Artist Cole Sternberg Conjures Up The Free Republic of California

  • November 23, 2020 18:10

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Cole Sternberg, (detail of work) FREESTATE installation view at ESMoA.
Cole Sternberg, The Flag of the Free Republic of California.

For ESMoA’s Experience #47 FREESTATE, an art experience in Southern California, artist Cole Sternberg created an agitprop public movement via exhibition, dedicated website and propaganda factory that conjures into conceptual existence The Free Republic of California.

Taking place both inside and outside the museum, as well as an online digital destination, FREESTATE addresses concepts of human rights, the environment, democracy and freedom through a multi-media and publicly activated artistic journey, one that recalls Joseph Beuys’ 7000 Oaks (which precipitated the founding of Germany’s Green Party in 1980). Sternberg employs sculpture in its 3-dimensional totality: physical, performative, and social to turn a mirror onto American society’s past moral choices and previously unconsidered future. The show intentionally was slated to launch just before the 2020 presidential elections and runs to February 2021.

Cole Sternberg. “their sounds never cease,” 2019. Ink on paper, 19x13 inches. Cole Sternberg. “Official Document” from the State Marketing Materials of The Free Republic of California, 2020.

The Official Campaign Website - www.thefreerepublicofcalifornia.com - is complete with the plan for secession, the policies of the future, event information, local activation guidelines, visual presentations, and of course, Free Republic merchandise such as limited edition shirts hand-screened by the artist, buttons and posters. Each month 20% of the net proceeds will benefit a non-profit whose mission reflects those proposed by The Free Republic of California: ACLU (September), The Innocence Project (October), Human Rights Watch (November), and the NAACP (December). The site also contains a digital library of newly drafted policy papers, agreements and treaties, as well as a historical archive. The website functions ahistorically to simultaneously take into account the gravity of California’s past, the absurdities of today, and the possibilities of tomorrow. It will exist as its own digital-being – preceding and outliving the project – so that the The Free Republic of California may live online as a blueprint for a movement.

Taking ESMoA and LA’s South Bay City of El Segundo as ostensible “campaign headquarters,” FREESTATE features new artworks that Sternberg conceived as fabricated historical ephemeras and objects, sovereign documents, and fictional propaganda. The gallery space is split into three rooms, forcing the viewer to experience each as a separate moment along the path to the Free Republic.

Cole Sternberg, FREESTATE installation view at ESMoA (Photo by Mark Knight)

Room one is an elaborate canvasing office, replete with posters, buttons, lawn signs and other public activation propaganda. Sternberg has even drafted a new Constitution for California, published in pocket form for easy mass dissemination. Room two is the brain of the concept. As “California Dreamin’” plays on repeat, the walls of this room are filled from floor to ceiling with works on paper chronicling the artist’s mind map of secession. They explain the historical heartache, the environmental elegance and the logistics of a peaceful and beneficial transition. The final stage is the largest and calmest. Feelings of escape and freedom permeate from Sternberg’s environmental sculpture and collage, which sit quietly against a traditional museum backdrop, demonstrating a future where one can breathe.

ESMoA is an art laboratory located in El Segundo, California and it is run by artlab21 Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3).


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