Eva Grubinger’s Charlie November comprises two ensigns whose patterning matches those for ‘Charlie’ and ‘November’ in the system of international signal flags. Dating back to the mid-nineteenth century and now in part superseded by Morse code and electronic messaging, this visual alphabet presents a variety of codes for communicating at sea. The pair that Grubinger has selected – their vintage nature and long history pointed to, seemingly, by their slightly off whites – offers a stark binary: ‘Charlie’ means affirmative, and ‘November’ means negative. When they are raised one above the other, ‘NC’, they present a distress signal, which might also appear relevant in this context.
Grubinger’s presentation incorporates a third element, the strong wind, which causes the flags to flutter continuously next to each other, a kind of signal jamming or broken communication, a constant, bickering simultaneity of yes/no, as if the artwork were arguing with itself. In the context of this exhibition and its reflection on the current state of Europe via the maritime metaphor of showing your flag’s colours, the gesture does not point to a lack of meaning. Rather Charlie November condenses, into structurally unstable visual form, a historical moment of unnerving indecision, absence of clarity, deadlock. It’s an international flag signal for a continent effectively at sea: both increasingly internally riven and disputatious, with no certainty which way the changing winds will blow us.