BAIBAKOV art projects presented the first solo exhibition of American artist Paul Pfeiffer in Russia. For this site-specific project, the artist developed on his critique of the spectacle, converting the unique space of the former Red October Chocolate Factory into a “Perspective Machine.”
Almost forty years ago, Guy Debord formulated what he called the "Society of the Spectacle," a world mediated by images, in which one experiences the representation of reality, rather than reality itself. Paul Pfeiffer is part of a new generation of artists examining the mechanics of the contemporary spectacle in an age in which advances in digital technology have reinvented the idea of an “iconic” image. Pfeiffer’s work demonstrates a subtle mastery of these new techniques of image-making, contrasting scale and modes of spectatorship to create tension between what is revealed and what is obscured.
Vertical Corridor (2004) immediately signaled to the visitor that not everything is as it appears. The artist encourages the viewer to peer through a tiny peephole in the wall of the gallery, only to discover an impossibly massive space. This peephole provides the only access to this immense space, questioning the validity of what can be seen and reminding the viewer that every such spectacle must bow to the limits of one's perspective.
In his photographic and video work, Pfeiffer explores the processes of image-making within the context of the entertainment industry. Using found footage from television, film, and sports events, he interferes with the construction of the spectacles they produce. The artist gives his images pseudo-heroic titles, often culled from Judeo-Christian mythology. Suggesting contemporary celebritites as the new saints, he calls attention to the critical partnership of sainthood and the power of the image.
Pfeiffer’s earliest works from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (2000-) appropriate photographs of Marilyn Monroe, a figure of enormous fascination and media fixation. In these images, the artist digitally excavates all traces of the actress’ body; making the impact of Monroe’s presence - rather than her body - the focus of the work. The photographs are eerily luminous, a portrait of a halo rather than of a saint.
In later works from the same series, Pfeiffer summons a different type of saint. Raiding the photographic archives of the NBA (National Basketball Association) the artist erases contextual elements such as scoreboards and baskets, to isolate individual players in a moment of athletic endeavour. Bodies appear suspended in senseless striving, recalling romantic tales of heroes and martyrs.
In John 3:16 (2000), a video work which is also drawn from the NBA archives, Pfeiffer presents the events of a basketball game from the perspective of the ball. The ball itself remains fixed in the center of the screen, while players’ hands, baskets, and the court flash in and out of view. The video is presented on a miniature wall-mounted monitor designed by the artist. It inspired a second and much larger projection, The Morning after the Deluge (2003), which echoes the compositional arrangement of John 3:16 through its use of a central sphere. This video was created by combining footage of a sunrise and sunset; as the sun sinks in the top frame, it rises in the bottom, so that the "sun" remains complete, while the light around it shifts.
Paul Pfeiffer dismantles spectacles by laying bare their mechanics. His work is a constant push towards a critique of the power of the image in contemporary culture. Debunking cultural mythology, he creates his own through works which are as powerful conceptually as they are aesthetically.
Download press-release PDF, 1.8 MB
© 2010 BAIBAKOV art projects