The US artist Suzanne Firstenberg wants to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of corona deaths with a huge installation. Now the project is supposed to end, but the death rate is increasing.
Like gentle waves on the sea, the mild Washington autumn wind moves the little white flags that seem to stretch out into endless expanses. Here on the National Mall around the monument, people have impressively felt in recent weeks that the more than 700,000 corona deaths in the USA are more than just a sad number and ultimately statistics.
For months, the artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg has been working on giving the many dead and their relatives a place of remembrance. Thanks to many donations and together with numerous volunteers, she brought the installation “In America: Remember”, which is still growing today, to the middle of the US capital. To a place that is otherwise lined with many war memorials. Today, October 3rd , ends Firstenberg’s action, which once arose “out of anger,” as she says.
Artist and inventor: Suzanne Firstenberg and Chuck Whealton (Source: Bastian Brauns)
The blonde woman protects herself from the still hot sun with a hat. She wears a purple velvet mouthguard. “I just couldn’t believe how our government could allow all of this,” she says, referring to the actions of the Trump administration.
The fact that people suffered to this unimaginable extent and, in some cases, had to die lonely, led them to the decision to devise this garden of remembrance for the victims of Covid-19. Every day for weeks helpers have been setting thousands of flags in this green, here so meaningful lawn. Again and again, when the new death numbers were announced, they moved out and followed up.
Boxes for the commemorative flags (Source: Bastian Brauns)
In fact, Firstenberg’s white sea of now more than 700,000 small flags resembles the National Cemetery in Arlington, just a few kilometers away, where row after row of more than 250,000 white marble tombstones remind of generations of fallen or deceased US heroes. “I wanted to evoke this association very consciously,” says the artist. Because now she is less concerned with her anger than with appropriate dignity for the victims.
Relatives’ memorials (Source: Bastian Brauns)
Many relatives also contributed to this. While strolling through the sea of flags, visitors stop and bend down again and again. Relatives and friends of victims of the virus have left black markings on many of the white pennants. Many had also submitted their wishes via a website. Volunteers then transferred them. Almost everywhere you can read how painfully the dead are missed by their families.
A tall man is standing next to Firstenberg. “None of this would have been possible without this guy,” she exclaims. He was actually the most important person. In fact, Chuck Whealton usually has nothing to do with art installations. At Ruppert Landscape, a landscape maintenance company from the neighboring state of Maryland, he is responsible for ensuring that the parks on the National Mall in Washington are irrigated, the lawn is cut accurately and remains lush green.
Park workers put the commemorative flags in the lawn (Source: Bastian Brauns)
When he heard about Firstenberg’s project, he started tinkering in his garage months ago. He made square grids from irrigation pipes, with the help of which his employees could insert the white flags into the ground at exactly the same distance from one another. Firstenberg asks him whether he has photos of his prototypes being built in the garage. He nods and says he must look for it. “The Smithsonian wants to take over parts of the installation after the action is over,” she says. For an exhibition in the famous museum, photos of the making-of would also be a great thing.
“We made our employees available for the project free of charge,” says Chuck Whealton. That is your small contribution to this temporary memorial. He himself did not lose anyone in his family to the virus. But he has many friends and acquaintances who mourned.
Rising numbers: Thousands are still dying from Corona (Source: Bastian Brauns)
Attached to a large box on the edge of the sea of flags, the current death numbers can be read. About a week ago the number 687,167 could still be read there. The official number is now: 701,047. Suzanne Firstenberg herself kept changing the numbers. Your flags will now be dismantled. Some of them can already be seen behind glass at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
It is true that the current corona wave in the USA is finally flattening out. But people are still dying every day, while the current government is trying, in some cases in vain, to further increase the vaccination rate.