Peter Fend

Tanja Grunert / Christian Nagel / Esther Schipper

Is he an anarchist, an ultraliberal marketing expert, or simply living proof that the two types are interwoven—especially in America? During the past summer and fall, Peter Fend—as ego, as part of OECD (Ocean-Earth Construction and Development Corporation), as artist, as entrepreneur of planned multinational art corporations aiming to make the world better through artistic means—traveled between Cologne, Frankfurt, and Paris. Always holding a new conspiracy theory, he introduced himself and his permanent preoccupation with improving the world’s ecology. His blueprints and analyses, his assertions and diagnoses change only according to the facts he ascertains or the status of new conspiracy theories. Fend claims that his art is based entirely on bare facts. He sees himself as an artist who is also an architect, an ecologist, a landscape redeveloper, a traveling salesman, a member of a corporation, and, above all, a scientist.

In an installation entitled Die Totenstadt (The city of the dead; all works 1990) Fend used satellite pictures, maps, sketches, and drawings, as well as a gigantic model made of sand, moss, water, and a wooden bridge, to illustrate a proposal to redirect the courses of the Euphrates and the Tigris with a canal. This gallery-size opus is meant to be a vivid model for realizing the artist’s suggestion for making a dead region fertile. Naturally, the effect of the installation at Tanja Grunert was fueled by the international attention focusing on that region, and Fend maintains that he foresaw the Iraqi conflict. Equally original was his idea about the exposure character of satellite photographs: these pictures, capturing not only the precarious Iran/Iraq border area, but also New York, Beirut, Chernobyl, and the North Sea, are also regarded as landscape paintings. There is really no fact that Fend would not find subversive; and according to him, he is pursued by conspiracies.

Fend’s first solo exhibit (which, as he keeps emphasizing, was to be regarded as separate from the work of his OECD organization) was less ecological, yet site-specific, and political. The title of this show, which ran for only a few days at the Galerie Christian Nagel, was “Kleine Fragen” (Small questions, 1990). He showed a press photograph recording the scene of the assassination of a German state secretary, Hans Neusel, whom the press called a victim of the Red Army Faction. By investigating the visible evidence in the photos, for example, the damage to the car and to other objects, and the direction of the bomb’s impact, Fend voices his skepticism about this accusation, but without drawing any conclusions. He offers the alternative press report as well.

The third project is linked once again to the OECD. This time it is the town-planning department, which submits an “architectural program.” Städte als Körper/Cities as Bodies, 1990, is visual, strategically interesting, and teeming with models. It suggests that new methodologies of building can make headway only if functional thinking (Modernism) or eclectic and playful thinking (post-Modernism) is replaced by a new approach that follows the needs of the human body. As an expansion, enrichment, and implementation of this idea (everything, of course, still as a model displayed within the framework of the gallery), the French artists Pierre Joseph and Philippe Parreno went along with OECD’s city picture and mounted their own show at Esther Schipper, entitled “Once Upon a Time.” The models were provided with sound and video, carpets, new environmental elements, and a recliner with cushions. Here Peter Fend adopted the role of animating others to join in.

Fend maintains he is only circulating maps (pure reason, objective logic?) instead of opinions. But if we look to see what the maps chart, what they are like, and how they are circulated, his undertaking proves to be more than an artistic entity. These projects are partly grounded in theories about the art world as a multinational endeavor that ought to compete with other such projects on the basis of private enterprise. Despite the wealth of Fend’s knowledge and the breadth of his references (Joseph Beuys, Gordon Matta-Clark, Buckminster Fuller, Land Art), these efforts are intellectually (and practically) more problematic than Fend’s activities suggest. Their problematic character is tempered, at best, by Fend’s notion that facts and the publicizing of ideas and facts are not only part of a scientific endeavor, they also constitute a subversive practice cribbed from the lies of the powers that be. Thus, once again, side effects can be more interesting than central statements.

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.