Thursday 28 March 2013

Review of Julia Pfeiffer: Figures of the Thinkable at Maria Stenfors

Julia Pfeiffer: Figures of the Thinkable
Maria Stenfors
27 February – 6 April 2013

Walking in to Maria Stenfors’ lofty gallery, you are currently faced with an amazing sight: a wall of clay, cracked and dessicated, barren and bare (Building the Labyrinth, 2013). It could be one of Alberto Burri’s Cretti, but it’s not. It’s a shrine to all that has been, has failed to be, could still be, but isn’t yet. Representing the full life cycle of her works, Berlin-based artist Julia Pfeiffer has constructed this wall of clay, slathered on to the existing gallery wall with thick palette knife strokes, out of discarded off cuts from failed and unwanted works, which she allowed to dry right out, before adding water and remoulding them almost as paint. Underneath are layers of actual paint, which could themselves be depicting an image – but who can know, or ever will? The wall is heavy, not only with the weight of the material, but with the possible figures and forms that abide therein.

And as you stand and ponder the imponderable, you are, yourself, being watched. For behind you, lined up in an intimidating row, are eight eyes, staring penetratingly ahead (Iris Studies, 2013). Made of ceramic, and glazed with special pens which allow colour to be applied in a painterly manner, these extracted eyeballs gaze voyeuristically, dreaming the dream of what might have been and what may still develop. Removed from their surrounds, they are no longer figurative, but purely symbolic. Freud, no doubt, would have had a scopophilic field day.

Pfeiffer doesn’t just work with clay, but also with canvas, which she paints with grand expressionistic gestures, spread out on the floor, before hanging the resulting scene as a backdrop for an installation, which, itself, then becomes a black and white photograph. There are four of these on display, each depicting an equally uncanny interior, none of which actually exists. That said, the toppling liquid-filled dog, which occurs first in Stages (Vessel Tilting) (2013), does also feature in the exhibition, as a vision made real: the possible made actual, a dream become reality (Animal Vessel (Figure of the Unthinkable), 2013). But distorted as ever, the ceramic creature must sit upon two supports, as his oversized genitals hang down uncomfortably in between.

Whilst, in this instance, an image has become an object, a ceramic slab standing upon an easel nearby renders a 3D character from a mug (sadly not on display) almost as flat as a painting (Body Relief (Figure of the Thinkable), 2013). Here, the woman, whose breasts on the mug are, so I am told, doomed to tip up every time the drinker takes a sip, has been relieved of her physical discomfort and elevated in status from a mildly distasteful comic item to a virtually 2D work of art – the reverse fate of the pitifully encumbered dog.

This sense of humour permeates much of Pfeiffer’s work, and, again, one can but imagine the father of psychoanalysis’s joy at many of the innuendos and interpretations offered up. Indeed, to return to the wall of broken dreams, with its visions of the past, present and future, and the eyes which gaze eternally upon it, trying to make something out of the blank canvas it offers – what more is this exhibition than an invitation to the visitor to unleash his or her own imagination as to how the story might unfold?


Building the Labyrinth

Iris Study: blue

Stages (Vessel Tilting) 

Animal Vessel (Figure of the Unthinkable)

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