November 15–December 23, 2016
Art knows no zero point. It has no concept of an outside place, no indefinite expression; it is impossible to represent ‘nothing’. French cultural theorist Roland Barthes was the first to point this out. According to Barthes, every work carries with it the illusions of the culture in which it was made. The mesh of everyday myths is unavoidable; art history’s thicket of codes impenetrable. But for all its impossibility, the desire for this kind of zero point, the yearning to see without codes and connotations, remains essential. We all long for it. Astonishingly, the works of young Cologne artists Michail Pirgelis and David Ostrowski diligently strive toward this precise way of seeing. The sculptor and painter have been close friends since attending the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where they studied under Albert Oehlen and Rosemarie Trockel. Though their projects could hardly be more different, they are pursuing a similar artistic vision. In this sense, the succinct, ironic title of the exhibition Nothing Happened could also be understood as a programmatic, shared objective. Both artists try to explore the ‘zero point’ of art while completely aware of the futility. They seem to ask what would happen if nothing had happened, and raise the almost heretical question of whether it would be possible to start over from scratch.
Michail Pirgelis’ works begin with materials from discarded aircraft, which he culls from airplane cemeteries in California and Arizona. Pirgelis alters these materials only minimally, leaving the painted surfaces on most of his objects as he found them. He is known to grind and polish select cut-outs, remove portions of lettering or uncover rivet lines, so the viewer essentially finds a surface marked by weather elements and traces of use, the sand, sun, and desert storms. They are complex aesthetic surfaces that bear a clear reference to painting. In a sense, these objects could also be read as ‘found abstraction’. Large-scale wall works like Second Chance (2016) or Neverending Story I (2014) have the look of heavy canvases, while the floor panels in works like Beer or Wine (2014) recall minimalistic sculptures. But for all the clear visual references, Pirgelis’ objects could hardly be a more radical undermining of these same art-historical traditions. None of his objects has the pristine, immaculate surface of a Donald Judd or Carl André. None of them is ‘invented’, ‘produced’ or even ‘commented upon’. They are not even readable as ready-mades, because it is impossible to see what the sculptures once were. The objects’ materials and existing forms have been completely stripped of their original purpose. Pirgelis’ works take viewers to the limits of their unconscious knowledge of what constitutes an object. They are sculptures that thwart their own objectivity, situating themselves on the brink of non-objecthood.