On Time, Tempo and Spatial Experience in the Works of Johannes Pfeiffer

Ettlingen, in August 2006
Johannes Pfeiffer begins to set up his exhibition at the Kunstverein Wilhelmshöhe (artists’ association) in Ettlingen. An installation emerges on the broad terrace of the building, home to the Kunstverein since 1985. There are five, small, black charred tree stumps, connected to the building façade with white, radiating nylon threads. The artist calls the work “Im Rampenlicht”. In the meantime inside the building, other installations gradually take shape in the two small rooms, but then preparations for the exhibition are interrupted; an exhibition must be set up in Italy, in Miasino on Lake Orta. Pfeiffer travels to Miasino and then to his home in Lanzo Torinese, a small village 30 kilometres north of Turin, where he has lived and worked for four years. The interruption also means that he has time to think about the concept of the separate space in the Ettlingen exhibition, while new ideas for large graphic works, so-called blind sketches emerge in Italy. Pfeiffer returns to Germany and completes the Wilhelmshöhe exhibition. At the exhibition opening, his friend and photographer Lorenzo Mascherpa, who almost always accompanies him to exhibitions, documents the works on display. The very next day they are on their way back to Italy to be ready for the imminent opening of the exhibition in Miasino…

The Artist
“I experience the world locally“ , is how Johannes Pfeiffer explains the tempo with which he travels from one station to the next. Places where he can experience the world are also always places for him that have their own existential orientation. Travelling to new places brings him the opportunity to see new things, to meet new people, to collate experiences and to react to them in his own work. He believes that the stimuli for work are not just the actual local conditions, which determine the where and how, but also the associated release of your own empirical knowledge, of emotions and subjectivity and the possibilities of association, which arise in relation to all these components. Johannes Pfeiffer creates networks across Europe, which effortlessly bridge distances, obstacles and borders. He has every conceivable freedom. If one follows the concept that three-dimensional designs are a “capture of the space” , Pfeiffer follows his to the extent that his main aim is to reveal the essential nature of a place through his

action. The environment of the installation suits him down to the ground. The starting point for his artwork is always a spiritual and conceptional approach.

The beginning to all this, however, was quite different. Johannes Pfeiffer was born in Ulm, studied business management, theology and law in Berlin, and then decided to go to Italy the year he finished his studies, not to work in his qualified profession, but to turn to the free arts. Studying sculpture at the academies in Rome and Carrara gave him a classical education in working with bronze and stone. His first spatially designed works appeared in 1985, “to break free of the prison of marble”, as he describes it. Turning away from the traditional sculptural techniques and moving towards freer forms of expression was the next logical step for Pfeiffer, as it made work faster for him, and was more in line with the tempo of our time.
Since then, the artist has developed his own language of image, which creates very individual, but recognisable works from modules with materials like bricks, pebbles and wood. He uses the historical substance of brick particularly for architectural elements like barriers and walls, floors or tower-like semi-circular segments, which he braces with thin nylon strands to give them an apparent state of suspension. Working with brick as a down-to-earth, supporting element meets the material of wood in its equally ambivalent meaning, which he mostly changes by applying heat to the surfaces.
Johannes Pfeiffer sees his artistic work as “access to subconscious knowledge” and this knowledge as a key for all artistic action. The possibility of incorporating the history of a place in the design of a work of art through his working method means he is always searching for such special places.

In Dialogue with Architecture
He found such a place in a small church in southern France in Gigondas, near Avignon, which affords a magnificent view of the Rhone valley. The installation “Klanglinien en soleil majeur – message pour W.“ (2004, p. 13) consists of two round olive grinding stones, which he had found nearby. They were linked to the façade of the church with bundles of nylon threads at a height of about eight metres. Sounds accompanied the installation from above so that in addition to the association of rays of light, which fall onto the stones from above, the acoustic picture of two bodies of sound is also established.
Pfeiffer came across a comparable situation on the terrace of the Wilhelmshöhe in Ettlingen, where he used the previously-mentioned charred tree stumps: “Im Rampenlicht“ (2006, p. 9, 11). Here too strands were fixed to the stone façade so that the bundles of fibres seemed like rays of light converging at each point. The impression of shafts of light emerged, whose light was absorbed by the black surfaces of the wood. Johannes Pfeiffer designed a situation of transition with these sculptures. The tree stump, which symbolises the cycle of nature and
thus, plainly stands for life, was illuminated by the bundle of lines as if by a transcendent light. Their source was out of sight and was reminiscent of Gothic annunciation scenes, in which the holy blessing is depicted using painted rays of light.
An affinity to history can always be seen in Johannes Pfeiffer's works. In Miasino, a village above Lake Orta, there was a two metre-long boulder, which became the recipient of the transcendent message (o.T., 2006, title picture and p. 15). The white nylon threads, which extend from the frescoed façade of the old villa, give grace and lightness to the heavy stone. Movement is produced where previously there was none and the architecture becomes a stage for an unheard-of, unprecedented event.

