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PETER LAND. Hasty departure (ENG)

Espai 13, Fundación Joan Miró, Barcelona, 2005

Monday 2 February 2009, by Montse Badia

All the versions of this article: [English] [Español]

Recording acts and, above all, their repetition, is a constant concern in the work of Peter Land (Aarhus, Denmark, 1966) by which the artist explores the basic conditions of existence and attempts to find sense in acts that appear senseless. The artist makes his recordings in strange, often grotesque situations, caricatured or taken to extremes to achieve a clearer definition of the issues he confronts. Land’s videos, drawings and installations usually show him in obsessively repetitive processes doomed to failure: dressed as an outmoded television showman unsuccessfully trying to sit on a stool, but falling time and again (Pink Space, video, 1995); trying to paint the ceiling in a room perched on a step ladder whilst unable to avoid falling again and again (Step Ladder Blues, video, 1995); possessed by strange dreams that place him in ridiculous, distressing situations (The Strange Dream Came Back Again LastNight, series of drawings, 1997); falling down an endless staircase (The Staircase, video, 1998); sinking with his boat in a lake (The Lake, video and photographs, 1999). Like an inconsequential, deliberately comical Sisyphus, Land falls, gets up again and falls once more, again and again, facing his fears in a permanent attempt to overcome them. As the artist himself once declared: “I figure that in my own work, through the recording of acts and their repetition, I’m trying to reflect some basic conditions of my own existence and perhaps to fill some sort of apparent meaning into the meaningless. Maybe this meaning is to expose the meaningless (...) A lot of my work is centreed on disillusion; the sense that meaning escapes you whenever you need it most; whenever you think you’ve understood the world as it is, and gotten things into the right perspective, all of a sudden something happens that undermines that feeling. Your world collapses, and you have to start all over again.”

By placing himself in situations that are clearly at odds with society’s norms, the artist seeks to revise or renew perceptions of himself or the social meaning of his occupation. Again, the artist describes himself in his own words: “In all my work, I try to isolate different aspects of my own self-perception. It’s like testing my own identity by means of reflections in the form of recordings of myself in different staged situations. These situations are often grotesque, caricatured or driven to extremes as a way of isolating and enlarging the issue, to crystallise and to mediate it as clearly as possible to myself as well as an eventual audience. I regard extremity as a way of focusing, or as the Danish painter Asger Jorn once said: ‘You either go to extremes or you don’t go at all’ (...) The main reason I use myself as a figure in my work has to do with the idea of narration. I would feel uncomfortable using someone else because I see my work very much as my own statements, and using someone else would feel like putting words into someone else’s mouth. I think it would blur the meaning of the work.”

Specially created for Espai 13, the installation Hasty Departure is a sculpture that might well be described as a way of freezing an impossible action that is completely out of control. It could easily be a scene taken from a film by Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd, or the most absurd, surrealist cartoon: a leg, held by a hand, is disappearing through the ceiling. At the other end, the hand holds a suitcase that has opened, spilling its contents over the floor. A hasty departure indeed.

Tiny doors invite us to cross a threshold that is completely impossible for us to negotiate. This work inevitably brings to mind the stories of Lewis Carroll (with whom Peter Land confesses himself to be completely fascinated), as well as Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, an important point of reference for this Danish artist. Like Carroll, Land invites us to enter a different dimension, where things follow a different logic to that dictated by the norms, a world in which the convictions and beliefs we thought to be firmly-grounded become transitory and unreliable.

In his work, Peter Land becomes an analyst of our times, lucid and melancholic in equal parts. The artist proposes himself personally as an object of study, with his body, his id, his doubts and his fears, to reveal the fragmentation, the dignity and the absurdity of contemporary people, as seen in the everyday images that are transmitted by our cultural codes and the media. As Renate Wiehager and Knut Nievers so rightly affirm in their text “Ground-less”: “ Wherever his eye turns in its search for a ‘unity’ behind the everyday world that would endow life with meaning – he comes to recognize his immanence. There is no redeeming answer to the question, asked repeatedly and treated as a Sisyphus-like repetition and repeated action: ‘What am I doing here?’”

Montse Badia
March 2005

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