “We found that there are many creative people there who are looking for peace and want to work,” says Mosa. “We were able to gather a small family.”
What did the installations mean? Lots of people wanted to know. But McShea, a 36-year-old blonde Marylander and the more talkative of the duo, and Mosa, who grew up in Portugal, has dark hair and is also 36, have consistently objected. Unlike the national flags McShea pored over in his atlas as a child, these were intended not as symbols but as a call for reflection. “Instead of telling you, ‘Go here, feel this, march, fight, kill, whatever,’ they don’t answer you,” he explains. “And when that meaning is taken away from them, all that’s left is the physical object, which is this beautiful flowing textile that interacts with light, water and air.” prevent.”
The flags also cut through the noise on social media, which is how Jonathan Anderson, creative director of the Spanish fashion house Loewe, came across them. Brooklyn-based artist Doron Langberg, who is friends with McShea and Mosa, eventually painted the pair One Afternoon in the Pines as part of a 2020 Public Art Fund commission. Anderson purchased the painting and, curious to learn more about the issues, the couple searched Instagram. In July 2021, he messaged the men asking for more information about their work. “I felt like [the flags] were such an optimistic symbol,” says Anderson. “I grew up in Northern Ireland in the early 90’s So when I think of flags, I always think of the negative connotations – the two sides.” Those flags, on the other hand, seemed to be “a symbol of a brighter future.”
Last weekend, 87 of the pair’s bow tie flags captivated a new audience: attendees at Loewe’s Fall 2022 menswear show, held at the Tennis Club de Paris in the city’s 16th arrondissement. Dressed in looks with surrealist accents, like bodysuits with LED lights glowing just below the surface, clam-shell handbags and coats adorned with circular drain covers, the models crunched across a sand-covered floor — 40 tons of it. to be precise – and by a cloth formation in the style of an honor guard. Hanging from a network of slanting aluminum poles, each just over 21 feet long, were silk ribbons some 8 miles long in a spectrum of 13 candy-colored hues. Unlike on Fire Island, there was no wind to move them around. (A wind machine was considered but ruled out.) Instead, Mosa says, “we went with that tension — a flag that’s still and begging for a little breeze waiting for it to make it flutter.” Indeed, there was a sense of anticipation each time the ribbons trembled and a new model was revealed underneath. And certainly the set enhanced the feeling of displacement induced by the clothing – it was as if the men were traversing a forest in a strange but beautiful parallel realm.
McShea and Mosa arrived in Paris four months before the show to create the site-specific work. After inspecting the approximately 15,000 square meter hall and getting to know the Loewe team, they set about designing a layout in which they could unveil as many flags as possible. “From the start, we wanted to fill the space,” says McShea. (A short film by British director Stephen Isaac Wilson documenting the process, which included some sort of artistic warm-up on a trip to Ibiza in December, can be seen on Loewe’s YouTube and Instagram channels.) It was a momentous one McShea and Mosa practice and relationship experience. After all, making art has always been their favorite way to communicate – their second date consisted of a photo shoot in the living room at McShea’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with jewelry designed by Mosa. Anderson also feels supported by artists and makers – in 2016 he co-founded the Loewe Craft Prize, which supports craftsmen around the world with prize money of 50,000 euros and an exhibition – and more than most fashion designers, often works with them. “I feel like what I do is ultimately my job [to create] a platform for people,” he says, “and for building things with creative integrity.”
In about six months, as the menswear collections begin to disappear, the McShea and Mosa flags will be displayed in Loewe stores around the world. By then the artists will be back in New York and, they hope, planning their next project. For now, however, they’re pinching themselves. McShea, a lover of poetry who tends to underline passages that resonate with or contextualize the duo’s work, quotes a few lines from Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges: “The flags sang their colors / and the wind is a bamboo shoot between the hands / The world grows like a bright tree.”