When Johannes Pfeiffer works in interior spaces (Gezeitenwende, 2004, p. 17), as he did in 2004 for the Kulturforum in Schorndorf, the mental framework of the installation is visualised more strongly than in the exterior space, which may also be due to the fact that here the observer senses the artistic touch more directly. There, he heaped up sand dunes, where he placed bricks attached to nylon threads as rudimentary walls. These rose above the sand, but were also partially covered by it. It makes you think of ruins, which will either soon be engulfed by the dunes or, on the contrary, seem to rise from the heaps of sand. The artist has made the fragile symbiosis of man and nature the focus of discussion using simple resources and, at the same time, alluded to the temporality of actual activities.

Inner Worlds
In the exhibition for the Mannheim Kunstverein (2001, p. 19), Johannes Pfeiffer completely avoided using bricks and simply worked with nylon lines. In the title of the work “Innenschau”, there are hints that he was less concerned in physically conquering the space even with relatively plastic material, but more interested in creating a reflective, abstract experience of space. The exhibition space, which is surrounded by a gallery and is open above, was divided by strands ten centimetres apart. The space was not accessible and you could only observe it from above and from the stairs. The dimension of the space, which was actually intended to act as a playing field for art, could thus be experienced as a spatial body.
The exclusion of the observer was also stipulated by Johannes Pfeiffer in the two small spaces at the Ettlingen exhibition, to underline the fictional character of his works through the medium of distance. The “Einsichten” ( perspectives) open to the observer were through a black, tube-like material, reminiscent of old cameras. The two rooms were otherwise closed and dark. In the room entitled “Die Einsamkeit der Nähe“ (2006, p. 20-23) small house-shaped objects made of locust wood hung from the ceiling and were arranged in two groups like

small mountain villages on a slope. The fluorescent wood of the locust freed of its bark, shone yellowish in the ultraviolet light. The effect of the light in the room is intriguing and can only be approximately produced in the catalogue pictures. The intensity of the colours under the black light made the objects seem oddly suspended, and not just because they were actually hanging from the ceiling. The scenery has a dreamlike quality of translated reality, which cannot be seen clearly in photography. The observer, who cannot enter this room, is ignored, and perhaps for this reason he would have loved to have gone in.
The symbol of the house is associated with security, refuge and protection; here it could also mean retreat or tightness. In the corresponding room Pfeiffer created “Die Einsamkeit der Ferne“ (2006, p. 24-25), an installation with suspended ship keels, which form the opposite human situation. The plain wooden shape of the simple boats is a very general metaphor for the ship. It includes perceptions such as aspiration and curiosity; it has associations of distance, pioneering spirit, optimism, but also moments of uncertainty and the risk of every journey.
Johannes Pfeiffer’s art bears conciliatory tones. Existential experiences are part of a holistic human being. Accordingly, anticipation and fears, experiences, hopes, worries and wishes are included in this work in equal measure. Truth is developed in this work, the substance of things. Whether “Innenschau” or “Einsichten”, in works of this type the artist responds explicitly to an internal perception, the reference to one’s own self. The experience of space and its direct effect form the impetus for reflective thought.

Experience of space and effect are also topics of the Plexiglas spaces (“La Casa dell’ Arte“, p. 51-57), which Pfeiffer displays in series. The artist can convert the most diverse raumplastisch ideas into small format. Geometric elements, surfaces and bodies are produced through parallel tensioned plastic fibres in the likewise geometric glass space. This is thus divided and the plural perception of space is partially increased by mirror surfaces.
For his installation in the former reservoir at the Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin (“Im Fluss der Zeit“, 2004, p. 29) however, Johannes Pfeiffer used a completely different material from that he normally uses. He covered a three metre-wide corridor of the historical 19th century building with black, polyester foil. A ventilator fixed behind a bend inflated the foil at regular intervals, which gave the impression of a large wave approaching the observer. In addition to parameters such as material and light at the location, which allow the foil to light up reflectively, it was the mental image that determined above all the mighty, inescapable power of the work. In the even up and down of the foil, reference is made to time as part of an inexorable, continuing event.

