Paul Pfeiffer in Review (2005)


Published in Neue Review, Berlin

Co-written with Erik Bünger

Paul Pfeiffer’s recent solo exhibition at Carlier | Gebauer, entitled Pirate Jenny, presents an estranged theatre of the everyday, sprawling in various forms throughout the two gallery spaces. The two spaces set up different viewing conditions; one of intimacy and the other, a more familiar distance. Fluctuating between the small and the grandiose – between the saint and the fly, we are taken through multiple and simultaneous realities. Like Pirate Jenny, dreaming of the ships, yet stuck in the present, we are never quite sure which side of who’s real we are on.

Pfeiffer, well known for his “de-compositions” in both video and photo, show us a reordered, spectacular reality. These works are distilled into their most basic, stripped down gestures of performance –a rupture with actual causation. In the ongoing series, The Four Horseman and the Apocalypse, we see four large format prints of solitary basketball players on a vacant playing floor surrounded by a gazing audience. The absence of movement, ball and other players transforms the subjects into wax museum figures. The incredibly high resolution of the player’s body freezes the speed of actual action, while in statuesque gesture they become angels with the glowing halo of the stadium lights. Maybe the title suggests a degenerate future where the meaning of the game has been lost and all that remains is the gesture. The spectators – watching in concentration, collectively attempting to conjure up the memory of a forgotten past.

Caryatid, also employing the motif of sport, shows a looped video with solitary football players –no ball, no other players – throwing themselves to the ground in an empty, soundless arena. The tripping of the heroic male footballers, tragically comic in their isolation, slowed speed and lack of game-like causation, are in a perpetual, self-inflicted collapse. As if the fall in itself were the meaning of the action. Watching it on a chrome-surfaced TV-monitor further distances us from the heroic fall of the figure producing the Catharsis of a Greek drama. Where pain is no longer possible you have to access it through the actions of others.

In Caryatid as well as in the work Live Evil (Bucharest) the absence of sound to the moving image evokes the feeling of another reality. Live Evil is a quasi-mirrored video of Michael Jackson projected in a corner – the image echoing the palindrome of the title. With no sound, Jackson is no longer dancing; instead he has become some kind of sea creature whose movements are as natural to it as they are alien to us. Only the shadow –unmirrored – and something familiar in the way he stretches his legs reminds us of the Michael we used to know. Peeling back the layers of his mediated persona, without sound and without face, reveals another layer of strange reality – his transformation from pop icon into a grotesque thing. In light of the recent court case we are reminded of the filtration lens through which we understand his persona and how it possesses the potential for estranged mutations.

Like a good sci-fi novel these three works, show us the strangeness of our present through the layering of another reality. This double exposure of the grandiose media icon is deployed in other works dealing with the small, banal spectacles of the everyday. Pfeiffer oscillates between these scales, in creating his multiple ‘reals’.

In Memento Mori, the scene has been re-scaled to the size of a housefly.
As a tiny video embedded within the wall, the intimacy of the piece acts as a window to the world as seen through the perspective of a fly. The common row-house architecture in the background bounces around like an 80’s Atari game. The normally stochastic flight path of the fly is inversed when statically filmed in relation to the background; the surrounding world becoming a mere painted set through which the tiny character manoeuvers.

From the position of the fly, the constructed world is a blurry mess of colour and vague forms – Pfeiffer playfully contrasts the fly’s built world with our own conventional models. Vertical Corridor, situated adjacent to Momento Mori, is also embedded within the wall. Installed as a periscope, he creates the image of a long, modernist model corridor. The repetition and regularity of the extended form, in its physicality (albeit illusory) sets up a humourous antagonism between the two worlds. The one, ordered and deliberate playing off the chaotic geometry mapped out through the perspective of the fly.

The obviously manipulated nature of most works in the show stand in stark contrast to the only two documentary pieces, included in Pirate Jenny. In both Sunset Flash and Empire, this opposition is further enhanced by the dominant presence of their projection devices. By revealing the mechanisms of display, Pfeiffer creates an objective, rather scientific distance towards the filmed material.
Sunset Flash is like a 70’s home movie, shot in 16mm film and projected with an elaborate mechanical looping device. On view is an autobiographical work of a family gathering – the heads of whose members are only barely visible at the bottom of the frame, while a romantic sunset sky dominates the field of vision. Occasionally flashes of family portraiture go off, while one central person directs the photographic session, arranging the positions of the other members.

On the opposite wall, another social system is displayed – though not a loop as in the other works. The extreme duration of this piece, Empire, at three months long, depicts the real-time construction of a wasp’s nest. The simultaneous nod to both Warhol’s film and Hardt & Negri’s seminal book, depicts another version of a hierarchy in process. The web cam aesthetic and processing from an encased server displays a muted, barely discernible nest of activity and organization. The inherently nostalgic quality of the 16mm film in Sunset Flash as opposed to the flatness of the web cam in Empire, creates a separation in both form and content. The two works, however, are bound together by their respective ‘queens’: the wasp who directs her soldiers in building and the woman who directs the orchestration of the family photo session – the separate worlds are linked by their emergent community structures. In Empire though, the duration alone, alludes to the impossibility of witnessing it’s completion – we can only hope to catch a fragment of an ongoing process.

The fragments of moments – a mediated dissection of events, be it the iconic or the banal weave together in Pirate Jenny creating, a transformed normalcy. The familiarity of the images – be it our own family gathering or the sport hero – are rendered something other. This Brechtian estrangement functions as a theatrical device throughout the show, where the ghost of Pirate Jenny herself moves between the real and the imagined. In Pfeiffer’s world the separation is blurred, the worlds coalesce and mingle throughout the two spaces. A strangely familiar place, on the brink of a dystopic future and a nostalgic past.

Published in Neue Review, Berlin