Durch die Blume

Töne gegen Homophobie, Transphobie

Speaking through flowers

Violence has no boundaries

Homophobia and transphobia do not remain within borders — sadly. This violence does not end at national frontiers and it is found throughout all classes of society. It is mostly subtle, but can be completely open too, and very brutal, depending what the current social climate is. For decades, various groups and initiatives, mostly from the subculture, have raised awareness of homo- and transphobic violence — within the limits of national frontiers. This has begun to change; a dialogue has opened up. There have been international actions of solidarity for some while, but it is only now, with globalisation and the growing opportunities for networking, that people are beginning to look beyond their own back yard, and to look more closely. It is becoming increasingly clear that discrimination takes different forms in other countries; it has different causes in each case, linked to the history of the country, the legislation and the experiences of the people there.

With the sound-sculpture project Durch die Blume we want to make people look more closely still, by allowing people to speak personally — with a free-standing vase of an unusual nature; its metal blooms can talk. The flowers describe experiences of discrimination and of the protest against it.

The sound sculpture as broken symbol

The sculpture’s basic form represents a flower vase — using an original Siemens spin dryer. Traces of its use are clear to see. This machine for the housewife of tomorrow was developed in post-war Germany and is used here as a reference to the “economic miracle”, the years following the Second World War, a time when instead of dealing intellectually and emotionally with the terrible events of the recent past, West Germans were busy accumulating wealth. The spin dryer is a symbol of this repression. It stands for acceleration and for the speed, which has been maintained till today; people, who cannot or will not keep up, are spun to the edges. The spin dryer also stands for the division into two sexes. As a machine for a modern housewife, it symbolises the “clean and tidy” mentality of a society in which everything has to be as white as the wind-driven snow and fresh as a spring breeze. But the sculpture simultaneously disrupts this symbolism; the machine seems to be broken; pieces of metal are hanging out of it and have taken on a new function. They are flowers, hanging over the rim of the dryer, dried-out and lifeless. Yet two of the flower-stems are standing upright and are even flowering. They have survived the spin-dryer massacre and become witnesses to a past that has been suppressed. The flowers have not lost their tongues and they can talk — precisely in the manner of the 1950s; then the consensus was not to tell the truth directly or unvarnished; it was better to talk in a veiled, flowery way: durch die Blume, “through flowers”, as we say in German.

The flower-arrangement consists entirely of un-treated iron. Loudspeakers are installed inside the flowers and in the barrel of the spin-dryer; at the press of a button they release sounds and voices. The sonic architecture of the sculpture thus consists of two levels, the drum and the flowers, with a dramaturgical division between the two. Several short episodes can be heard, each a few minutes long and individually selectable. While documentary tones emerge from the depths of the drum, the free-standing flowers, in full bloom, provide a contrasting voice, reflecting and commenting. The sounds can also move between the levels. It becomes clear that homophobia and transphobia come from the depths of the past; they are essentially anachronistic.

To the surprise of all

At first glance it is not clear what the vase of flowers is about, and what it holds. The public only find out when they take the initiative; the element of surprise at the press of a button is a deliberate part of the concept. In this way we hope to reach people who would be put off by the subject and would not even approach the sculpture if they knew what it was about. They will hopefully be encouraged to listen. The dramatic visualisation — desiccated flowers in an old spin-dryer with two single blooms — becomes concrete via the aural elements. The public themselves become ear-witnesses.