Vampire legends, fairy tales, adventure stories – the external appearance of Peles¸ Castle in the Carpathians in Romania evokes all sorts of filmic images. However, the interior of the 1883 castle, a one-time summer residence of Romanian King Carol I, stands out for its wild mishmash of furniture, wall coverings and accessories in a motley of styles. Since 2005, these furnishings have provided the source material for a collaboration between artists Katharina Stöver and Barbara Wolff. Under the name Peles Empire, Stöver and Wolff exhibit internationally while running two project spaces, one in London where they currently live, and another – since 2012 – in the Romanian city of Cluj.
In their installations, they distill the castle’s unique mix of Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque and Art Deco spaces into large-scale tableaux of photocopied montages. Some of these tableaux give rise to entire environments where Peles Empire invite other artists to exhibit their own work. The principle of copying and abstraction always recurs: various styles of the Peles¸ Castle are transferred to photographs of rooms, the photographs are copied and then the resultant photocopies are copied once more – until the extremely defamiliarized imperial rooms wind up in a different space as cheaply-copied wallpaper.
In Peles Empire’s solo exhibition EVER BUILD at GAK, this constant motion of displacement takes a somewhat different turn: the exhibition aims not for recurrent flattening, but rather material concentration. The space’s narrow front room serves as a preparation for the back room. In the first space, full-length free-hanging paper walls made of black and white A3 copies mounted on one another divide this space into a path that primarily cites Peles Empire’s own previous work, with paper banners hung alternatingly on the right and left: EVER BUILD 1–6 (all 2014 except two: 2007/14, and 2009/14). The material originates from prior exhibitions and has been made into new collages. In the next room, fragmented porcelain and clay objects lie scattered among Ever Build-brand cement bags that have been ripped open seemingly at random. The vibrant blue of the cement bags’ packaging surfaces again as a trace in some of the smaller sculptures. Additional bags serve as supports for the massive rectangular slabs of cardboard and concrete that lean against the wall or lie on the floor. In some places the remains of familiar copies are still recognizable, though now melted together into monumental visual objects (EVER BUILD 7–14, 2014).
The exhibition is clearly focused on questions about materials – about their ability to conjoin, as in some of the slabs, or to repel one another, as in the porcelain and clay objects that cannot be fired together and therefore shatter. The exhibition title – taken from the name of the cement company – and the massive concrete objects claim a fixity that is immediately refuted by the fragmented forms. And finally there are the cement bags used as ready-mades, which are also the source of the building material used in the exhibition – and in which the remains of this building material can be found in a different state, that is, as loose dust.
The black, abstract surface of one of the papier-mâché slabs vaguely evokes Richard Artschwager’s sculptural wall objects, which likewise deploy the sheen of imitation materials. Artschwager created, among other things, vexing objects that fluctuate between minimalist form, deceptive surfaces and narrative elements. Peles Empire also pursues a path that progresses through engagement with copies to an original hybrid form that lies between image and minimalist sculpture. In this context, the bursting forms could also be read as a way of grappling with this progress. The exhibition makes the confrontation with the artists’ own practice of constant copying, collage-making and reconnection, as well as the attendant tension between the work and the process of its creation, almost physically tangible. This is its greatest virtue. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
Translated by Jane Yager