Friday, May 18, 2018

Paul Pfeiffer, Desiderata @ Galerie Perrotin

Paul Pfeiffer, Three Figures in a Room, (2015-2017)

Paul Pfeiffer is the master of removal. His films and videos always involve a process of removing elements of found media footage, a process that results in whatever has been removed coming to loom larger than ever over what remains.

In the current exhibition at Galerie Perrotin, one of Pfeiffer’s most powerful series, Desiderata, shows footage pilfered from The Price is Right. Pfeiffer has removed the prizes, all sign of money, the sound, and other narrative elements such as the host, the audience and the music. Pfeiffer’s image depicts empty shelves in gaudy colours, flashing lights and other basic structural objects as the object of the contestants’ desire. The result is frightening. We watch people, sometimes in shorts, flip flops and halter tops, at others all dressed up for the occasion, but always short of breath thanks to the excitement and anticipation of whether or not they will win the jackpot. Because the actual objects of desire have been removed, it looks as though the pent up, sometimes frenzied emotions played out on the contestants' bodies in complete silence are a kind of nervous disorder. Pfeiffer’s removal of the objects, leaving the empty scaffolding that incites their desire, exposes the emptiness and futility of our search for wealth.
Paul Pfeiffer, Desiderata, 2017
The images in Desiderata are of all different sizes, some the size of our iphones, others the size of a tablet. The desire of the technological image is everywhere reflected on these streamlined and seductive screens. And so, as I watched the poor contestants anticipating a windfall, I saw myself caught in the circuit of desire that keeps me watching my iphones, waiting for the never ending narrative to finish. The images on display have no narrative, and we have a narrative that doesn’t finish; it’s all the same because in the end both create false promises. This repetition of the emptiness of our desires and their propensity to isolate us in obsessive behavior is a brilliantly captured by Pfeiffer.
Paul Pfeiffer, Three Figures in a Room, (2015-2017)
In another piece, Three Figures in a Room (2015-2017) Pfeiffer digitally removes the sound from footage of the most lucrative fight ever played out at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 2015. We see the fight on one giant screen (the three figures being the two boxers and the referee) while on an adjacent screen we watch foley artists creating the sounds in a studio. The production of the sounds through the use of everyday objects and homemade props is interesting, but once again, what struck me about the installation was the emptiness of the fight. How much of the excitement, anticipation and thrill of what was billed as the fight of the century is actually manufactured by the sound and presentation of the fight on a television screen. Without sound, the fight was tedious and unremarkable. Pfeiffer’s critique of our seduction by the manipulation of the mass media is once again, a very uncomfortable realization for the viewer.
Paul Pfeiffer, Caryatid (Marquez), 2016

In the final installation Caryatid (2003- ), Pfeiffer removes more than just sound. He edits out one boxer from the image, and manipulates the footage down to slow motion. We see the single boxer’s body shaking as it absorbs the shock of the punches it receives. We see the fluid fly from his mouth, the head thrown back, the body deformed in response to the beating it receives from an invisible assailant. The monitors are on the gallery floor, inviting us to contort our bodies in an effort to see closer up, to get a better look at the impact of one man’s animalistic pulping of another. Even viewers who have no interest in boxing will leave questioning their desire to watch, and keep watching, such violent images. For we can't help but watch ourselves watching in Pfeiffer's haunting installation of images.

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