Installation, Ludwig Forum Aachen, 19.6. –12.9.2021
For Sweet Lies. Rethinking Identity the curators and I installed gently stained and embroidered paragliders titled Jubilate Agno alongside three watercolor drawings from my series The Troubled Waters of Ethnic Heritage. The drawings use ornamentation to wash out the rigid and resentful Christian spiritualism characteristic of ethnic Germans expelled from eastern european countries after WW2. These sentiments are evoked in the drawings’ titles: “They stopped and gazed at us; no one wanted these strangers, who also had a different faith”, “Good air, hard work, and utter trust in God did the rest”, and “Today we often ask whether those human destinies that remain on the sidelines have a purpose in life”. The titles also recall recent narratives of migration and highlight the troubling heritage of failed empathy and continued ethnonationalism in Germany.
Jubilate Agno is installed in the sun-flooded atrium of the Ludwig Forum. The paragliders are suspended from the museum’s ceiling. Their shape oscillates between a cloud, a baldachin, or the gills of a fish. Since Sweet Lies is an exhibition that tries to put a younger generation of artists in dialogue with the museum’s collection, I’m happy we could show a piece by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt alongside my work. His 1985 sculpture is titled A Rite of Passage: The Leprechaun (a Mischievous Irish Fairy) and the Puerto Rican Prince. Thomas’s idiosyncratic and queer appropriation of Christian othodox iconography, his transsubstantiation of found materials into art, and his invocation of a more liberated future stuck with me since I first saw his work in 2012. I can only hope that his work will one day get the recognition it deserves. Obviously there are a lot of differences in how we use ornaments and it is also unclear what a shared religious working class upbringing is worth. But I hope that this juxtaposition shows that there are queer lineages that go beyond positive affirmation to engage in multifaceted ways with cultural narratives larger than their own.
Christopher Smart is the poet my installation Jubilate Agno is dedicated to. His eponymous poem was written 1757-69 during his incarceration in a mental health asylum (the reasons for which are debated) and was not published until 1939. In the first part of the poem each line starts with the word ‘let,’ in the second part with ‘for’. Because history is a mess and only fragments of the poem exist it is unclear how Smart would have edited it himself, whether the ‘let’ and ‘for’ lines should alternate or whether they stand alone. In reference to the poem, I have embroidered the words ‘let’ and ‘for’ with ballchains onto the two paragliders. While its meaning is ambiguous, the poem is full of joyous humor, homoerotic innuendo (lots of puns about horns), and mysticism.