Polygonal Address System 2012
Steve Badgett and Deborah Stratman
Curated by Steve Rowell
Suspension of Disbelief, DC Arts Commission, 5x5 public art initiative

A monumental, floating pentagonal platform (approximately 30 feet per side), anchored in the Washington Channel, a federal waterway leading to the Capitol’s Tidal Basin. The structure slowly rotates, propelled by electric motors, and is equipped with an on-board sound system that plays a program of contemporary and historic audio recordings highlighting instances of public address in the District. Oratories on civil rights, women’s rights, labor struggles and military intervention project from speakers embedded in the sidewall, as the piece hovers above the water in rotation. Audio sources were compiled from the Library of Congress, National Archives and Pacifica Archives amongst others.

This symbolic craft might be considered a People's Pentagon, where free speech occupies the physical model of a monolithic national institution whose policies are often at odds with its citizen’s interests and needs. PA System also reflects an interest in the mystical strength attributed to geometrical forms. The floating island becomes simple iconic manifestation of Platonic resonance.

The project was originally inspired by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin who aimed, together with 75,000 demonstrators, to levitate the Pentagon in order to exorcise its ‘evil spirits’ and thereby end the Vietnam War. It was additionally inspired by General Smedley Butler’s speeches at the 1932 Bonus Army encampments in Anacostia, a movement that led to the passing of the GI bill.

PA System is entirely solar-powered. In DC, it operated on a timer, spinning continuously and playing speeches daily from 10am-7pm. The piece is comprised of five modular sections, each floating on five 55gal poly drums. It was approachable via watercraft, and visible and audible from the neighboring shoreline.