The Inside-Out Glove
Stephan Berg

In his story, Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote, Jorge Luis Borges describes an imaginary early twentieth-century author who has taken on the apparently senseless task of completely rewriting Miguel de Cervantes world-famous Don Quixote without changing a single sentence, a single word, or even a single letter. Upon closer inspection, what at first seems to be an absurd undertaking proves to be a terribly attractive philosophical problem centring around the question of whether it is possible to recreate something without changing it - and without simply copying it, of course. In Borges text, the narrator comments, "Pierre Menard did not want to compose another Quixote, which surely is easy enough - he wanted to compose the Quixote. Nor, surely, need one be obliged to note that his goal was never a mechanical transcription of the original; he had no intention of copying it. His admirable ambition was to produce a number of pages which coincided - word for word and line for line - with those of Miguel de Cervantes." (1)

In the art world, works such as Duchamp's Urinoir or other appropriation art would fit into this context. Their effectiveness has much to do with shifting spatial, chronological, or time-space contexts. The narrator in Pierre Menard also refers to this important point: " problem is, without the shadow of a doubt, much more difficult than Cervantes'. My obliging predecessor did not spurn the collaboration of chance; his method of composition for the immortal book was a bit à la diable, and he was often swept along by the inertia of the language and the imagination. I have assumed the mysterious obligation to reconstruct, word for word, the novel that for him was spontaneous. ...In addition to the first two artificial constraints there is another, inherent to the project. Composing the Quixote in the early seventeenth century was a reasonable, necessary, perhaps even inevitable undertaking; in the early twentieth, it is virtually impossible. Not for nothing have three hundred years elapsed, freighted with the most complex events. Among those events, to mention but one, is the Quixote itself." (2)

Therefore the crux of this attempt at reconstruction (which, by the way, ultimately remains incomplete - how could it be otherwise?) is the space that exists between the two apparently identical works - which, in reality are actually different thanks to the time and space that separate them. This space makes it possible for us to renew our perception of the original as well as to perceive what has been created from it, because we are actually between the two.

With stubborn intensity, Martin Pfahler's work turns this in-between space into an aesthetic space for thought that not only connects the model with its imitation but also separates them. Early on, after his first attempts at painting, the artist solidified this fundamental working method by actually referring to architecture, or more precisely, to the architectural intersection between the public and private spheres. Passantenabwicklung (1992) announced this interest at an early phase and, at the same time, gradually led the artist away from a purely pictorial form of expression to a spatial form of presentation, which the artist later turned into a form of accessible space. For Passantenabwicklung, Pfahler first photographed a passerby on the street, and then copied different sections of her coat twenty-four times onto transparent paper. He then made this into patterned wallpaper, which was pasted onto the wall. Pfahler also covered an open cardboard box with this wallpaper and affixed it to the wall at a diagonal angle, turning the work into a three-dimensional projection into space.

Even at this early stage, it is evident how much Pfahler's artistic process is fundamentally marked by a gesture of dialectic ambivalence. The moment of passing, of transition, is the moment at which the real bodies of the passersby are photographed. On one hand, the bodies lose corporeality when they become a flat, paper pattern; on the other, the decorated cardboard box provides them with a new physical volume. Just as contradictory is the treatment of the public space, which is turned into a metaphor by the coats of the passersby and a cardboard box, modelled after a garbage can. For one, the public sphere becomes part of the interior, "domestic" wallpaper, and second, the entire constellation is alienated due to the patterned wallpaper, which obviously comes from the outside world, and the allusive wallpaper projection, which seems to be out of place in the context. Nevada Schauplatz (1993) also features the collage characteristics of Passantenabwicklung. Here, Pfahler photographed a casino, whose glass plates reflected the rows of buildings opposite it. Because the architecture in the picture was ultimately made into an appliqué and placed in a shop window facing Kempinski Plaza, it had to be made to fit the frame of the window. So the photo was first cut up with a pair of scissors into raw, individual pieces and then taped back together again to achieve the correct proportions. Afterward, at a copy shop, the collage was blown up into a larger size - 3 x 8 metres - and then immediately installed on the site.

In street refuge, an installation that Pfahler created in 1994 for the Drahtwerke in Nuremberg, the transition to a process dealing with pure space is not only completed, but it is clear that the artist's signature is more systematic, as it turns to the analysis of models. Street refuge consists of twenty-four segments as well as fragments of fruit crates found on the street. Pfahler has not only rebuilt them accurately for the show, but has also utilized pieces of cast plaster to literally materialize their empty spaces. Thus the fruit crates function as metaphoric models: they mirror public space and the quality of being transportable, of being a passenger, and they also represent the transition from functional object to useless refuse. Furthermore, as crates, they represent the notion that space is a container that can be filled with very different shapes and characteristics, as Manfred Pernice has shown with the example of the can.(3)

The mood of the work is balanced; it is somewhere between a topographical model with Minimalist allusions and an installation made of found objects. One might also say that its drive to clarify, to purify, is just as strong as its tendency toward impurity, to something charged with ordinariness. In addition, the work seems to link space and body in a dialectic concerning its simultaneous de-materialization - one is almost tempted to say its ghostly quality, which is an essential factor in all of Pfahler's most recent works. Significantly, street refuge reproduces this phenomenon, first in the shape of the crates, which, as models of real crates, are something like their own echo, and second, in the material reference to their emptiness made by the additional plaster forms, which themselves create physical volume where there is actually only a void.

