Angel with Long Wings

     “Angelus Novus” is the title of a famous monoprint from 1920 by Paul Klee.  Klee’s angel is a cream-coloured angel.  Lee Ka-sing’s is bottle-green, and carries a staff.  Both have long wings.
     Klee’s angel was purchased in 1921, a year after it was made, by German philosopher, historian and essayist,  Walter Benjamin.  He mentions it in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History” from 1940 (reproduced in his collection, Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt in 1968). Here is what Benjamin says (it is worth quoting at length) about his angel:
     The Klee monoprint, writes Benjamin, “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 which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage 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.”
    Any reading of Lee Ka-sing’s green angel cannot be as sweepingly apocalyptic as Benjamin’s anatomizing of the Klee figure, but it does resolutely face the past (the Vatican-esque dome) with aplomb, if not with dismay. And it leaves behind it, as unwanted baggage, castoff halos of barbed wire.  It thus divests itself of the storms blowing from history.