Piotr Nathan

Galerie Dorrie/Priess

Piotr Nathan, a 31-year-old native of Poland who has lived in West Germany since 1978, has attracted much attention with his unusual exhibitions. Most of these have been staged in out-of-the-way “nonspaces,” such as former factory premises or buildings waiting to be torn down. Nearly all of his objects and installations somehow refer to space. In 1985, in an empty house near Hamburg’s railroad station, he put on Ein in Elle verlassenes Haus (A house abandoned in haste). This was an attempt to reconstruct the story of the family that had left this place, to look for their shadows and capture them pictorially. First he cut out their silhouettes from old family photos, which he traced onto wallpaper that matched the pattern on the walls; then he cut out these wallpaper figures, which he attached to the wall with just enough of a gap between them and the wall so that they cast shadows around their own contours. After that, Nathan took photos of his wallpaper shadows to a souvenir maker in Berlin and had him reproduce the photos on souvenir plates, just like a kitschy declaration of love. He then hung these plates on a stretch of wallpaper. The gold edge of each plate frames the souvenir picture of a souvenir picture.

The picture of a picture, the shadow of a shadow—these refractions appear throughout Nathan’s oeuvre. In this exhibition he showed these side by side, creating tensions by means of conflicting images and surprising titles. He has recently made several works consisting of a series of bizarre insectlike forms, each barely larger than a postcard, which he cut out of phonograph records. He hopes that the idea of creating this collection of exotic creatures by destroying cultural artifacts that are normally handled with kid gloves will offend the viewer’s sensibility. One of these works, entitled Snowflakes, 1987, with its suggestion of melting ephemerality, was adjacent to the images of human silhouettes.

A very different kind of work shown here consists of a narrow, two-legged section of a chair that is secured in an upright position by a brick “staircase”—in other words, the silhouette of a chair held in a brick wall. The wall moves toward the chair, climbs up its back, weighs down on the chair, and casts the shadow of a staircase on the wall. It is called Mit Blick aufs Gebirge (With a view of the mountain range, 1981/86). The same theme is explored in a drawing in which he drew a chair on a staircase, as in Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. These are part of a series of such chairs that Nathan did over a considerable period of time. Like journal entries, the chairs—drawings, objects, or models—helped him to translate moods and associations with childhood memories. The chairs are linked to his recollection of an old woman who sat in semidarkness like a shadow until her children came home. Unable to move from her chair, she had to wait until the children switched on the light.

Nathan uses dark thread or string in some of his works, for example, in Vorstellungsgespräche (Introducing talks, 1986).In his drawings, he often appears to weave a similar network of filaments—a web of seemingly random lines that produces a figure, a face. In those threads and lines, Nathan sees a yearning for meaning and harmony, for communication.

Doris von Drateln

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.