Paul Pfeiffer (US)

Empire at Hamburger Bahnhof, 2009

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Paul Pfeiffer's video art work "Empire" at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin is literally three months long... That's right, the video runs for three months, not looped and repeating for three months; the piece is a single three-month-long take... No, I didn't take my sleeping bag and a food hamper (or several food hampers) to the gallery find out... So what do you do with an art work you never actually get to see completely, or in its entirety? Surely this should be one of the most frustrating, one of the silliest, ideas around. But this is not what I experienced. In fact, when visitng Berlin recently, this was one of the best things I saw. OK, I know you know I didn't really see it: watching 5 minutes of a three month video doesn't really count does it?!

Why one of the best things I saw? It appealed to my sense of humour: the improbability of it. It also appealed to me because it was quite humble and straightforward. The impossibility of viewing the work as a whole did not come across as some sort of arrogant snub. Because the artist has simply set up a surveillance quality video camera where he can capture a queen wasp building her nest and growing her colony of wasps over 3 summer months, from start to finish, any one 3 minute segment you watch is going to be pretty similar to any other 3 minute segment. Similar except for the sorts of differences that ae quite predicable: the nest will be bigger and there'll be more wasps! That's all it is... a simple idea; one camera angle; a single take; but potentially teeming with poetic, philosophical, scarey, everyday feelings and ideas, that can literaly buzz around inside your head long after having glimpsed a fraction of the whole art work. One idea, picture, one action; one long lingering memory... 

What, where, when: Paul Pfeiffer, "Empire" 2004, showing in the exhibition "Paul Pfeiffer: The Saints", 10 October 2009 - 28 March 2010, Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany (photos by Rob Garrett)

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