SD: The black flag is the anarchist flag. I was interested in how
it can be both a negative and positive symbol. Italian anarchists
in the 19th century started using the black flag, and it was used
by the fascists as well, the black shirts in the early 20th century.
There’s been a struggle around it ever since, over whether it’s a
symbol of the ultra-right or the ultra-left.
I didn’t do the carving. I worked with carvers at Telara Marble
in Carrara, Italy, where there is still an active anarchist movement.
They have an anarchist newspaper, perhaps two. The quarrymen
were introduced to anarchism in the 19th century, and many immigrated to the U.S. This is one of the ways that anarchism came
to the U.S. as a political movement in the early 20th century. I grew
up in Boston, where the famous Sacco and Vanzetti case played out
in the 1920s.
We worked with maquettes, digital imaging, and drawings. The
idea was to include the carvers in making the works so that their
labor was highlighted in the unfinished nature of the busts; the
process becomes very visible. And since the busts are not meant
to be tributes or memorials, it was important to leave them unfinished to signal to the viewer that these are almost like sketches,
ideas that are unfinished or ghostly figures from the past. The captions of the works list the names of the people who worked on
them. When I work with fabricators, I often include their names
and information about them in the titles.
DG: You draw and work with wood, metal, and stone. What parts
of the process do you do yourself?
SD: Each project is different. Some of it I do myself, and other
things are fabricated outside. Usually, the large-scale or public
works are done by fabricators, and the smaller works are done in
the studio—all of my drawing, for instance, is done in the studio.
DG: Was Scaffold made in your studio or done by others?
SD: It was fabricated in Germany by a couple of different companies—one did the steel, another did the woodworking, and
another one did the safety structures. It was reconstructed in
Minneapolis by local companies, just before it was taken down.
DG: A multi-page brochure accompanied Scaffold when it was
shown at Documenta 13 in 2012. The text made it clear that the
work was concerned with executions, mass incarceration, and the
percentage of people in the U.S. who have family members in jail.
Now it has been identified specifically in terms of the Dakota
Massacre. Has a group of Native American activists determined for
you what your work is about and what it means?
SD: The situation created tremendous misunderstandings about the
work. Because of social media and the rapid circulation of misinformation, it becomes impossible to put it back in the bottle and say,
Left: “Black Flag, Unfinished Marble” series, 2011. Carrara marble carved at
Telara Studio d’Arte by Adriano Gerbi and Mauro Tonazzini, Sara Atzeni (
assistant), Gionata Cipollini (adviser), and production manager Maria Teresa Telara,
satin flags, and steel pipe, installation view. Above: Black Flag, Unfinished Marble (Errico Malatesta) (detail), 2011. Carrara marble, satin flags, and steel pipe,
45 x 28 x 21 cm.