Thomas Dane

Paul Pfeiffer

26 Apr - 25 May 2013

Paul Pfeiffer
Queen Cell, 2013
three channel video installation, five hours seamless loop.
Installation view, Thomas Dane Gallery.
The Drives
26 April - 25 May 2013

In his third exhibition at Thomas Dane Gallery-his first in London since 2009-Paul Pfeiffer brings together a large sculpture, two video installations, and a series of photographs in the two gallery spaces. These works form an investigation into the emotional drives that prompt human behavior and lie behind our attempts at understanding and organizing the world around us. In psychonanalytic theory, the drives fall into two basic taxonomies: Eros and Thanatos, or libido and death. From the seemingly perfect and ritualistic architecture of mass spectacles, to the creation of animal communities, to the deceptive secrecy of the family cell, the tensions between these two categories arise throughout Pfeiffer's works.

Vitruvian Figure (2009), a large glass, wood and metal model of a quarter of an empty stadium, is presented in London for the first time. In part antique, in part futuristic, the stadium--a recurrent subject in Pfeiffer's iconography-is presented in various stages of completion. Subtle plays of mirrors and angles create and expand the illusion of perfection. As often in the artist's work, what is more important is what is erased or evoked. Here, violence--ritualized, past and future, religious or political--is overwhelmingly absent and yet at the core of the structure.

The ways that the two drives interact with one another can be seen in the video installation Queen Cell (2013), which derives its temporal structure from the natural gestation cycle of a queen bee cell. In the video, a honeybee larva undergoes the metamorphosis into its adult form. Shot in full HD and in real time, with a run time of seven days (168 hours), Queen Cell displays the wax cell hanging mutely as the organism within transforms, culminating in the dramatic, cruel emergence of the adult queen bee. The work displaces conventions of painting, sculpture, narrative film, and video. It deploys technologies of recording events in real time to create a composition that must be understood relative to its parts, as a sculpture, and in a state of perception, as a painting.

Perhaps the most enigmatic work in the exhibition, and the one that most open-endedly probes the concept of the Drives, is Home Movie (2012). The gritty quality of the footage is based on an 8mm home movie from the 1970s involving two white women and four African-American children. The characters are bound together through the medium of the film into a coherent community but the stability of the social unit that is the subject of the film quickly becomes unsettled as new members of the group appear as old members disappear.

A group of photographs, based on existing stills and contemporaneous with the home movie, rounds out the exhibition. The black and white images show ordinary landscapes and interiors devoid of people. In these images, the mundane, circumstantial details take on an uncanny poignancy, suggesting much about the persistence of memory and longing as drivers of meaning.

Tags: Paul Pfeiffer