Shadows and projections loomed large in Wolfgang Plöger’s impressive debut solo exhibition, ‘I did not know anybody was there’ – a rather humble title for the second offering in the legendary Dusseldorf gallery’s new Berlin space. Plöger’s ensemble – consisting of a series of books produced by the artist lined up on a plywood reading table; noisy, battered projectors, some feeding floor-to-ceiling film loops; and a cluster of two-tone abstract sculptures – looked as if it could have been produced in the gallery’s early days, rather than just last year.
But Plöger’s show was more than a style-conscious revisiting of the late 1960s and ’70s. The twist to his apparently old-school approach was that his series of hardcover books, ‘Google Image Search’ (2003–ongoing), contained the collated results of some Internet probing. Each picture book is devoted to keywords searched at particular times and dates including: ‘nude’, ‘9–11’ and ‘weapons’. There were no real surprises, because although it is constantly shifting, the Internet tends to give a lowest-common-denominator view of life on the planet. ‘Nude’ was particularly grim. ‘Someone had to do it,’ quipped a fellow critic in response to the series; and he is probably right, since search engines are almost certainly as common artistic tools as paintbrushes nowadays, and in some respects ‘found data’ is arguably the new ‘found object’.
Plöger’s playful-looking series of sculptures, ‘Transportkisten für einen Schatten’ (Transport Boxes for a Shadow, 2007), hover agreeably between idea and object. To produce them, the artist made plinths, illuminated them and then built thin, angled plywood boxes to conform to the shapes of the shadows, before finally perching each sculpture on its plinth. Looking at them makes you puzzle about exactly which light source from which angle could have produced each box’s form. There seems to be more than geometry skills involved: implicit in these sculptures is the idea of another time, another space and a different set of conditions, making these works, amongst other things, small monuments to the notion of contexts in flux. Scale or size in the world of shadows is a question of a set of relations.
The two interlocking parts of the slim archive boxes also resemble an Expressionist’s rendering of a film canister. Presumably, if opened, they would contain nothing but the idea of a shadow once cast in the artist’s studio. (The no-frills approach to their manufacture – recalling Modernist prototypes or Arte Povera works rather than the highly polished, at-arm’s-length finish of a furniture designer or joiner’s workshop – seems to hint they were created in the artist’s studio.) There is also something appealing about the inversion of the standard cliché that ideas and inspiration are best depicted through bulbs, beams or sparks of light. (Shadows are anathema to the exaggerated visibility of things in glowing white cubes). Instead, Plöger’s shadow boxes make productive the planes and angles of shady corners.
More planes and angles formed the basis of two of Plöger’s film loops. Tumbling Wall (2007) is a stop-motion animation of a black studio wall painting, which creates the illusion of falling architecture. The artist multiplied the footage by three, and used red and green glass filters in front of the projectors, which, besides looking good, forced filmed fact to become abstract image. Next to it, Oscillating Space (2007) was a Super-8 trio: an animated sequence of drawings generating the illusion of a moving camera filming inside a sketched room. Both works conjured something akin to an ‘imitation of life’ through mechanical movement. Elsewhere, the final film loop in the show Last Statement (2007), dragged along the floor around a tin can and a tin of paint. The green film stock had a marker pen text written on it that was gradually losing its hold, and completely illegible as a postcard-sized projection on the wall. Crouching and straining your eyes, you could just make out the words on the loop: the same ones that gave the exhibition its title, ‘I did not know anybody was there’; apparently the final words of an unnamed prisoner on death row.