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Peter Piller

Haufen (Pile), 2002-2004

24.7 x 24.7 cm (x9)

Since the 1990s, the work of Peter Piller has centred on the meticulous and intense task of collecting, selecting and archiving photographs. For the most part these have been taken from newspapers such as the Delmenhorster Kreisblatt, the Trostberger Tageblatt or the Zollern-AlbKurier, from Internet forums or simply those he has come across himself. Despite the apparent triviality, the chance elements, or the doubtful quality of the 7,000 photographs that the Archiv Peter Piller now holds, the artist has found formal similarities, recurring motifs, mysterious details and aesthetic qualities that connect them all. Decontextualised from the news and without any captions, the images are often difficult to decipher. What is he showing us and what is its appeal? Piller organises the material using a series of categories that he himself has created: “Areas designated for construction”, “Unresolved cases”, “Girls shooting”, “Police searching”, “Dancing in front of a logo”, “Showing money” and “Touching cars”, for example. His acute and sometimes tragic vision of the contemporary world is revealed through images that, as the artist himself says, are “the type of photograph that the photographer who took them would probably not even remember taking. Shot one day, they would be printed the next and thrown in the bin the following morning.” [1]

Piller feels attracted “to the urban margins and ill-defined areas” [2], and his archive (now published in 10 volumes and available on the artist’s web site www.peterpiller.de) reveal sociological aspects of the popular culture of our times, portraying a microcosm of comic, absurd, prosaic and even macabre situations. In contrast to Atlas, the Encyclopaedic project of another German, Gerhard Richter, which has 4,000 images organised into more than 600 panels [3], Piller’s images do not inspire him to go on to produce works based on them, but rather he uses them as raw material in their most crude state.

The eight images entitled Haufen [‘stack’ or ‘pile’ in German] form part of the Luftbildarchiv [Archive of aerial views], a donation that Piller received in 2002 along with some 20,000 negatives. The images show aerial photographs taken between 1979 and 1983 by an estate agent who was documenting houses in German suburbs and later selling the framed photographs to their respective owners. Piller put them into very mixed categories: “sleeping houses” (a group covering houses with their blinds down or which were obviously empty, or not inhabited by their owners), “people in front of a house”, “floral objects”, “paths”, “new houses/under construction”, “birds flying in the photo”, “dirty clouds” and “electric cables”, centring on elements far removed from the original intention of the photographer. The unsold photographs have notes on the back such as: “more beautiful viewed from the ground”, “not interested in the photo”, “wife interested, but house very expensive”, “I’ll do it myself” and simply “deceased”. [4]

Often, Piller scanned and enlarged details of the photographs with the intention of exhibiting them. These are displayed on the wall in a similar way to the work of the German artist Wolfgang Tillmans: without frames and printed in different sizes and colours, apparently without any order to emphasise the disparity of their origins and stuck to the wall using pieces of sellotape, giving the impression that they are pieces of a jigsaw of personal memorabilia.

[1] Quote from the artist in a press release for the ‘Peter Piller: Archive Peter Piller’ exhibition at the Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York. (11th January – 10th February, 2007).

[2] Ludwig Seyfarth, ‘The advantages of the unintentional. Peter Piller’s Archive of hidden iconographies’ [“Vorzüge der Absichtslosigkeit Peter Piller Archiv verborgener Ikonografien”] Ars Viva 04–05 Zeit/Time Revolver, 2004

[3] http://www.gerhard-richter.com/art/atlas.php

[4] Description by the artist, 2004. http://www.peterpiller.de/index1.htm

[5] Artist quoted in ‘Classified Information’, Dominic Eichler. Frieze, November-December issue, 2006, p. 139

Mariana Cánepa Luna


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