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trikolor web
Possible artistic interpretations of flags
or the opportunities of art in interpreting flags

object • pictorial sign • symbol • emblem

Looking at the objects of our physical environment as symbols can be linked to the need to find a hidden cultic (cultural) definition of existence and human self-identity. The chosen (appropriated) object became a pictorial sign thanks to its dissimilarity from other pictorial signs as well as the practice of its use. Symbols started to live their own lives, interacted with each other and assumed greater complexity but also greater simplicity. All the possible forms of signs (all their nominating functions) were exploited in shaping social existence in order to achieve as precise a nomination of the content (the nominee) as possible.

flag • standard = object • pictorial sign • symbol • emblem

The earliest known vexilloid (flag-like object) depictions can be seen on Egyptian clay vessels from 3400 BC. The earliest flag was that of the Yellow Emperor (the mythical ancestor of the Chinese) from circa 1500 BC. The first known European flag flew on the admiral ship of the Athenian fleet in the late 5th century BC.

the non-vexilloid flag

One of the earliest European ‘flags’ that cannot be regarded as a flag was the blue cape of Saint Martin, which was found in the saint’s tomb by Chlodvig I of France (481-511 AD), who made it his flag. The cape was later used as the military standard of the French kings. Another similar ‘flag’ – the leather apron of a blacksmith – was the royal flag of the Persians for centuries, up until the 7th century AD. This provides an interesting context for 20th-century Fluxus flags, among which examples can be found for a cape and a leather apron too.

a magyar trikolor

The first flag which featured three colours originates from 1601; the Turkish sultan presented it as a gift to Sigismund Báthory. Red-white-green were first used as the Hungarian nation’s colours at the time of King Matthias II, in 1618, on the cord of a seal. From the 16th century onwards green appeared on flags inconsistently.

After the early successes of the revolution of 1848-49 it was decreed that "the national colours and coat of arms of the country should be restored to their ancient rights." The French revolution and the French tricolour lent a new meaning to the Hungarian tricolour, while in the Reform Era it came to symbolise independence and liberty. Red is the symbol of strength, white of fidelity and green of hope.


“If we compare our colours with those of the Middle Ages and other non-Western cultures, we will notice that a fundamental difference: the colours used in the Middle Ages and in exotic cultures are elements of magical symbols and myths, while the colours in our culture are symbols of ideologically developed myths or programmatic elements. For example, ‘red’ symbolised the threat of going to Hell in the Middle Ages. In our culture the ‘red’ of the traffic lights still magically means ‘danger’ but it is programmed in a way that we automatically step on the brake pedal without being consciously aware of it. The subliminal programming of the colours of the photo-universe results in a merely ritual, automatic behaviour.”

meta-level motivation

in the Hungarian language, traffic lights are also called electronic policemen. The compound word is a pertinent, accurate and concise meta-level phrase. Thanks to its metaphorical linguistic evocation, this object – a device developed for the electronic control of traffic –‘penetrates’ social practice. With its three colours, it is a complex of pictorial signs: a tricolour and a social emblem, a modern version of a vexilloid.

video: Tricolour Party and Gyula Pauer’s most recent pseudo paintings