In Frankfurt near St. Peter’s church on Klaus-Mann-Platz, there is a memorial with an angel sculpture (aka Frankfurter Engel) for the homosexual men and women persecuted and murdered during the Third Reich. In a special edition of I-CON, Stephen explores the historical and ongoing queer persecution and the gilded apology and sufficiency of monuments with a guerrilla performance of GEBROCHENGEL (broken angel) in this setting on 06 May 2013; the anniversary of Marlene Dietrich’s death and 80th year past the Third Reich. A critique of institutional (see SCHOOLING OF DESIRE) norms, the work comments on “apologetic” monuments; the Frankfurter Engel statue is situated in a “dead” space – between the back wall of a building and the driveway of a Best Western, and frequented by drunks needing a spot. 2013 was a tumultuous year for LGBT rights like the spike in hate crimes in the U.S. post-DOMA, and anti-gay legislation worldwide (such as Russia, India, Nigeria, Uganda).
GEBROCHENGEL invokes Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History by colliding the Frankfurter Engel which memorializes the persecution of gay men and women in the Nazi regime with Marlene Dietrich; who rose to fame in the film Blue Angel, a gay and lesbian icon, and staunch detractor of WWII and the Nazi regime. Stephen interacts with the space and sculpture while singing Marlene Dietrich’s signature song from Blue Angel “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß” / “Falling in love again (I can’t help it)” a capella, accompanied by the surrounding soundscape of passer-bys, traffic, drunks, street sweepers; his rendition and movements around the memorial lending new import and subtext to the song. Over a period of 3 hours, Stephen performs 12 times at random intervals, one for each year of the Third Reich. Each time he performs, he starts in the next clockwise position, and the card around his neck marks the year.
A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
- Walter Benjamin (Theses on the Philosophy of History)
GEBROCHENGEL is part of Stephen’s triptych of guerrilla performance art pieces entitled FRANKFURTWERK comprising of NO ROAD, GEBROCHENGEL and MIKROÖKONOMIE. Shortly after the work was completed, there was a rise in anti-LGBT sentiment in Russia and the US which has shifted the interpretation of the work. In response, Stephen created the FERO-CITY series 6 months later in NYC.
PERFORMED & CONCEIVED BY : STEPHEN CHEN | COMPLETED: 05/13 | DISTRIBUTOR: