Why This Artist Is Planning On Eating An American Flag: Seriously
Though flag burnings have long been a part of American political protest (which is a very weird phrase to type), artist Matt Starr has other revolutionaries beat. He’s going to eat an American flag. That’s right: he’s actually going to consume an entire flag. Starr has set out on this gastrointestinal quest not only because the First Amendment graciously gives him the freedom to do so, but to raise awareness about our country’s political issues; he’s hoping it leads to a discussion on what it means to be an American.
For someone taking on such a politically-charged stunt, Starr had never considered himself to be a political person up until about nine months ago, when he hopped on the Bernie bandwagon. Starr says that Bernie was the candidate who helped him understand the trickle-down effect of politics, and what it meant to help all kinds of demographics in our society. So back in January, Starr produced The Weekend with Bernie Show, a grassroots art show and fundraiser for Bernie Sanders. He now always rocks Bernie paraphernalia of some sort.
Starr’s “All American Diet” will be a political and patriotic event held at the Tumblr headquarters on Tuesday, June 28th. Attend to become more American, but more importantly, to watch Starr eat a flag. Matt FX, the music supervisor who handles the tunes on Broad City, will be serving as a chef, preparing said flag for Starr. For the main course, FX is cooking up a gluten-free pizza topped with bits of the American flag: it’s appropriately titled “American Pie.” Guests speakers like The Daily Show correspondent Jena Friedman, 30 Rock actor and comedian Judah Friedlander, and co-founder of “Millennials for Bernie” Moumita Ahmed, will take the stage as well. After Starr consumes the flag and likely meets his death, you’re invited to do the same. For dessert, a confetti flag-filled cake will be available for anyone who wants to take part in a literal all-American diet.
This is easily Starr’s most contentious performance to date. He’s the artist behind Diet, a conceptually minimalist and cult-like lifestyle brand that will re-launch this summer, and Babycore, a trend that’s literally exactly what it sounds like. Starr is also the director behind A$AP Ferg’s “Dope Walk,” filmed at Milk Studios New York. The guy refutes labels and claims to stay out of the “art world,” but try personally inviting him to a gallery opening and maybe he’ll consider showing up. We sat down to discuss his upcoming endeavor. We may buy some Pepto in advance.
Tell me a little bit behind the idea of “All American Diet.” Why do you want to eat a flag?
“All American Diet” is about figuring out what it means to be American and having an open dialogue about democracy. The event isn’t about a specific candidate, although it was Bernie Sanders who initiated me into politics. He helped me understand we don’t have to wait around for people up high to tell us what we should be doing. But actual democracy is where all of us get to participate.
It takes more than sitting complacently at a computer posting on Facebook. Words are limiting and oppressive. Eating a flag is an action and it’s physical, and for me, the best art—the best of anything—is when something is at stake, there’s a risk involved. That’s when people become emotionally engaged. I posted a contract on Instagram saying that if Bernie isn’t the Democratic nominee I will eat an American flag, or if he does [win], I’ll eat a chapter of George W. Bush’s autobiography.
“By eating the American flag and digesting it, it becomes a part of me, thus making me more American.”
Why call it “All American Diet?”
Because you are what you eat. By eating the American flag and digesting it, it becomes a part of me, thus making me more American. I thought it would be more compelling to do this in front of a group of people, but then I realized this wasn’t just about me becoming more American, so now there will be a flag-filled cake for everyone to eat afterwards. [It’s] just like Bernie: his campaign isn’t just about him, it’s about the movement. This event is about getting young people involved and excited. Politics is a dirty word, and historically not intended for and to be understood by young people.
If this isn’t about a specific candidate, what makes this a political movement to you?
I’m asking the question, what does it mean to be American? What does democracy mean right now? Because this has been an extremely undemocratic election. I’m not doing this because I’m a slut for Bernie, but because there have been some extremely undemocratic things taking place during this past primary and for people uninitiated, we need to talk about this. For example, the super delegates are one screwed up system–it’s not a representation of the popular vote. The media coming out the night before the California vote and calling the election, tricking voters into thinking it was futile to go out to the polls and vote—that was undemocratic and so fucked up. The media’s job is to remain objective and report the facts. What they reported was biased.
