Polygonal Address System
A monumental, floating pentagonal platform (approximately 30 feet per side), anchored in the Washington Channel, a federal waterway leading to the Capitol’s Tidal Basin. The structure slowly rotates, propelled by electric motors, and is equipped with an on-board sound system that plays a program of contemporary and historic audio recordings highlighting instances of public address in the District. Oratories on civil rights, women’s rights, labor struggles and military intervention project from speakers embedded in the sidewall, as the piece hovers above the water in rotation. Audio sources were compiled from the Library of Congress, National Archives and Pacifica Archives amongst others.
This symbolic craft might be considered a People’s Pentagon, where free speech occupies the physical model of a monolithic national institution whose policies are often at odds with its citizen’s interests and needs. PA System also reflects an interest in the mystical strength attributed to geometrical forms. The floating island becomes simple iconic manifestation of Platonic resonance.
The project was originally inspired by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin who aimed, together with 75,000 demonstrators, to levitate the Pentagon in order to exorcise its ‘evil spirits’ and thereby end the Vietnam War. It was additionally inspired by General Smedley Butler’s speeches at the 1932 Bonus Army encampments in Anacostia, a movement that led to the passing of the GI bill.
PA System is entirely solar-powered. In DC, it operated on a timer, spinning continuously and playing speeches daily from 10am-7pm. The piece is comprised of five modular sections, each floating on five 55gal poly drums. It was approachable via watercraft, and visible and audible from the neighboring shoreline.
Curated by Steve Rowell as part of Suspension of Disbelief, a curatorial project commissioned by the DC Arts Commission for their 2012 5×5 public art initiative.
RALPH ABERNATHY, BELLA ABZUG, MAYA ANGELOU, MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE, LEE BRIGHTMAN, QUANNAH PARKER BRIGHMAN, H RAP BROWN, GENERAL SMEDLEY BUTLER, LIZ CARPENTER, ROBERT CAVELLI, CESAR CHAVEZ, SHIRLEY CHISHOLM, ANGELA DAVIS, EUGENE DEBS, JOSEPH DUFFY, FREDERICK DOUGLASS, RONNIE DUGGER, LADD EVERITT, BETTY FRIEDAN, SAMUEL GOMPERS, DICK GREGORY, REVEREND GRAYLAN HAGLER, SARA HAILE-MARIAM, FANNIE LOU HAMER, CHRIS HEDGES, CLIFTON HILL, CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, JULIUS HOBSON, ABBIE HOFFMAN, BARBARA JORDON, CORETTA SCOTT KING, WALTER LARA, BRIAN LEE, JOHN LEWIS, JOHN S LEWIS, HUEY P LONG, COURTNEY LOVE, RUSSELL MEANS, STUART MEECHUM, TUOLUMNE MEWUK, RALPH NADER, REVEREND DARLENE NIPPER, CARL OGLESBY, A PHILIP RANDOLPH, BAYARD RUSTIN, CINDY SHEEHAN, DAMU SMITH, BRUCE SOLLOWAY, RABBI SCOTT SPERLING, DR BENJAMIN SPOCK, BOOKER T WASHINGTON, CORNELL WEST, ROY WILKINS, CHRIS YAZZIE, WHITNEY M YOUNG, MALCOM X
Abbie Hoffman audio
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Polygonal Address (PA) System: A floating installation by Deborah Stratman and Steve Badgett at 600 Water St. SW uses vintage audio recordings. Stratman is a Chicago-based artist and filmmaker. Her work has been featured at the Whitney Biennial, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Sundance. Badgett, a frequent collaborator with Stratman, is a sculptor and installation artist.
– Jacqueline Trescott The Washington Post, 2012
With Polygonal Address (PA) System, Chicago-based artists Deborah Stratman and Steven Badgett produced an homage to activist Abbie Hoffman who, during the Vietnam War, marched on Washington intending to “levitate the pentagon to exorcise the evil spirits” using psychic powers. For their part, Stratman and Badgett built a solar-powered, rotating mini-pentagon that hovers above the waters behind the Titanic Memorial, broadcasting a range of historical sound recordings and political addresses.
– Yasha Wallin Interview Magazine, 2012
In the Southwest Waterfront area, visitors can discover Deborah Stratman & Steven Badgett’s Polygonal Address System, a spinning platform floating about 50 yards out on the Potomac River. As I approached, I was struck by the raucous sounds of political protests. Was there a nearby demonstration? Not today. It soon became apparent that the platform had loudspeakers fixed to the side of it. As the pentagonal structure rotated in the water, the speakers roared with the sounds of historic public addresses and protests, including speeches by public figures from Malcolm X to Ralph Nader.The Polygonal Address System was one of the more politically-charged elements of the 5×5 project. Steve Rowell, curator of the installation, described his perspective of the system, pointing out that viewers seemed to have varying reactions to the political speeches. He felt that some people enjoyed the speeches, while others appeared turned off by them, as if the art revealed something about each person’s political views. Rowell noted that some of these speeches were ‘complicating the argument of protests, public activism, democracy, and intolerance amongst so many Americans.’
– Jack Krajewski BlackBook, 2012