Elisa Rios and Emma Barnes are the creative duo behind Guard n Flags, a business that has been creating custom flags since 2014. The two have been working together creating pieces for businesses, events and locals to express personalized messages in the form of a flag. This week they will be doing a screen printing workshop at Quirk. Make a garden flag with them and consider themes of growth, care, friendship and love. Emma and Elisa will provide the flag, ink and screens to teach printing techniques to those who register. Everyone will go home with their very own garden flag and a copy of the zine they put together for the workshop! I took some time to go to their studio and talk to them about their lives and their business.
Quirk Gallery: How did you meet? Can you tell us a little bit about both of your backgrounds?
Guard n Flags: We were both painting and printmaking students, but met through our work as interns at Studio Two Three. It is funny though, we can’t really remember how we met– it sort of just happened and it clicked. We also bonded over our queer cinema class with Liz Canfield!
When did you start screen printing together?
We took on a lot of print projects together as interns like flyers, bookmarks, and t-shirts. We also helped teach workshops and did live printing at events like the street art festival together.
When did your interest in making become something you both wanted to do for a living? Your business Guard n Flags began in May of 2014 – What was happening then for both of you?
We both admired the way Studio Two Three functioned, our involvement in it and the people who were and still are a part of it. Ashley Hawkins, the executive director of Studio Two Three has inspired us immensely by creating a space intended to help artists do their own work — a space that was created to make artistic practices more accessible. We want to reflect that idea by collaboration with others. Through our commission work we offer a space for others to express their own ideas, and make their ideas become more tangible. From our experience as interns & involvement with Studio Two Three, we realized that our love for making could be practical, profitable and eventually become what we decided to do for a living.
In 2014, when we decided to begin our work as Guard n Flags we were transitioning out of interning and started taking on small commissions together. Our first flag was made for Verdalina on Broad Street.
After our first few commissions, we realized we wanted to find this line between something that can feel like “fine art” but be accessible and affordable. We wanted to break down the hierarchy of business and art. Which is why we want to make flags for shops, and help locals represent themselves. We recently made a logo and flag for Tiny Space in Churchill and we’re really excited about what they’re about.
Anna Vanneman holds a custom Tiny Space flag sporting the logo Emma and Elisa created for the shop. Tiny Space is a retail establishment that prides itself on handmade and handpicked items.
Let’s talk about the process – with custom work how much back and forth is there? Are the flags all handmade as well as screen printed?
We do a lot of emailing with custom orders to communicate with clients about what will best fit their vision or idea. Usually the custom ordered flags are custom sewn and always screen printed.
We’ve always been drawn towards fabric. Paper is overly precious and it easily gets messed up, fabric can be washed, it can be folded up – it’s more versatile and we really like that.
This Moonage Daydream flag was composed for Catalyst Wedding Company in 2014. “By basing our flags and banners around our client’s personal expression, we work to emphasize the individual in a way that redefines what a wedding should feel or look like. “
A Zodiac flag folded up and ready to go. This one if from a series of many featuring all of the Zodiac signs.
I know you’ve talked about the tradition of flags, how flags act as a way to make the personal political, to declare your own history and re-present yourself – how did you decide flag making was the way to express this?
Well as our mission states, we became interested in flags because they are objects that have historically expressed pride, power, and tradition. As individuals we have the ability to take ownership of our histories and representations. Through the declarative act of flag making, Guard n Flags highlights how the personal is political. Agency in representation is very important to us. Claiming space for self representation is an important political act for people.
We feel that claiming your own space is an act of self care. Flags can be a marker to claim that space. Traditionally flags have represented bodies of people, and places in a general way. We try to make flags more specific by helping individual people create objects that represent themselves, their family, or their interests.
Guard n Flags made this custom flag for the annual Richmond Zine Festival in 2015! This flag was created for the 9th Festival and declares an open space with an emphasis on consideration and care for all who attend.
Music and text seem deeply embedded in your identities as makers. This is reflected in your exhibition work, your flags etc. Who are some writers, poets and musicians that are most relevant to your work today?
Music is political! It has the ability to represent narratives and reach a broad audience. It’s accessibility and ability to deeply connect is important.
Artists who inspire us and do this:
Continuing to talk about text – There is a lot of wordplay starting with your business name and the name for your workshop with us at Quirk “Garden Flags with Guard n Flags”, there is a sense of duality in meaning and in identity. Can you talk about how you use text and why it is important to you both?
We like to play around with text because sometimes it can feel more accessible, but it can also build a lot of duality and leave things open for readers. Words can carry different identities, meanings, complexities and we like opening that up. We like to revisit dictionary definitions of words and re-write re-work what they can be. This relates back to how people represent themselves. People are complex and changing, we aren’t limited or boxed into these identities society has placed on us.
noun : a person whose job or duty is to watch and protect someone or something
verb : to take up a protective or defensive stance (over something)
transitive verb : to protect an edge with an ornamental border
: to tend to carefully: preserve, protect
noun : a piece of cloth, varying in size, shape, color and design, usually attached at one edge to a staff or cord, and used as a symbol of a nation, state, or organization, as a means of signaling
verb : to mark (a page in a book, file card, etc.) for attention
: to communicate (information) by or as if by a flag
An example of Guard n Flags using definitions to reveal the different meanings behind their word choices, specifically their business name.
All flags for the workshop will be a red vinyl with varying options for color of ink, text and image design. This garden flag was made in 2015.
Below is the Zine Emma and Elisa created for the workshop, an interactive and open piece that gives insight into their thought process and discussions relevant for our Garden Flags workshop.