Magazine article Artforum International

Paul Pfeiffer

Magazine article Artforum International

Paul Pfeiffer

Article excerpt

To see [Michael Jordan] soar through the air, a sparkling, shiny creature traveling at the speed of light, landing in every first, second, and third world city all at once, is to understand you play a minor role in a very big game....His reach defines the meaning of community in the television age." With these words, Paul Pfeiffer establishes his arena: the global economy of the spectacle that is today's superstar. Pfeiffer's earlier photo-based installations often dealt with his Filipino and gay identity; during graduate school at Hunter College in the early '90s, he was involved more in the local chapter of Act Up! than in the art world. Lately he has turned his attention to the technology of representation, to the multiplication, restructuring, and distribution of human images. But as the evocation of His Airness demonstrates, Pfeiffer has not abandoned his investigations of identity. Focusing on the phenomenon of the sports star and Hollywood super-celebrity as well as the cross-cultural communities of f ans who watch them on TV and movie screens, he explores not only the constructed identity of the famous but also our own invasion by the technological.

At the Whitney Biennial, Pfeiffer presented a pair of tiny, looped digital projections that shrink the image of the filmed celebrity to a pocket-size icon of concentrated motion, as small as the star is big. In Fragment of a Crucifixion (After Francis Bacon), 1999, continuous, silent repetition of one moment on the basketball court turns the presumably victorious yell of Knicks forward Larry Johnson into an almost inhuman scream of terror or rage. Pfeiffer takes on the star as a test case for mechanization, manipulation, distortion--even sacrifice, as the title hints. Across the room, in The Pure Products Go Crazy, 1998, Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in Risky Business wiggles his tighty-whities in a perpetual loop of a moment from the famous air-guitar scene. The "pure product" (the title references the William Carlos Williams poem) is Cruise himself, an icon of desirability with broad demographic appeal: Among his fans number teenage girls, gay men, even Andrew Cunanan, whose obsession with the actor may have waxed homicidal. Helplessly writhing on a couch, Cruise is infantilized and faceless. With this installation, Pfeiffer has set up a face-off between cultural stereotypes: Johnson as potent "other," Cruise as passive "product."

Technology represents modernity's monsters; it also creates its own, Dr. Frankenstein--like. Of the quintessential Chicago Bull, Pfeiffer notes, "Like the scientist-turned-insect in the sci-fi classic The Fly, Jordan is an experiment in human evolution: an exceptional talent re-packaged and distributed by Turner Sports and David Stern; grafted with 16M parts Nike, 5M parts Bijan Cologne, 5M parts Gatorade, 4M parts MCI WorldCom, and 2M parts Rayovac Battery." In Memento Mori, 1998, Pfeiffer juxtaposes the genres of still life, science fiction, social commentary, and the macabre. Here, a specimen box displays thirty real and artificial flies (traditional signifiers of death and decay) whose heads have been replaced with tiny magazine-cutout faces of the 1997--98 most valuable players from each team in the NBA; in another version, Pfeiffer borrows faces from the Boys Choir of Harlem. Bodies of color, like those of women, have been cast paradoxically as both natural and less than human; Pfeiffer reworks this fr aught territory. In Perspective Study (After Jeremy Bentham), 1998, we see a white tent in the middle of a jungle diorama, recalling Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the most famous allegory of the industrial invasion of the "natural. …

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