W-ZD (Stranger Wishes to Communicate) 

This project explores the gap between 19th and 21st century forms of distance communication and intends to link the Olympia to Spruce Street Harbor Park through a series of short and highly visible encoded messages. The International Code of Signals communication manual, whose 1917 edition would have been used by the crew of Olympia, describes numerous three- and four-symbol combinations of nautical signal flags used to transmit messages between ships in the days before reliable radio communication, and on occasions when silence was essential. It is difficult to scan the columns of the codebook and not see the three-letter messages as ancestors of today’s text messaging shorthand (LOL, IDK, etc.) In his memoir of the Spanish American War, Three Years Behind the Guns, Lieu Tisdale expressed his fascination with Olympia’s signal flags, claiming he would write a “descriptive poem” with them (205). Poet Hannah Weiner, in her writing and performances, realized his idea that signal flags could be the basis for poetry nearly three quarters of a century later. The message encoded on the banners contains fragment of letters from sailors and soldiers and reflections on the war.

About the Artist


Gerard Brown is a writer and painter interested in the intersection between words and images. His paintings and prints and works in digital media have been exhibited at regional and national venues, including Rowan University Art Gallery and the Woodmere Art Museum. From 1995 to 2002, he contributed art writing to the Philadelphia Weekly and other regional publications, and his essays have appeared in catalogs and exhibition brochures published by the Pew Fellowships for the Arts, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and numerous commercial galleries. He also wrote a chapter on the uses of contemporary art in the discussion of history for the anthology Remixing the Civil War:  Meditations on the Sesquicentennial published by Johns Hopkins University press. He has curated exhibits for the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Galleries at Moore College of Art & Design, the Center for Art in Wood in Philadelphia, and others. He is currently Associate Professor and Chairperson of Foundations at Tyler School of Art.