The artist called his exhibition in the Berlin ACUD Gallery in 1996 Niemandsland. It is basically a good description of the areas where Pfahler conducted his investigations. The sites he looked at are undefined zones, peripheries transformed into constellations that precisely balance their functional solidity and sculptural, model-like qualities. This balancing act becomes especially specific in the artist's thoughtful reference to the faceless, functional architecture of the 1970s, as he systematically reverses the categories of inside and outside so that their contrasts are totally dissolved in the work. PIT STOP, created in 1998 for the FOE 156 in Munich, shows a lighted, grid-shaped ceiling structure made of cardboard and pressboard, apparently propped up by wooden supports. Its title and design make it seem plausible that this piece might be part of a gas station or an auto repair shop from the 1970s. However, ultimately, the artist is more interested in how this possible original reality is shifted and perhaps re-invented when the materials are appropriated and turned into a model, while in the process utilizing the notion of their transposition.

This is also why the architectural horizon of the 1970s is so important for Pfahler's artistic thinking: because the obsession with efficiency and function contained in this kind of architecture is the perfect setting - in his eyes - in which to expose this efficiency to a dysfunctional, model-like imagery. Pfahler's reconstruction has two sides: the deconstruction of function and the construction of the functionless become a self-sufficient mirror image. In PIT STOP, this interest can be seen in several aspects of the work. First, the grid ceiling, which, if the structure followed a conventional logic, actually ought to be carried by its wooden supports. Instead, the grid is held up - obviously - by colourful belts, which are affixed to the lights on the ceiling above it. Thus the two ceilings form a strange meta-space between interior and exterior. Second, de-functionalization is also expressed in the fact that the grid ceiling appears once again as part of a model of a piece of the gallery corridor, although this time, there are no supports, and the grid is apparently slightly askew, placed at a slant in the corridor.
With this double reconstruction, Pfahler succeeds in establishing the room as an interim space. Everything we see, all the space we occupy, is codified twice: connected with the reality from which it was taken, and at the same time, autonomized, becoming a kind of pure model whose suggestive powers also partially come from the fact that, although it is accessible, it still functions like an intangible image. Pfahler intensifies the ambivalent status of his work - between model, space, and image by taking parts of the rooms in which he works and partially reproducing them in an act of reconstructive construction. Thus he questions the status of the original real space as well as that of the model space.

# RIFF dates from 2000 and was also made for the FOE 156 gallery. It is exemplary in showing the differing levels of reality that can be interwoven. Basically, a part of the gallery corridor was shortened and closed off with a wall. Models of other parts of the corridor walls were then built in another section of the gallery, employing a classic building technique that involves sheets of aluminum and dry wall. These two models were placed so that they rested lightly upon each other, creating a rectangle open to one side. As Pfahler writes, RIFF # FOE 156 is" accessible fragment of the gallery erected inside the gallery itself." (4) In what at first appears to be a simple, allusive act of reconstruction and transfer, the artist poses a riddle or two. For one, the inner and outer sides are designed as separate elements, which are also transposed in the spatial logic. For another, he added five windows at different points in the walls, which are closed with green cardboard blinds. These do not exist in the real gallery and thus they clearly underscore the imaginary tendencies of the work. Thus the reconstruction becomes the construction of a meta-space, which in remaining recognizable as a derivative from reality is closely connected to solid reality, and on the other hand, it makes it impossible to consistently re-translate it back into the real situation.

In the midst of these fragments of wall and space, the visitor feels a little bit as if he were in a surreal situation. He is in a real space and at the same time, in a partial reconstruction of the space, whose walls, however, display not only their outer sides, but also the inner sides, which are normally not seen. The building technique proves to be appropriate here, because it aids the emphatic confusion over the real status of the walls. After all, as the rapid change in any interior, such as offices, supermarkets, or other similar spaces show, dry wall is, in a complicated way, nothing more than the coincidence between architecture and the simulation of architecture. Pfahler created another variation of # RIFF in 2002 for the 2yk Gallery in Berlin. Here, too, the artist works with a comparision between exact spatial relations and free invention. However, unlike the earlier example, the walls now appear to be 50-centimetre-wide hollow bodies, which do not resemble stages as much as they do a sculptural, architectural setting. In modifying these walls - the way they open and fold - the artist compares them with inside-out gloves. One slips them on and discovers that the inside is on the outside and so the whole thing appears in a different light, even though they are actually the same gloves. It is precisely this shift that interests Pfahler: it is the insistence upon the reality and pragmatism of the space at hand that allows the image of the space to be altered, and a few deliberate modifications give the image in turn a reality that transforms the fundamental reality of the space.

Translation: Allison Plath-Moseley
1 Jorge Luis Borges, "Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote," Jorge Luis Borges. Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley (Penguin Putnam Inc., New York: 1998) 91.
2 Borges, 92-3.
3 Hanne Loreck, "street refuge - ein Modell," Martin Pfahler, Drahtwerke, catalog, (Nuremberg: 1994) 3.
4 From an unpublished project description by Martin Pfahler.