Even the pacing out of a path includes time as a constituent element. Johannes Pfeiffer contrasted the rhythm of moving forward when walking with the formal rhythm in one of his installations in the large sculpture park of Pievasciata near Chianti. There he built a bridge over a hollow (Ponte controcorrente, 2001, p. 31) and created two opposite movements in the arrangement of the handrail. The ascending and descending rods of square steel react to the slight pressure and release that the user must exert on the bridge on entering and leaving. As a symbol the bridge is also seen here as portraying the ups and downs of human existence. Not far away, Pfeiffer created another, similar installation, which continued the movement of pacing out a path. Luminous white marble stones balance on slim steel rods and flank a path passing through an oak wood. The work bears the title “Limes” (2001, p. 33) and should be seen less in the sense of boundary stones and more in the transferred sense as a boundary experience. Like suspended notes the stones are arranged along the edge of the path and accompany the walker like notes on a scale.

Johannes Pfeiffer creates deliberate contrasts in nature, landscape and city space with his works. He works with contradictions in material, colour and shape. As in classical sculpture, he uses active and passive bodies and their behaviour in comparison. He presents static principles and pushes them to the limits. At the same time, he uses the proportionality of bodies to highlight spatial perception and to represent spatial references such as dimension.
Pfeiffer reacts to local historical events with the reception on the essential nature of what has been found before. The “Fallende römische Mauer“ (2005, p. 44-45) is one such example. Not far from this work in Oberndorf am Neckar lies the discovery site of a roman country house and you can still see the remains of the collapsed walls. Johannes Pfeiffer’s installation, which he erected on the remains of the Roman road connected to the building, picks up the archaeological situation. He fired innumerable small house shapes from red brick, which he placed at different heights on thin steel rods in the form of a wall. The graduation performed in one direction served to illustrate the moment the wall fell and to highlight the state of suspension of the stones. The observer can stand in the middle of the ten metre-long and up to two-metre high installation and thus, is included in the fall of the wall element. The experience of a virtual movement is particularly strong at this location.
The theme of this installation in the public space is, at the same time, a central theme of all his works. It concerns the “internal equilibrium of things. The installation picks a moment in the life of the thing, a moment in abeyance, a moment between heaven and earth, between the spiritual and the material”, states Johannes Pfeiffer in a text on the

subject. With the “Fallende römische Mauer” he has fixed the moment of the collapse, which so radically altered the character and nature of the wall and the translation of the mighty forces, which transferred the previously known, ordered and stored energy into another state of being with a rapidly growing dynamic. In it he has brought “a moment of a short meeting between what was and what is to come” into artistic form.“This falling wall is the moment in which the atoms rearrange themselves, in which the destructive forces become creative forces.”

Imagined movement is not actual movement and requires imagination and fantasy. Actual movement can be produced using technical means, as the work “Im Fluss der Zeit“ in the former Prenzlauer reservoir demonstrated. The transfer of movement to the surface of an image carrier is however possible using the tempo of setting a graphic or pictorial trail, as the artists of the Informal have sufficiently demonstrated.
Johannes Pfeiffer creates so-called “blind sketches” with the same verve (p. 59-63), which he characterises technically as “Graffiti on film”. Like ideograms, the artist notes his formal ideas in a short, sketchy manner on unexposed, large photo films. He does this with his eyes shut. This spontaneous sketching governed by the subconscious is reminiscent of the surrealists' Écriture automatique – with one difference – Pfeiffer does not just allow new, unknown thoughts to flood in, but also reflects on already formulated ideas. Pfeiffer alludes to the temporality, historicity and finiteness of life in these short illustrations and thus, ultimately also to the inevitability of existence in general.
Johannes Pfeiffer’s “In-der-Welt-sein“ (being in the world), however, is a conscious, not abstract feeling. His artistic material is palpable, his language is clear and distinct. Which location he is ultimately in is immaterial. More important to him is the experience of life, which is present in every activity.

Sabine Heilig, November 2006