Much of Matthias Wermke and Mischa Leinkauf's art is dangerous: from swinging from the roof of Berlin's Sony Center to scaling Tokyo skyscrapers, the two German artists are dedicated to a borderless exploration of our built environment. They have spent years playfully, peacefully, poetically introducing audiences to the more fascinating facets of the structures that we tend to overlook... and that often involves a bit of a climb.
And yet, despite the almost trance-like calmness of their work, the artists realised that in many cases, viewers were unable to get past the inherent peril of their feats and into the art itself. They began to search for ways to help audiences put aside their marvel at the stunts themselves in order to find beauty in the mundane.
Mr. Wermke and Mr. Leinkauf's latest effort involved replacing the two American flags on New York's Brooklyn Bridge with all-white versions.
"The bridge for us is a symbol of freedom and creative opportunity," Mr. Wermke explained to the New York Times. It was designed by German-born, Berlin-trained engineer John Roebling, who, as Mr. Leinkauf noted, "came to America because it was the place to fulfill his dreams, as the most beautiful expression of a great public space."
"That beauty was what we were trying to capture."
The duo, who, in keeping with the respectful nature of their interactions with architecture and public spaces, folded the flags according to America's flag code and returned them, assert that taking public responsibility was always part of their plan, even though they were aware that their actions could result in a permanent ban from the United States. Naturally the initially unclaimed work caused a minor uproar that forced local authorities to closely examine the breach in security and its potential implications, and even a month after the white flags were raised (on July 22nd to mark the 145th anniversary of Mr. Roebling's death), media outlets continue to refer to the flags as "surrender flags". Yet perhaps naively, given the city's recent history, Mr. Leinkauf and Mr. Wermke were not expecting their project to be interpreted as particularly provocative. After all, white is also a symbol of peace.