As Mad Men (2007–ongoing) has taught us, the struggle between will and want is a highly profitable market. If Don Draper wrestles with this problem in his personal and professional life, then so do we mere mortals: consumers sold our desire through glossy adverts, unable to resist the latest gadget or accessory.
The work of Kirsten Pieroth, shown at Kunstverein Nürnberg alongside a separate presentation of works by Tamara Henderson, mines this divide. Two A4 sheets of paper show a timeline marking the invention of the last century’s hallmark domestic and technological products: cornflakes (1906), instant coffee (1910), the ballpoint pen (1945), filter-tip cigarettes (1954), diet soda (1963), the personal computer (1977) and mobile phones (1992), to name but a few. Hung on two walls, eight scrappy, paint-flecked cardboard mounts bearing magazine adverts from the past few decades, Pastoral Symphony (2013), complicated this neat, linear progression of technological advancement. But design tropes, photographic effects and copywriting strategies for these disparate products seemed remarkably standardized, even to the point of caricature: a McDonald’s burger was positioned next to an ad for Taster’s Choice coffee – the two bulbous coffee cups mirroring fluffy white burger buns which in turn resembled the round head of Cookie Monster in the neighbouring ad: his gaping mouth seemingly crying out to be stuffed with the burger from the adjoining page.
‘Cookies, burgers, they’re all the same’, seems to be Pieroth’s point – the marketeer, at least, would verify this reduction. In her accompanying sculptures, the artist’s critique of consumer capitalism became less associative, even tritely uniform, with two small stacks of crystalized dollar bills on crepe paper. Untitled (Frozen) (2013), a block of scrunched newspaper painted green presented on a work-bench, had a lightness of touch that belied its bulky form. The same was true for the burger box – set with a bottle of ketchup on the floor below – which was made of concrete. Pieroth’s witty conceptual sculptures often explore the relationship between art and money, value and commodity. As with the associative advertisement displays, it’s hard to consider an artist working today taking on the institutions of the dollar bill and Heinz ketchup without this seeming derivative. The weight of art history casts a pretty long shadow on a critique by these means.
If Pieroth presents objects of desire, then Tamara Henderson’s 16mm films and modernist-tuned sculptures conjure desiring objects. Her sculptures were made via a process of notating ideas while under hypnosis. Three once-elegant furniture pieces – Prumelan 46 (Utrecht) (2011), Pacific Peace Chair (Vancouver) (2013) and Kressengarten Chair (Nuremberg) (2013), a chaise longue and two chairs, had morphed into strangely alien objects, appended with corrugated, lumpy pieces of clothing – dipped in plaster and moulded – that hung from or sat upon them, person-like. Two short, moody 16mm films were also shown. In Neon Figure (2013) a figure in a leotard lurks behind slatted blinds and tips over a fruit bowl. If this is a murder mystery, its protagonists are objects. A bloody, gloved hand places a Martini glass on a makeshift straw covered table. An instructional flier floats in a pool while a palm tree bobs in the background. The camera then tracks the quiet interior of a modernist house and a typewriter types automatically, listlessly. The theme of animism continues in the The Spirit of Garfield (in Spite of NH) (2012): clanking costume jewellery; an oyster shell nestled within a glove; shots of a polystyrene sculpture on the ebbing sea at dusk or dawn; gloved hands clumsily rolling an overstuffed cigarette. These motley objects, too lo-fi to seem magical (as in the films of say João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva), nevertheless trade on the linguistic references conjured by objects and settings, using visual tropes as poetic fodder.
How often are we influenced by unconscious desires that we don’t fully understand? Since they both pose this question, the coupling here of Tamara Henderson and Kerstin Pieroth is well judged, despite their widely differing practices. Both move quickly through the associative to tarry in the realm of the unconscious: Pieroth, in her analysis of desire formation and Henderson with her formations of desire.