Paul Pfeiffer: New Works
On screen, a familiar television scene defamiliarized. The oft-seen boxing ring, robbed of its boxers, save for watery forms whose invisible weight ripples the surrounding ropes. And when a camera flashes, a negative image of the absent boxer's form flashes too, shadow-like. The sound accompanying the image– sharp intakes of breath, sighs, grunts, indiscernible murmurs, short bouts of silence– is intensely private, an uneasy prayer. Paul Pfeiffer's artistic mode is often one of unnatural selection: erasing the central figures/signifiers, whether on a football field, a game show, a boxing ring, or a beach; an existential emptiness emerges, a soft loneliness that haloes the remaining figures or objects. On his October 18 talk at the Carlier Gebauer Gallery in downtown Berlin, the Guna S. Mundheim Fellow led the audience on a meditative tour of his work, ending with a glimpse of his newest video project, which draws on both found material and curated performance.
Pfeiffer sees art as a "laboratory of perception." In approaching his work, he contemplates how the viewer will eventually approach the piece, and how to instill the desire to draw meaning from sensory impressions. Pfeiffer hopes to move video into the space of sculpture or painting, in which the viewer is endowed with the agency of their own absorption. Usually, TV or film represents complete immersion, says Pfeiffer, whereas a painting or sculpture is approached and examined at the viewer's own leisure and aesthetic appetite. Thus, rupture is often a central theme in his installations, where the sound from the room next door coaxes the viewer from the video at hand, and the subject matter of the first video frees the second of its presumed associations. Laughing before his captive audience at Carlier Gebauer, Pfeiffer acknowledged that such a seated lecture necessarily collapsed this ambition, although the throbbing music from a celebration outside the gallery unwittingly echoed Pfeiffer's interest in the irruption of the everyday.
Increasingly, Pfeiffer has begun to explore the potential for extended creative context in the Philippines, where he spent a portion of his childhood. In his newest piece, which he emphasized was in a nascent stage, Pfeiffer juxtaposes "Boomerang," a 1974 video recording of the artist Nancy Holt speaking, while hearing her words played back to her after an electronic delay; with a Filipino high school "speech choir" reciting Holt's words, their young voices then similarly played back and delayed. Holt’s voice has been muted; only the teenage speech choir is heard. As the viewer strains to watch and listen, the moving mouths and waves of words offer mere snatches of comprehension, while drawing the focus to the pure acts of listening and speaking. In this spirit, Pfeiffer described his deep affinity with the Austrian thinker Rudolph Steiner's work, particularly in Steiner's efforts to "re-establish the importance of speech for a new era," as well as the artwork of Joseph Beuys.
Pfeiffer says that his time in Berlin so far has been one of "intense retrospection,” and the evening's lecture was marked by Pfeiffer's careful consideration of his artistic path over the last fifteen years, freely admitting that some of the interpretations he once offered for his pieces no longer satisfy him today. Pfeiffer's willingness to look at his own work from new angles infused the retrospective lecture with a sense not unlike that of any Pfeiffer piece: an insistence on re-seeing what has become well known.