Paul Pfeiffer: The Drives

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Paul Pfeiffer: The Drives
© Paul Pfeiffer. Courtesy Thomas Dane Gallery
Paul Pfeiffer, 'Vitruvian Figure', 2009

Paul Pfeiffer is known for his deft, uncanny, digital alterations of photographs and film footage – but in ‘Home Movie’, a silent, 8mm record of a kids’ zoo trip in the ’70s, the American artist’s changes are so minor as to be barely perceptible. Plus, the movie is already so downright ambiguous and unexplained to begin with – featuring predominantly African-American children, white mothers, some presumably staged signage, and various repeated motifs involving a giant spherical submersible and brightly coloured balloons. Only for one or two brief, ephemeral moments does the blue balloon appear to be moving by itself, its holder digitally obliterated into shimmering transparency. Not that this intervention necessarily makes the plot any clearer. Rather, the larger point becomes one of all film being essentially a kind of visual trick, a continual manipulation of what’s seen and what’s not.

Manipulation of a different, more visceral sort, meanwhile, is the subject of video triptych ‘Queen Cell’, in which the gestation of two queen bees is documented, as well as their instructive urge to fight to the death upon emerging – with their savage, stinging wrestling match making for a hideous, truly mesmerizing sort of stage-show.

And there’s a similarly performative sentiment to ‘Vitruvian Figure’, a vast sculpture installed in the gallery’s extension space. Titled after Leonardo da Vinci’s famous, circular drawing, it consists of a wooden maquette of a quarter-section of some fantastic, epic amphitheatre or coliseum – built so that when you peer over the curving rim, the structure’s reflections in perpendicular panes of glass appear to form a complete, continuous circuit. As a space at once real and invisible, an arena for violence and spectacle, the structure becomes a kind of awesome, metaphorical monument, a model for visual culture as a whole. Utterly magnificent.

Gabriel Coxhead


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