Die Kränken at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives

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A form of nostalgia pervades artist collective die Kränken’s multifaceted exhibition Sprayed with Tears, currently on view at ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives. Its accompanying text states die Kränken (“the sick” in German) “strives for new strategies of queer radicality”—yet, their exhibition is surprisingly dedicated to the past. Sprayed with Tears centers mostly on the history of the Blue Max, a Southern California gay motorcycle club, and their fetishistic garb, ritualized performances, and subcultural codes.

Dominating the downstairs portion of the exhibition is a projection of die Kränken’s captivating reinterpretation of Blue Max’s annual performance. Installed opposite is a decorated bar that serves as an approximation of the Black Pipe, a now-defunct leather bar, and subject of frequent LAPD raids. Illuminating archival biker footage and multiple framed prints round out the installation. The second story mezzanine is dedicated to a suite of 16 adroitly designed bandanas that contemporize the hanky code, an antiquated means of signaling to others, precisely what your kink is via colored handkerchiefs.

That these emblems are of a gay male identity that is either bygone or evaporating as a result of homosexual assimilation into heteronormative society is of apparent frustration for die Kränken. However, their reevaluation here seems less an attempt at actual resuscitation than a stopgap measure against total erosion of certain gay lifestyles. As such, Sprayed with Tears functions more as a self-conscious throwback during an era of widespread gay visibility, and suggests that this very visibility will eventually be a corrosive force for queer subcultures. While die Kränken’s retooling of gay motorcycle club activities sheds light on prior homosexual appropriation of a straight counterculture, it doesn’t assertively suggest what such a model should be today—leaving one asking when does fetishized nostalgia end and new queer radicality begin?

Image: Die Kränken, Black Pipe Intervention (Video still) (2016). Image courtesy of the artist and ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, March 15, 2017

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