07 Feb - 08 Mar 2014
07/02/2014 – 12/04/2014
In 1935 Walter Benjamin coined the term aura, a description of an aesthetic experience that was
difficult to convey in words, which he had encountered when observing specific objects: a kind of
atmospheric condensing, which seemingly revealed the essence of the objects, a simultaneous
feeling of great proximity and distance. The works in adopted, the new exhibition by Michail Pirgelis
at Sprüth Magers in Berlin, tend to conjure up Benjamin’s notion of the aura. The objects on display
also refer to so much more than just themselves, appearing equally near and incredibly remote.
They evoke a number of psychological and physical associations which the viewer can hardly avoid.
Despite their almost minimalist austerity, they enable archaeological insights into a world which has
never been seen in this way before.
Michail Pirgelis finds the material for the majority of his works from airplane cemeteries in California
and Arizona, where discarded passenger planes await their dismantling and the recycling of their
valuable aluminium and titanium alloys. Pirgelis removes individual segments from the gigantic
aeronautical bodies, for further modification in his studio. For adopted he has left some of them in
their original state, such as the brake mechanism of the work Onera, almost three meters in size
and reminiscent of a cross. On other airplane components such as the canvas-sized, rectangular
fragments of an airplane’s exterior skin, he has partially exposed the metal beneath the coat of
lacquer. Likewise he has sanded and polished the calotte in When it is called a moment – a
component from the fuselage of an airplane, responsible for cabin pressurisation, normally invisible
to passengers – until its curved aluminium surface resembles a convex mirror. Together with two
other calottes it looms within the exhibition space in a concentric configuration of three. Finally, for
the work Beer or Wine, Pirgelis has mounted flexible airplane cabin flooring, which still retain all the
traces of adhesive, screws, and the holes for seat legs, on an invisible base with a suspension
Whilst the works on display – as a result of their reworking and decontextualising – may have shed
their original functions, they have now become sculptural objects with a distinctive presence. They
are occasionally reminiscent of Gordon Matta-Clark’s heroic gestures in deconstructing houses and
factory buildings, sometimes of John Chamberlain’s car body sculptures and Donald Judd’s
minimalist fetish for aluminium, of Rosemarie Trockel’s psycho-socially charged objects, or the
archaeological finesse of Cyprien Gaillard’s installations.
The works in adopted are both cultural relicts and objects that may be considered within the history
of art. Pirgelis has succeeded in extending Conceptual Art’s long history by means of a highly
specific sensibility and the radical position he has adopted.
A notable aspect of this position is its narrative strength. This contributes enormously to the objects’
auratic charge. The works on show succeed in revealing the suppressed fears which are often
unconsciously associated with flying, even though for many of us this has become part of our
everyday experience. Pirgelis’ reworking of found paraphernalia in earlier exhibitions already drew
attention to the cultural compensation mechanisms of fashion, glamour, and high style, which for a
long time were required to distract people from their fear of flying. In adopted, a silkscreen print of a
Pan Am publicity photo showing the well-known Spanish-French clown and former international star
Charlie Rivel, provides a good illustration of such a scenario. In the photo, staged as high comedy,
Rivel seems to be thanking heaven that he has safely arrived on the ground already while
descending the stairs of the plane. In addition, Pirgelis repeatedly returns, in his sculptural works, to
the dream of flying, one that perhaps will soon be a thing of the past. The “recycled” materials in his
works tangibly address the anxieties linked to air travel in an era of diminishing resources, oil crises,
terror attacks, global recession, and climate change.
In terms of cultural history flying has always been understood as the epitome of human hubris – an
activity which was accompanied by the possible threat of divine retribution. The works in adopted
are distinctive in their mixing of the archaic with high technology, of vulnerability with strength,
transforming the notion of hubris into an almost physical experience. That objects of such a scale,
such weight, and such fragility are able to overcome gravity, to convey humans safely through the
earth’s atmosphere, inevitably challenges the limits of the viewer’s imagination. Perhaps Benjamin
was thinking of precisely this feeling of precariousness, or even the magical, when he coined his
Michail Pirgelis (*1976, Essen) lives and works in Cologne. In 2010 he received the Audi Art Award
for “New Positions” at Art Cologne and was an artist in residence at Schloss Ringenberg. In 2008 he
was the first recipient to be awarded the Adolf Loos Prize from the Van den Valentyn Foundation,
Cologne. In 2007 he was awarded the Villa Romana Prize in Florence. In 2011 Pirgelis’s work was
shown in a solo exhibition at Artothek in Cologne. He has participated in group exhibitions at
Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf (2005), Kunstmuseum Bonn (2010), Thessaloniki Biennale (2011),
Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen (2012), and Istanbul Modern (2013), amongst others.
Sprüth Magers Berlin is concurrently presenting solo exhibitions by Karen Kilimnik and John Waters.