Re-contextualisation is a strategy taken for granted by younger artists today, and audiences, used to Simon Starling’s convoluted eco-narratives or Slominski’s form-determining absurdities, are well practiced in extrapolating hidden histories and alternative identities from within the mute objects displayed before them. Kirsten Pieroth has long displayed a considerable dexterity when it comes to such re-contextualising displacement of objects. In the past, her transferals have as often taken a literary or historical bent as a strictly physical, or geographical one. The result is a reversal of expectations that requires an equally dexterous imaginative response from the viewer.
In this, her first solo exhibition in Berlin for four years, Pieroth presents three stories of relocation or transformation, and their sculptural results. In the first piece „Untitled (Loan)“, 2007, the focus is on beaurocratic systems at work within the art institution. Wall-mounted photographs document the de-installation of an item in one prestigious museum, and its careful re-installation in another, complete with all the regulation art-handler’s gloves and measuring tapes necessary to meet the standards of institutional art-handling. It is, however, not an artwork itself being handled, but its label. And not just any label from any artwork, but the Louvre’s exhibition label for Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
This work was initially made for ‘Learn to Read’, a group exhibition at the Tate Modern, where the wall label was exhibited alone, creating a metonymic relationship between the institutional label and the work itself, whereby the label would, through the viewer’s response, conjure an image of the famous painting, while drawing attention to the history embedded its many different names. As such, it functioned almost like a Lawrence Weiner wall text in its ability to paint the artwork clearly in mind of viewer. Here, however, the label itself is not displayed but rather the documents and documentation relating to its loan. Installed with extreme precision, these build another layer of transference: the paperwork and photographs are displayed with an equal care and attention to detail, although they exist at yet another remove from the artwork and have a value accorded purely through association and anecdotal evidence.
Another act of transference occurs in the neighbouring room, where a tall wooden tower stands, a hide lifted from its original location in the Brandenburg countryside. Small snapshots document its dismantling, while a heap of sawn-off pieces of wood and rusty nails are evidence of the height alteration needed to reconstruct it in its new interior location. Strangely, it is not surprising to find it here. It assimilates immediately, and even its corrugated tin roof, leaning casually against the wall, effortlessly takes on the truth-to-materials of a minimalist sculpture. Surveillance, watch-towers, an altered viewing perspective are associations that come to mind, but mostly it just stays itself, with an added dose of intentionality. Is this a sign of a jaded acceptance of anything that finds its way within the four walls of a gallery? The institutional machinations involved in procuring the Mona Lisa label prove somehow more intriguing and conceptually concentrated than the physical removal of this large, rustic object.
The final work in this show is tucked away in the office, behind the gallerist’s desk, and is a return to the punning quality familiar from earlier works by Pieroth. A weighty, old-fashioned black safe sits against the wall. Only on opening it is it clear that it is no longer a safe; is, in fact, no longer safe at all, as it has been converted into a small oven. A concealed pipe leads through the wall behind it to the outside and a discrete flat-screen opposite the safe/oven shows a video of the chimney protruding from the wall outside, happily puffing away. This object modestly insinuates a range of comic anecdotal incidents, of gallerists destroying incriminating documents, or the inadvertent roasting of stacks of dirty art-world cash. Though the thing seems to stay the same, everything around it changes. A critique of the meaning or use-value of an object is implied that extends to the invented meaning of a work of art. Not only does Pieroth refer to the particular histories or contexts of the individual objects presented here, but also to a collective history of sculpture. Her re-contextualisations are installed or arranged with such precision that they take on a newly independent sculptural identity that allows them to be related, laterally, to a history of sculptural form, whether the conceptual wall text, the artepovera sculpture to the re-made ready-made of the late twentieth century.
Kirsten Pieroth, „Untitled (safe)“, 2007 (© Courtesy Galerie Klosterfelde, Berlin)