Khoj International Artists' Association and Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan announce Mario Pfeifer's first solo exhibition at an Indian institution presenting his acclaimed and widely exhibited installation project A Formal Film in Nine Episodes, Prologue & Epilogue (2010).
The multiple-channel high-definition video installation, originally shot on 35 mm colour negative, was preceded by extensive on-location research for months in Greater Mumbai . Meticulously framed moving images – shot by Avijit Mukul Kishore – and a detailed soundscape present a kaleidoscopic view of a megalopolis that is constantly growing and altering. Taking a formal approach to the situations he encountered, Mario Pfeifer reveals societal issues of class, urban change, notions of manual and digital production and attitudes towards religious, cultural and symbolic customs. In the process he declines to provide any explanation or commentary to accompany the scenes he depicts. Instead his project offers an open space for spectators to actively and critically engage with the visible on an individual basis, acknowledging there may be diverse possible readings for audiences. While the audience have different points of access in the installation, cultural backgrounds and experiences, together constitute today's global society, shaped as it is by common sources of knowledge production and development.
Composed of mutually independent, self-contained episodes, the installation is of a flexible nature as the combination of episodes, prologue and epilogue, as well as the number of projections, alters in correspondence to curatorial ideas and the architectural condition of the exhibition space it is shown in. With its images resistant to classification within any clearly defined genre, the film meanders between what is considered documentary and fictive notions of image production, pointing at the difficulties inherent in the act of representation and the artist's own involvement in a local context he would otherwise not be part of. With A Formal Film Mario Pfeifer distances himself from documentarianism and the use of commentaries, and instead casts doubts on the social critique that such aesthetics evoke and which itself might appear as a form of colonialist encroachment in today's globalized society.
Following his installation project and its wide reception in the West, Pfeifer devoted the last year to editing A Critical Reader, including it as part of his project and a means to collaboratively investigate many of the themes and issues that are raised in his film and resonate within society today. In a series of conversations and essays scholars from diverse fields and of different national and cultural origins were invited to reflect on cultural production, national identity, education, class relations, urban, economic and social themes. Kaushik Bhaumik remarks in his essay Surfacing the Alchemical Urban that “many strategies of the film come together in the figure of the eunuch – an attempt to mix concrete and flesh and the idea of conjugality”, and further wonders if “India's asymmetrical modernity [is] made possible and indeed blessed by the 'androgynous' presence of the 'lower middle class' in vast numbers?”[Kaushik Baumhik: “Surfacing the Alchemical Urban” in A Formal Film in Nine Episodes, Prologue and Epilogue – A Critical Reader (Spector Books, Leipzig, 2013), p.174]
In his essay on Pfeifer's undertaking, Shanay Jhaveri asks: “Do the images cave in under layered formal choices that seek to clearly forefront an awareness of the ethics of representation or do they absorb the formal choices?” [Shanay Jhaveri:“'Inside' and 'Outside' a Frame of Historical and Cultural Referentiality?”, ibid., p.58]. Ranjit Hoskote notes that “Pfeifer's approach provokes me into asking whose reality it is that is being represented ... Even as recently as ten years ago, it seemed politically appropriate for Indians like myself – scholars, critics, theorists, artists and curators – to deploy a 'strategic essentialism'[See Sara Danius, Stefan Jonsson and Gayatri C. Spivak, “An Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak”, in Boundary 2,Vol. 20 No. 2 (Duke University Press, Summer 1993), pp. 24–50].... and claim an authority by birthright over any representation of India or Indians ... On the contrary [the film] provokes me into a state of curiosity, acting by allusive indirection.”[Ranjit Hoskote: “Imagining India” in A Formal Film, pp. 242–46]