Mario Pfeifer - The publication engages discourses of cultural production from an anthropological-artistic approach about indigenous representation, territorial politics in the postcolonial age, and the traces of German missionary and anthropologist Martin Gusinde in Chile and beyond



Mario Pfeifer, Approximation in the Digital Age for a Humanity Condemned to Disappear, Ed. by Mario Pfeifer, Thomas Seelig.
Contributions by Hugo Palmarola, Mario Pfeifer, Thomas Seelig, Sternberg Press, 2015.


www.mariopfeifer.org/approximation/

Mario Pfeifer developed his latest project, Approximation in the digital age for a humanity condemned to disappear, in Puerto Williams, the southernmost settlement in the world on the Chilean archipelagos of Patagonia bordering Argentina. The publication, designed by Markus Weisbeck equally as an artist’s book and research compendium, engages—through essays, annotated texts, and a conversation between Thomas Seelig and Mario Pfeifer—discourses of cultural production from an anthropological-artistic approach about indigenous representation, territorial politics in the postcolonial age, and the traces of German missionary and anthropologist Martin Gusinde in Chile and beyond. Included is Hugo Palmarola’s essay, “Folding Culture,” the first in-depth investigation published on the Yagán—a jeep built in cooperation with Citroën in the 1970s—as a socioeconomic and political symbol of Chile’s turbulent coup d’état and relationship to its indigenous population in the far south. 

This publication documents Mario Pfeifer’s multiple-screen video installation and production process as well as his archival research at the Martin Gusinde Estate at the Anthropos Institut in Sankt Augustin and in the ethnomusicology department of the Museum of Ethnography in Berlin. A special edition LP was released with the bilingual publication on the occasion of Pfeifer’s first institutional solo exhibition in Latin America and further presentations in Belo Horizonte, Berlin, Brussels, Concepción, Newcastle, New York, Seoul, Santiago de Chile, and Winterthur.

Copublished with Circa Projects Newcastle, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Goethe-Institut, KOW, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes – Museo Sin Muros, Santiago de Chile
Design by Markus Weisbeck

Approximation presents a newly commissioned work by German artist Mario Pfeifer.
The multiple-channel-video installation was produced on Shunuko (today known as Isla Navarino) during his four-month stay there. Photographs taken prior to this at the Anthropos Institut are counterposed with a text piece and two sculptural elements.
Intertwined video episodes present different realties of an area that indigenous people, settlers, and military personnel all call home. The sequences look at the land referred to as Tierra del Fuego, at manual and industrial labor, at plant life, at the activities of descendants of the Yaghan people in Katushaiwa, and at the nightlife of Puerto Williams.
Two women analyse digitalized photographs on an iPad, animating the images that Martin Gusinde took between 1919 and 1924. They identify on screen the family relations of the last free-living Yaghans.
In 1953 Puerto Williams was founded as a military base, and since then the native population (antiguos) have been resettled to Villa Ukika, about 2 km to the west. In 1973 the development of a civil settlement was accelerated and concretized by territorial tensions between Chile and Argentina.
The civil master plan included administrative and educational buildings as well as a church and museum. The latter was named Museo Antropológico Martin Gusinde. The anthropologist's estate is today housed at the Anthropos Institut as part of the Steyler monastery in Sankt Augustin. The museum in Puerto Williams only hosts digital reproductions of Gusinde's documents. Other artifacts from that period can be found in museum depots in Chile, the USA, and Europe.
Mario Pfeifer's photographs inside the archive look at both the character as well the materiality of the collection. The photographed screens represent an ambiguous transformation of the images that were originally produced using analogue technology, allowing the protagonists of Gusinde's interaction to reappear, while the digital videos produced in the present visualize the disappearance of a culture whose last protagonists mourn a nation that has long gone.
The wall text quotes E. Lucas Bridges, who wrote in his memoir Uttermost Part of the Earth (1948) about his and his family's life amongst the Ona, Yaghans, and Haush on Tierra del Fuego, where he was born and raised.
The cartons displayed in the exhibition were ordered from White Land Ltd. Administrated from Santiago, the company operates several seafood factories in Chile. On the outskirts of Puerto Williams, in close proximity to Villa Ukika, the southernmost factory on the continent produces centolla and centollones, goods that are mainly for export to China.One of the video sequences shows the production process, as a deep-sea animal is turned into a world-class culinary tidbit.
Two harpoons, commissioned from a Yaghan artisan, are presented in their transport packaging. The replicas of hunting weapons symbolize the desire not to forget but also hint at a commodification of cultural memories: what was once a tool is all that survives of a nation that was extinguished and is now condemned to disappear.
New York–based musician and member of the Soundwalk collective Kamran Sadeghi contributed a musical score to the video installation that takes Gusinde's field recordings of Yaghan chants in Bahia Mejillones in 1923 as a point of departure and reference for his digital compositions.
Approximation is Mario Pfeifer's first institutional exhibition in South America. A selection of his photographs taken at the Anthropos Institute is also being shown concurrently at the Museo Antropológico Martin Gusinde in Puerto Williams.

