Conversation with Peter Piller about the exhibition
For your fifth solo exhibition at Galerie Barbara Wien, you’re showing a new series of your own photographs. It concerns pictures you’ve taken of birds whilst observing them in the wild. If one is unfamiliar with your art, or is a bird-watcher and naturist, one would probably describe your pictures as a digression into the world of bird and nature photography, whereby the ornithologist or nature photographer would be likely to speak of failed pictures and rookie mistakes – but more on that later. Developed in parallel to the photographs, your text, nach auflösung örtlicher frühnebel (after the dispersal of local early morning mist), describes how you were already enthralled by a teenage interest in bird-watching. However, it became overlaid by other preferences and came to light again only years later. I imagine you going off one day in your spare time, at the beginning even without opulent photographic equipment and without the intention of photographing birds for art’s sake. At the same time, your observation of birds has a lot to do with your studio practice: the waiting and toleration, that sometimes nothing happens for a while. Can you tell me how or why the enthusiasm for birds developed from an art-free hobby into an idea for an exhibition? Or alternatively, over time, what led to your hobby becoming independent, professional and taking up more and more of your time and work?
my interest in ornithology emerged again when my son was about 10 years old. during a car journey, all of a sudden and without my influence, he was bitten with enthusiasm for watching the birds along the way. in the years following, and until his onset of puberty, we shared this hobby and these hours/days together were among the most beautiful things i experienced as a father. since he turned towards other interests, i go birdwatching alone, or sometimes with a friend. it should actually remain an art-free space in my life, at best something like an exercise or workout in passivity, but in the long run it didn’t work out. for me, a lot of projects do not emerge out of a concentrated desire for art, but rather result from individual encounters with images, which independently call upon my memory, and in a way i can’t get rid of because they communicate with other topics that work within me. the fact that in the everyday world or beyond artistic image-production, images emerge that are relevant to art and are in a position to connect with well-known images from the artistic world, asserts how it’s not about wanting, but about attention. that has been bothering me for over twenty years, and it’s seems it’s something of a life theme. maybe also because i have been annoyed and disgusted by the extravagant, do not question oneself, ingenious and desirable within art since the time i was a student.
Measured against popularly circulating nature documentaries, your bird pictures shown here are not successful photographs: the birds are about to fly, out of the picture and are partially cut-off. We see them flying away from behind, from the side and from underneath. And they’re mostly out of focus or hidden. As with your work Archiv Peter Piller, in which since 1998 you have compiled together over one hundred themes using found images from newspapers, magazines or the internet, is there a category for the photos you’ve chosen for the exhibition? During the planning of the exhibition, you called the series “fleeing birds”.
there are no categories here. it should just be different types of birds, different light situations, different colours, so the platforms which they fly away from should be different. above all, the images should not be too beautiful and should not purport to compete with the well-known, perfect photographs which i of course also make but unfortunately, they bore me immediately. moreover, of course it’s framed here so that the birds are fleeing from being photographed and the image and from myself, because i only disturb them with my presence.
Both in your work with the archive and in your photography, you separate the image from text: when dealing with the images from newspapers or the internet, you remove most of the captions underneath. Also in your series Erscheinungen (Phenomena, 2014–2017), consisting of photographs of the backsides of lorries with posing women on them, you removed all letterings and left only the image and graphic unaltered. The vast majority of your artist books contain only images; there is just one (Archiv Peter Piller: Materialien (G) Albedo, 2014) which exclusively collects texts. For the bird photos from behind time, you deprived yourself of text and language from the beginning – at the same time, you wrote a text based on your rekindled passion for ornithology, which says a lot about your work as an artist. Do you believe that image and text do not go together or restrict the perception of one another?
i notice that many are so burdened from reference pressure that they shrink their own space and become fully incapable of action or awareness. that’s why i always try to shift my position to one of naivety or i ask myself how martians would interpret this or that picture, that helps me. but i have nothing against understanding, explaining, comparing, classifying, it’s just my driving impulse arises usually out of enthusiasm or a real necessity to explain something to myself. and i sometimes like to begin without a mission, without a vision of the outcome, without thought of art; i enjoy complete freedom, i don’t ask why i’m doing something, instead i let my passions guide me and later question if something useful has arisen or not.
In addition to the bird photographs, you’ll exhibit a row of new drawings done on hotel and university letter paper, which have developed over the last two years. You said in conversation with Oliver Zybok (Ich sehe was, was du schon gesehen hast / I see something that you have already seen, Kunstforum International, Vol. 246, May – June 2017), that you draw without making or imagining something first, and that the drawing and the title – the text – written on the front of the drawing, develop in parallel. Drawing takes on a kind of special position in your work, in the sense that image and text can indeed exist together. Your drawings do not appear to follow a theme, no series, except for the repeated use of letter paper. Why letter paper?
it’s all tied to the office drawings i made on an agency’s company paper whilst i was working there as a student, commenting mainly humorously on the horror of office everyday life. at the time, i had a special position as an artist in the office and i didn’t really fit in. now it’s different: since 2005 i’ve taught in art academies where there are a lot of absurd situations as well, but now what interests me more is learning about the connection between my everyday life and professional life. so, i engage with this connection by using drawing and text in parallel, in order to undertake a journey of discovery along the borderline between the inner and outer world. thus, i ask myself as often as possible: why am i even doing that and what’s that point? mostly i tear up pages the entire day, because the whole thing is not working or i’m waiting, like with the bird photography when you’re ready for hours and nothing is happening, in pleasant complicity with the failure, the uselessness and the waste of time. i like the training session that comes with being ready for an idea much more than conceiving something and i really want to uphold the possibility of surprising myself.
So, by now is your interest in the world of birds and your “hunt” more related to photography or ornithology?
i often want to see what it looks like as a photo. seeing, experiencing, being there, that‘s something completely different.
(Questions from Anika Matthes)
Peter Piller (* 1968 in Fritzlar, Germany) lives and works in Hamburg. He has had solo exhibitions at the Kunst Haus Wien, Vienna (2016); at the Städtische Galerie, Nordhorn and Kunsthalle Nuremburg (2015); at the Fotomuseum Winterthur and Centre de la photographie, Geneva (2014); Kunstverein Braunschweig (2011); Kunstmuseum Bonn (2009); Kunsthaus Glarus (2007); Ludwig Forum, Aachen (2006) and at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam (2005) amongst others. He has participated in a number of group exhibitions, including: 11th Shanghai Biennale; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and Fondazione Prada, Milan (2016); Kunstmuseum St. Gallen and Galerie im Taxipalais, Innsbruck (2013); Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am Main (2012);
C/O Berlin (2011) and MoMa PS1, New York (2010).
Since 2006 he has been teaching as Professor of Photography in the department of contemporary art at the University for Graphics and Book Art in Leipzig.
From the 21 January 2018, the Mies van der Rohe Haus, Berlin will present a solo exhibition with Peter Piller.
Until the 4 Feburary 2018, his work is exhibited (together with Jochen Lempert) at the Museum für Kunst and Gewerbe, Hamburg.