words Rick Poynor
There is no escape from corporate culture. Unless they keep the blinds drawn, refuse to go out and spurn their Apple keyboards, even diehard refuseniks will be obliged to engage with the brandscape at some point. One way of reacting is to grab the visible marks of this culture, twist them around and play them back on your own terms. From Ashley Bickerton’s trademark-bedecked Neo-Geo pieces in the 1980s to The Designers Republic’s frenetic logo workouts a decade later, artists and designers have held up a distorting mirror to our branded reality.
Daniel Pflumm’s Europäischer Hof, shown at London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery, may not be especially new in this respect, but the 10-minute montage of images taken from TV advertising is still an extraordinary visual digest. By isolating these sequences and splicing normally separate moments together, Pflumm multiplies and intensifies the experience of watching the individual commercials. Product shots from food and confectionary ads conjure up a molten universe of liquids and creams, gushing, splashing and folding. Ripe fruit patters down on swirling lakes of silken chocolate. Toothbrush bristles flex and mould themselves around gleaming white enamel. Dishwasher tablets fizz ecstatically. Everything has the same monumental, Pop Art clarity and impossibly pure, super-bright sheen, as though we have entered a blissful paradise of total product perfection.
With its throbbing techno soundtrack, the film is a thoroughly ambiguous experience. It ought to be repellent, yet it is curiously exciting and even uplifting. Slightly shortened it would make a great pop video; it would also work well used ambiently on a dance floor. Pflumm founded the Panasonic club in Berlin and records the music with DJ collaborators. At Whitechapel, though, the video is presented on a big screen in a viewing theatre with three other long videos by Pflumm, none of which equals its impact.
Two of the pieces, titled Paris and London, also feature logos, but they lack Europäischer Hof’s focus and concentration. At times Pflumm’s meandering approach as a video artist seems inspired by the Warholian idea that if we watch something boring for long enough, it will start to become fascinating. Perhaps he is trying to show that the best way to respond to the brand-world’s delirious excess of images is to slow down and watch the sunset, to give ourselves time simply to be. In one of Pflumm’s best sequences, pedestrians walk towards us on a bridge. These ordinary people are consumers of all the wonders that brands and advertising have to offer and they look uniformly miserable and stressed. The gap between the image factory’s fantasies of product deliverance and careworn everyday experience could hardly be greater.
It seems doubtful, though, that Pflumm seeks to make a strong polemical point; he would just like us to change our viewing habits and think a bit more carefully about what we watch on TV. In Questions and Answers CNN, he loops shots of interviewers and interviewees waiting to speak. They blink, swallow and tighten their lips to the bleeping and stuttering of his techno soundtrack. Whether they had anything valuable to impart or not, they are caught in stasis, made to look absurd, if not completely duplicitous. That’s not saying much, but as always with Pflumm, the beat is irresistibly catchy. Is dancing a first step to activism or just a form of consolation?
top image Untitled (a & p), 2005
Still from Questions and Answers CNN
Still from Europäischer Hof
Still from Europäischer Hof