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Trevor Paglen, “Weeping Angel” (2017) (photo by Nicholas Prakas, all courtesy of Creative Time)

Over the past 10 months, you might have noticed an artist-designed flag flying outside a cultural institution near you. Commissioned by Creative Time, these banners are part of the series Pledges of Allegiance, a nationwide project that aims to “begin articulating the urgent response our political moment demands.”

Previous flags, by artists including Jeremy Deller, Tania Bruguera, and Marilyn Minter, have conveyed clear messages of hope and support in challenging times (Minter’s, the inaugural design, spelled out “RESIST” in large letters). This month’s is a little different. Created by Trevor Paglen, it asks viewers to solve a cryptographic puzzle, which the artist has subtly slipped into its main emblem. Circling an image of a crying angel is a string of code, comprised of numbers and lowercase letters. Creative Time asks anyone who thinks they have cracked the puzzle to email or DM them on Twitter or Instagram.

Trevor Paglen’s “Weeping Angel” flag (photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli)

Perhaps its title holds a clue. “Weeping Angel” is named for a hacking program that the CIA allegedly developed to spy on citizens through their smart TVs. The angels, according to a Creative Time press release, may also refer to creatures from the series Doctor Who or a quantum effect that describes how matter can freeze in place with a series of rapid, repetitive measurements. Whatever its meaning, a message sent in enigmatic form is a fitting one for Paglen, whose work critically examines covert means of communication in the surveillance state.

Through April 4, you can find Paglen’s flag at 18 locations, including Creative Time’s New York City headquarters, California College of the Arts, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Curious codebreakers can also scope high-resolution images on Creative Time’s website, where the nonprofit issues a playful challenge: “Take a stab at breaking the code, we dare you.”

Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE, Gothamist, Artnews, Smithsonian Magazine,...

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