In Freudian psychoanalysis, there are two basic drives that serve to prompt and justify most of our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. These two drives, or 'Heavenly Forces', are, simply put, Sex and Aggression - also called 'Eros' and 'Thanatos', or Life and Death, they underlie every motivation which we, as humans, experience.
In his third exhibition at Thomas Dane Gallery - his first in London since 2009 - Paul Pfeiffer brings together across both spaces a large sculpture, two video installations, and a series of photographs. These works investigate the drives at play, as manifested in aesthetic experience, using the artist's unique visual language.
The works explore the drives behind our attempts at societal and familial organization and our impulse to control nature. From the seemingly perfect and ritualistic architecture of the stadium, to the voyeuristic and violent, yet pragmatic breeding of animals and to the deceptive secrecy of the family cell, primordial tensions arise in Pfeiffer's works, always muted and often unsolved.
Freud's propositions, almost a century old now, remain very vivid and current. For Pfeiffer, they represent a framework for examining how different institutions, whether social, political or financial, as well as the media, have in recent times, managed to assert and strengthen their control over the masses and the individual.
Deception, as well as inter-war gloom and the rise of Fascism served as the backdrop for Freud's 1930 'Civilization and its Discontents', the text presents an observation on the fundamental tensions between individuals and civil society. We are told: "in face of the destructive forces unleashed, now it may be expected that the other of the two heavenly forces, eternal Eros, will put forth his strength so as to maintain himself alongside of his equally immortal adversary".
The two drives are combined in the video installation Queen Cell (2013), which derives its temporal structure from the natural gestation cycle of a queen bee. In the work, a honeybee larva undergoes the metamorphosis into its adult form. Shot in full HD and in real time, with a run time of seven days (168 hours), Queen Cell displays the wax cell hanging mutely as the organisms within transform, culminating in the dramatic, cruel emergence of the single adult queen bee.
At the core of the exhibition sits Vitruvian Figure (2009), one quarter section of a large scale model of a stadium. Part antique, part futuristic relic, the stadium, which is a recurrent subject in Pfeiffer's iconography, offers the viewer different viewpoints and sensory experiences. Captured in various stages of completion and naturalism, subtle plays of mirrors and angles create and expand the illusion of perfection. As is often the case in the artist's work, what is more important is what is erased, or only subtly evoked.
Here, ritualised violence, past and future, religious or political, is overwhelmingly absent and yet at the core of the structure.
Perhaps the most enigmatic work in the exhibition, and the one that most open-endedly probes the concept of the drives, is Home Movie (2012), based on an 8mm home movie from the 1970s involving two white women and four African-American children. The film, which has been digitally altered, remains cryptic about the occasion of its making and the nature of the characters' relationship, inviting the viewer to fill in the narrative gaps.
A laconic, meditative group of photographs rounds off the exhibition, based on found stills loosely contemporaneous with the home movie. The black and white images show ordinary landscapes and interiors devoid of people. Mundane, circumstantial details suddenly become worrisome evidence, what is ordinarily thought of as everyday background becomes sinister center-stage. The beginning of an explanation, or a code to help read these images, might lie in Freud's conclusion of 'Civilization and its Discontents': "When an instinctual trend undergoes repression, its libidinal elements are turned into symptoms, and its aggressive components into a sense of guilt".
An opening reception will take place on April 25th from 6-8pm across both gallery spaces