JTF (just the facts): A total of 25 color and 12 black and white photographs, variously framed/unframed, and hung in the divided gallery space. The color works are archival pigment prints mounted on alu-dibond, framed in white and unmatted, and made in 2011/2012. Each print is sized 25×33 and is available in an edition of 6. (The color works look like diptychs, but they are printed as single images.) The black and white works consist of 2 sets of 6 archival pigment prints, unframed and pinned directly to the wall, and made in 2011. The individual prints are also sized 25×33, and the sets are available in editions of 6. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: In recent years, the mining of archival visual material has grown into its own subgenre of contemporary photography. Drawing on the appropriation and recontextualization techniques of the Pictures Generation artists, newer names are unearthing photographs from any number of eclectic and forgotten sources and repurposing them in ever evolving forms of expression. The advent of high quality digital scanning seems to have catalyzed a flowering of experimentation and reinterpretation.
Peter Piller has been working with found images for more than 20 years at this point, and this show brings together two new bodies of work that play with unlikely juxtaposition. The first project pairs the front and back covers of an East German military magazine, each work a kitchy diptych of weaponry and a pin-up girl, with the original text covered by brightly colored geometric shapes. Modest, good looking young women pose in skirts and bikinis, exuding a subtle kind of chaste glamour, flanked by fighter jets, missile launchers, and amphibious trucks. The combinations are surprisingly varied, covering a wide range of military machinery and tactics: frogmen, winter skiing, rock climbers, rifle sharpshooters, water bridges, rubber rafts, and parachutes, each joined with an enticing 1970s era beauty. The works are like caricatures of male desire/interest, made all the more ridiculous by their original reality. They feel like a more restrained form of Robert Heinecken’s magazine interventions, or a conceptual sibling of Anne Collier’s recent work.
The second project puts together black and white post card images of destroyed World War I battlefields with cropped images of crashing waves taken from a 1920s geography textbook. Both have a sense of implicit violence, of power and force either poised for action or already unleashed. To my eye, the scarred landscapes somehow make the waves look more menacing, while at the same time, their grandeur makes the flattened, pockmarked wastelands look like the height of human folly. Piller has deftly matched these two groups of images, finding just the right balance without letting one dominate the other; the result is a satisfying back and forth rhythm.
At least in these two bodies of work, Piller’s brand of archive mining seems rooted in a particular national history rather than a more universal, postmodern global reality. Part of what makes his pairings interesting is their German backstory, their context as much a part of what the images represent as the pictures themselves. Reconsidering that underlying identity or inherent point of view gives the works some edge, making his visual juxtapositions that much richer and more complex.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The individual color prints are priced at €3500 each, while the sets of 6 black and white prints are priced at €15000 each. Piller’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.