Mario Pfeifer, Exhibition view: Approximation in the digital age to a humanity condemned to disappear, 2015
Mario Pfeifer, Exhibition view: Approximation in the digital age to a humanity condemned to disappear, 2015
 
Techno music plays at the far end of the earth. Squid gyrate to a strobe light, the crab industry runs like clockwork, and real men earn their peers’ respect when their fish traps are full. The sunrise is as breathtaking in Patagonia as it is in the Panoramabar in Berlin’s Berghain nightclub. Using luscious colors, rousing rhythms, and meticulously paced cuts and transitions, Mario Pfeifer’s "Approximation", a three-channel video installation, caters to contemporary aesthetic preferences with brilliant images shot using high-resolution 4K technology. The footage was captured at the outer margin of the inhabited earth, a place where people sometimes fall over the edge and disappear. This time it is Tierra del Fuego’s natives who may or may not still exist. Pfeifer captured them on camera – or did he? What the three projections in KOW’s basement gallery show is not a documentary, but a way of seeing. The exhibition presents a new perspective on one of the planet’s most ancient and remote indigenous people: the Yaghan, who are in the process of dying out.
Formerly aquatic nomads, the Yaghan first settled the southernmost tip of South America thousands of years ago; most of them now live in Villa Ukika, a housing project set up by the military near Puerto Williams on the island of Shunuko in 1954. Not much is left of their culture. Decades ago, the Chilean government brought them churches, schools, wage labor, and an ethnological museum to make sure they understood how they would henceforth live their lives. Scores of international teams of anthropologists have been visiting to take final photographs of the remaining Yaghan, record their voices, and take DNA samples. They trace the image of a culture that has held still for the cameras as long it has been frozen in time. And the Yaghan play along. They make a livelihood of being holdovers from the past. The present? Development? No, nothing. Defying this rearview-mirror mentality in Cape Horn’s backyard, Mario Pfeifer has painted the portrait of an indigenous community in the here and now: it is disappearing not on the periphery but in the very center of the world, where global colonialism and capitalism swallow it up.
Pfeifer worked on site for four months, adopting a participant observer’s perspective to film the indigenous people as they live today. In stupendous and sometimes hypnotizing images, he has created an aesthetic model that runs counter to the conventional templates of anthropological and documentary representation. Pfeifer’s exploration – in the language of mathematics, to “approximate” is to forego exact solutions in favor of useful results – is an anti-representational project that blows ancient dust off the Yaghan’s shoulders. "Approximation" yields episodic cross-sections of their living conditions today, accompanied by a techno soundtrack that smooths their transition into audiovisual immateriality. The fish cannery and the nightclub, everyday life and nature: everything is uploaded into the global culture industry’s data streams, where it must seem as strange to international audiences as to the natives themselves. Pfeifer transposes local culture into a new register, releasing it from the antiquated hardened image of a community disfigured by its submission at the hands of modern civilization, and lending it a contemporary face.
Pfeifer showed the members of the world’s southernmost people digital copies of photographs of their forebears taken by the German missionary and anthropologist Martin Gusinde around 1920; pictures they had never seen on an electronic device before. The video shows them swiping and zooming through the images on an iPad, identifying relatives and reconstructing lineages that dissolve in the soundtrack’s rhythms. The New York-based musician Kamran Sadeghi also used the Yaghan’s elegiac dirges, which Gusinde recorded in 1923 for his digital compositions. Pfeifer’s "Approximation" is based on research and collaborations with various partners in Chile, Germany, and the United States. A book documenting the project will be published by Sternberg Press in 2015. An editioned album of Sadeghi’s music will be released during the exhibition's opening. Approximation will be presented concurrently in the German Competition section at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen. Pfeifer was born in 1981 in Dresden, and lives and works in Berlin and New York.
The project was commissioned by the Museo sin Muros, Museo Nacional de Belles Artes, Santiago de Chile, where a first version was exhibited in late 2014. A bilingual publication designed by Markus Weisbeck and an LP with music by Kamran Sadeghi will be available through Sternberg Press in 2015.
Text: Alexander Koch
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Translation: Gerrit Jackson
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Editing: Kimberly Bradley
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