Thank You for Your Service, an art exhibition by Melanie Bernier, consists of hand-crafted flags that commemorate greater Boston music venues. Each flag stands for an individual music venue that is now defunct.
Bernier has performed in all of these spaces. She calls them DIY spaces, i.e., community-oriented, shared spaces. Bernier is one of many artists who rely on performance venues like these in order to grow in a supportive environment.
DIY performance venues lack funds for necessary renovations, so they are often closed quickly. They have brief but dramatic life cycles. In the words of one Boston artist, interviewed by WBUR in 2016, “I think we all know artists have a knack for finding cool, cheap parts of town. Then they make them even cooler and more vibrant, not magically, but through hard work, creativity, ingenuity and community. But it seems eventually most artists get pushed out…”1
All of the spaces commemorated by Bernier’s flags, such as Gay Gardens and House of 1,000 Smiles, were shuttered in 2015 due to a city noise ordinance that allowed police to raid the spaces and spur their closures. In 2016, the tragedy of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California, drew attention to the peril of using unlicensed spaces. The risk may stem from the forced secrecy of operation.2
Though the greater Boston venues honored by Melanie Bernier no longer exist in a physical sense, the flags still stand, honoring those spaces. Commemorative details are stitched into the flags, incorporating the personal and shared history of Bernier and other performance artists. The flag Butcher Shoppe’s on Armington [not shown] has moons that represent the darkness of late-night visits to the performance space. The moons also have mystical associations. The flag What We Talk About When We Talk About Us has crosses that represent both nautical life and the sacred creativity in the space, suggesting a seafaring code. The works collected in Thank You for Your Service mirror the power and vibrancy of the spaces that were so quickly wiped away.3
An exhibition of Bernier’s flags—currently titled You Can’t Bury Me, I’m Already Underground—is showing until July 2 at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan. You can view Melanie Bernier’s other work at MelanieBernier.com.