I want to talk about how you got attacked on the streets of New York because you were wearing a Bernie pin.
Yeah, that was wild. I was with my mom and dad somewhere in the East Village. I had a Bernie pin or sticker [on]. Literally, out of nowhere, clocked in the face.
What did your parents do?
My mom yelled! She’s a Jewish mom and she loves me. My dad picked me up off the ground. It hurt, but I was just so in shock, I didn’t fully process what had happened. Then I went back to my parent’s home in New Jersey because I was like, “I’m outta here.” I hate violence.
This has been a really violent election. I bought a shirt from the band Surfbort that has Trump’s creepy face on it and reads, “Trump is my sex slave. Abort Trump.” After hearing what happened to you and Illma Gore, the artist that drew Trump with the micro-penis and got punched for it, I would never wear my anti-Trump shirt out of my house.
As an attractive girl, I wouldn’t. But for me, I wear [my Bernie pin] every day. Yeah, I hate violence, but the best way to grow as a person is to be challenged and put in uncomfortable positions. You can’t just go around living complacently. People are emotional and I’m emotional and the purpose of this event is to disseminate information through the amazing speakers there will be that will discuss ways others can get involved and generate change through already existing structures while continuing to organize and mobilize on a localized level.
Today I was punched in the face by a man who got out of his car and yelled, "Trump 2016!" in Los Angeles, just days after I returned home from London just down the road from my house. Though I encourage passion, opinion and emotion, especially though art, I think violence is disgusting. To live in a place where Facebook has given my address to an anonymous third party makes me feel like I am homeless again. This type of violence makes creatives feel like we live in a world where our individual creative input isn't safe. I am sad that this is the state of our America right now. I am sad that Trump, and many of his supporters, don't find words enough to express their opinions – they need walls, waterboarding and punches. @realdonaldtrump Please stop glamorizing and perpetuating violence. Make America Decent Again! #makeamericadecentagain No, they have not been caught, and the men drove off laughing. A detailed police report has been filed.
Being able to eat the American flag also expresses the freedoms that we have here.
I love living here, but I’m also not disillusioned. It’s not the greatest country in the world. I appreciate it’s freedoms, but America has some shit it needs to sort out. As a young person, it’s really hard to extend ourselves and get involved because so many of us are bogged down in debt and all we can do is work, work, work, work, work. Somebody in another interview a few days ago asked, “How do you define success?” I don’t sell art, so I measure my success by how long I can live without a normal job.
You don’t get any profit from your work?
I don’t make “art” art. I just do these things. No one’s paying me to eat a flag. No one paid me to make adult baby clothes. It’s conceptual comedy. I consider myself a conceptual comedian. By trying to define myself, it already limits what I can and can’t do mentally. I can’t mess with that. I love the freedom of being able to not work for someone and if I want to do this, I’m going to do it. I have never had a real job here. But that being said, I also live a very basic life. I can’t afford the same things most people can afford. I drink Soylent and coffee for a lot of meals. I live in a shoebox, but the tradeoff is freedom, so I ain’t complaining!
What happened with those “Famous Artist Looking For a Job” ads around the city? You got jobs, didn’t you?
Yeah, I got jobs, but that project didn’t really start as conceptual comedy or art. I really needed to make money and pay bills. That was out of desperation. It wasn’t until I actually began doing the jobs that I realized how poetic the project was, and the art in sweeping hair at a Japanese hair salon, enrobing truffles in a chocolate factory, cooking for a celebrity chef. I found a loophole within “work” work and made it into my art. No job is beneath me. I accepted everything. For anyone reading this, I’m still looking for a job, so contact me!
“All American Diet” will take place on June 28th at the Tumblr headquarters.
Photography by Jerm Cohen.
Stay tuned for more from “All American Diet.” We’ll bring the antacids.