Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Paul Pfeiffer, The Saints, Wembley Retail Park, London, 2007, Dominic Rich Oct,2007

Paul Pfeiffer recent work investigates crowd behaviour in relation to a spectacle. In his work, The Long Count he manipulates footage from the “Thrilla in Manila” Boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Pfeiffer erased both boxers from the spectacle, placing the attention on the crowd. Similarly in his piece Caryatid he removes the champions of a basketball tournament from the celebration of victory. A trophy hovers in the air; the focus of the crowds emotional energy. Pfeiffer is influenced by Elias Canetti’s, and experiments with Canetti’s investigation into crowd behaviour[1]; how the crowds desire to unify under a leader or cause, is routed in the human instinct to survive.

Pfeiffer’s recent exhibition The Saints, examines this theme further. The exhibition takes place in a warehouse situated in the corner of Wembley Retail Park. An imposing roar of a football crowd fills the space; cheers, anthems and chants ricochet from wall to wall filling the empty space. Towards the rooms rear is a small white booth, placed on its outside is the manipulated footage of the 1966 World Cup Final. Similar to Carytid Pfeiffer erases all apart from the crowd and the spectacle. He removes the ball and all but the English Striker, Bobby Charlton from the football game. Charlton is made into a solitary hero, left to run aimlessly in solipsistic circles, lost and insignificant in the barrage of sound bellowing from the crowd. Pfeiffer implies that the hero and context are irrelevant, acting as vehicles for a form of instinctual behaviour.

This is in similar vein to his past works; however, entering into the rear of the white booth a further provocation is created. There are two juxtaposed screens in the booth, on the right plays the footage of the 1966, World Cup Final between England and Germany. On the left screen runs the footage of at least a thousand young Filipino men watching the same Cup Final, affecting the behaviour of the World Cup Crowd.

The use of the World Cup footage in an exhibition, metres away from the Wembley football ground appears to denote, English national identity and heritage[2]. The cultural gap between English national identity and the Filipino crowd is where Pfeiffer conducts his experiment. By playing The World Cup to a crowd of Filipino’s he decapitates English football from its history. At first the Filipino crowd were quiet, prompted by Pfeiffer to voice boo’s and cheers at suitable moments[3]. Despite the alien context and the staging of the experiment, a genuine energy proliferated amongst the crowd, the Filipino men bond under a foreign cause without understanding its tradition. Pfeiffer reveals how crowd behaviour[4] is an instinctual rather than cultural phenomenon; it does not rely on collective memory so much as social interaction.

[1] See Crowds in Power, 1960

[2] The English national identity has been built in a realm of collective fantasy, glorifying and mystifying past achievements. Whether it is a victory in football or war or reflecting on long-ago colonial conquests, the English continue to share this fantasy.

[3] …they sang “God save our gracious Queen…” and chanted “..ingla..” (England).

[4] or group mentality.


MFA Curating 2007/09 said...

I'm choosing to comment on this review as I have seen the piece and have a somewhat patchy histoy of Paul Pfeiffers artistic background already in place.

Firstly I think it's good that you've settled us into a well painted image of Paul Pfeiffers background and previous work. This is needed sometimes but almost essential in this instance. Are you trying to make the point that 'The Saints' is just another repetition of a previously successful piece of work?

The narrative and description are great Dom, really energetic and yet very detailed to give a good and concise understanding of exactly how the exhibition is set up and where everything is...the nuts and bolts almost.

Interesting that you state that Pfeiffers intention by removing the ball and players was to make Charlton 'lost and insignificant,' I thought otherwise and presumed that Pfeiffer was trying to highlight Charltons dancing play and if anything elevate the striker.

I'm glad that you went into the cultural history / relevance of the crowd within this context, something in my review that I failed to pick up on. It's especially relevant here when gaging the Filipino reaction. The reference that Pfeiffer believes that the crowd reaction is instinctual rather than cultural only goes to highlight the video as a very odd piece of choreography, choreography that can also be mirrored (sp?) in the Bobby Charlton footage.

To end on the de-mystification of British patronage is great Dom, again not something I touched upon. Yet, as I see with fresh eyes something very prevelent throughout this piece. I have to agree the very choice of this football match above any other is wonderfully insightful into the way we as a nation constantly hark back on a long forgetten moment of sporting success. Can you count how many times you've seen this match re-played on TV? I must have seen it over a 100 times!

All in all, this is a very insightful read. You manage to pick apart the main themes; crowd concepts and patriotism very clearly with an informative relevance. You've not lost yourself in description by making sure that all areas are covered but not making this the dominant part of the review.

The only part that could be improved upon is criticism of Pfeiffers creativity and motivation as you make reference that Pfeiffer has used similar tropes as this before yet make no connection between them and don't make judgements on repeatition. I guess you just might not be a very critical individual..?

Good review and very enjoyable to read (the latter really saying something about the process of actually reading reviews).

12 November 2007.

MFA Curating 2007/09 said...

At the end I posted that this response was on the 12th of November. I got the date wrong on this post. Just to clarify for future confussion...