NO ROAD forms the core of Stephen’s triptych of guerrilla performance art pieces around monuments entitled FRANKFURTWERK comprising of NO ROAD, GEBROCHENGEL and MIKROÖKONOMIE which are linked by shared location, concern with history and dialectics, and materializing the critical theory (Kritische Theorie) of the Frankfurt School (aka Institute for Social Research). The philosophy and philosophers of the Frankfurt School resonated with Stephen in graduate school, both in their shared experience of disappointing exile and struggle against fascism, as well as issues of practical politics – the antagonism/contradiction of theory and practice, whether truly progressive art and thought can survive in a late capitalist world gilded by surface and appearances, or even contribute to the transformation of this world.
Adorno was one of the founders and preeminent philosopher of the Frankfurt School and his monument comprises of a glass cube which contains a physical re-creation of his desk on parquet flooring. On the desk there’s a lamp that switches on during the night, a ticking metronome, a few facsimiles of his papers, and a copy of “Negative Dialektik” (“Negative Dialectics”). NO ROAD is both an anagram of Adorno, and a metaphor for exile, as well as his negative dialectic that eschews a deterministic view of history and progress. The prevalence of the positive dialectic is the reason why the works of the Frankfurt School are passed over today in preference for more “contemporary” theorists; who themselves are infected with the same deterministic view that constantly repeats the tropes of dominance that was criticized by Adorno.
On May 05 2013, Stephen begins NO ROAD by tracing the labyrinth surrounding the cube singing Eisler’s “An den kleinen Radioapparat” (“To the Little Radio”). Upon reaching the cube, he engages in a series of sustained actions/poses on each face of the cube that explores historical struggle, exile, monument as history, and cube as institution. Finally, Stephen sings Schumann’s “In der Fremde” (“From the direction of home”) as he exits the labyrinth; evoking constant exile and distilling the Frankfurt School’s paradox of great intellect coming from great concern and experience.
There are moments in which theory is pushed on further by practice. But such a situation neither exists objectively today, nor does the barren and brutal practicism that confronts us here have the slightest thing to do with theory anyhow.
- Adorno, May 5, 1969 letter to Marcuse
PERFORMED & CONCEIVED BY : STEPHEN CHEN | COMPLETED: 05/13