Unreal Nature

October 14, 2019

Menace and Mockery

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… One always has a sense of being looked at from behind …

This is from ‘Jerusalem: Violence, space, and mimesis in the work of Paul Pfeiffer‘ by Lawrence Chua:

… In Perspective Study, one of Pfeiffer’s early works, a lone tent in a jungle serves as the stage for such a primal scene. The mob and the sacrifice are unseen but their presence is intimated through Pfeiffer’s use of space and video. When the piece was first exhibited in New York, it was located in a basement. Viewers made their way through the un-renovated bowels of a former garage in Harlem and encountered in one room a large screen with an image of a tent in a jungle.

[line break added] The image vibrated with the choppy hum of early technology. This visual static lent the image an immediate quality, suggesting it was a live scene. In the next room, a diorama of a jungle scene was mounted in a vitrine. Upon closer examination, the scene in the diorama bore a striking resemblance to the projected video. In fact, the video was being projected from within the vitrine.

[line break added] Perspective Study is perhaps one of the first of Pfeiffer’s works that actively engages with issues of space and scale to suggest a tension between “the real” and its facsimile. Floating in the dark emptiness of the basement, the video and the vitrine were engaged in their own elliptical dialogue: which was the copy of which? Was this the scene before or after something had happened?

… One always has a sense of being looked at from behind, of being monitored and of seeing something that should not be seen. In Pfeiffer’s case, the viewer is physically brought to see first from the perspective of the mob, and then from another, more objective vantage point that reveals the whole mimetic scene.

In this, as in all of Pfeiffer’s work, there is no attempt to master the ambivalence of the scene. Rather, the artist uses space to reveal our own participation in the spectacle of mimesis that has structured our historic reality. Doing so reminds us of the unstable nature of the viewer’s own subjectivity. By way of the shadows in the forest, the crowd on the sidelines, and the Greek chorus that echoes in the darkness, Pfeiffer’s work reminds us of the more tragic aspects of modernity, the violence that attends our triumphal accounts of democracy, and the ways that mimicry can return as menace and mockery.




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