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MFA student to assemble 2,000 people into flag formation on Quad April 2

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor 
(217) 333-5491;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — By her own admission, University of Illinois graduate student Sarah Daniel has always colored outside the lines.  So it came as no surprise to those who know the energetic, quirky and self-determined young British art and design student that her master’s thesis project would likely take on grand proportions.

Grand, indeed.  On April 2, Daniel plans to transform a section of the UI Quadrangle into a “human kaleidoscope.” And the image that ultimately will come into focus – at least from a bird’s eye view – will be an American flag.

Assisting her with the site-specific sculpture project, titled “Do You Want to be a Star?”, will be a handful of friends and about 2,000 strangers outfitted in red, white or blue T-shirts donated by a local business.  At 8 a.m. on the day of the event, participants – drawn largely from the campus population and organized in groups of six – will assemble in pre-assigned parking lots surrounding the Quad.  From there, participants will migrate to the center section of the Quad, where they will assume designated positions by 9 a.m. 

A select few participants – those who registered first – will represent the flag’s stars, while the remainder will fill in the blue field or the red and white stripes.

“The most desirable place to be is in the star positions,” said Daniel, who noted that one of the overall goals of the project was to create an atmosphere of excitement, in which people were seduced by the potential of becoming stars.

 “All of my work deals with the premise of desire,” Daniel said. “I am interested in my work being desirable, and the notion of people wanting to do something … to be tempted, either visually or metaphorically.”

Her decision to incorporate the American flag image into her project springs from her own desire to express the many and varied meanings she associates with the symbol.

“As a not-American person, to me the flag symbolizes personal freedom and unity.  It has the energy of ‘perfect.’  It symbolizes the country.  It means technology.  It represents this utopian, perfect place.  And it imbues my critique … that capitalism and celebrity tap into the popular culture, and how America is this land of opportunity.

“At the same time, the flag has negative implications for some people,” she said, noting that she is fascinated by the fact “that this one symbol or icon is so powerful.”

Daniel hopes to harness the power of that symbolism and capture the moment as a freeze-frame in history.  Once all of the human bodies are in place on the Quad on April 2, Daniel’s live sculpture will be documented in an aerial photograph by local photographer Larry Kanfer.  Each participant will receive a postcard of the group image, which, along with the T-shirts, will serve as souvenirs of the event.  Daniel said there are tentative plans to make the postcards available for sale to the public as well.

With less than two weeks to go before flag day, Daniel has lined up and organized most of the participants, enlisted the support of several local and national business sponsors, and cleared numerous administrative hurdles that threatened to block her plans.

“It’s been difficult, but not impossible,” she said, referring to the tremendous effort the project has required.

Daniel is still seeking “a couple hundred” participants to fill out the field of her flag.  Anyone is welcome to register; participants are not required to be affiliated with the UI.