London

Peter Fend

Marc Jancou Gallery

Alternately Mr. Passionately-Disposed-Man-with-a-Plan or the all-time Olympian Nerd, Peter Fend’s presence on the shop floor enables him to constitute his scenario as a series of “multiple originals,” turning a potentially static display of maps and models into a chameleonlike facade of information and orientations.

Fend allies himself with architects because architecture is the field of social practice that encompasses his ideals and ambitions most completely. Architecture counts because it is the fundamental experience of our environment. Fend knows this and is fond of quoting a remark attributed to Alberti: that an architect’s responsibility is to build cities with clean air and clean water. Fend’s cooptation of the visionary rhetoric prefiguring a unifying social and political role for architecture and megascale engineering works is meant to place those and similarly far-reaching issues back on the agenda.

According to Fend, those responsible for our built environment should take a page out of the artist’s book. The corollary to this suggests that the artist’s imagination is woefully constrained by the gallery and the museum. Fend consistently draws on the ideology of art heroes such as Robert Smithson and Joseph Beuys, artists who responded analogously to the intolerable narrowness of the art world by colonizing it with alien scientific and political ideas. The works of these two figures—and others associated with so-called Land Art—frequently inform Fend’s Ocean-Earth scenarios, themselves a conglomeration of speculative construction projects that are global in scope, humongous in scale.

Fend’s redrawing of the map of the world would have reduced Ayn Rand to tears. In the two scenarios that form the basis of Fend’s exhibition, we find fascinating alternatives to the environmental impact and potentially devastating economic damage of a proposed megahydroelectric dam and flood-control project in China and a potentially invigorating intervention along the Aegean coast of Macedonia. Unfortunately, Fend disavowed the exhibition almost immediately after it opened because the gallery owner allegedly censored one of its major components. It’s a funny world where someone so obsessed with the concept of autonomy and so savvy about global hegemony can be sunk by a mere gallerist.

Fend has bigger fish to fry, and is always happy to explain how oil and water do mix, geopolitically speaking. The cozy relationship between the petroleum industry and the government of the day is not news. Since Fend holds essentially a conspiracy theorist’s view of history and social change, he tends to focus more on the global reach of “spooks” and “spectres” than on social activism. In his view, dominance is seamless, U.S. power absolute, and a sexy take on world events is more compelling than a slog through the archives. According to Fend’s most recent theory, the disintegration of Yugoslavia was a direct consequence of attempting to avert the Gulf War. The dismemberment of Yugoslavia—like Lebanon before it—was a reminder to any and all nation-states that coalition-building that threatens the control of Gulf resources is undertaken at great risk.

I don’t know what irritates me more about Fend’s attitude: his endless narration of international plots the likes of which would send John le Carré lunging for the Percodan, or his sheer lack of political common sense. At times it sounds as though he believes that if everyone simply saw the elegant truth and efficiency of his propositions, there would be no rational basis for resistance to his projects. Like so many technovisionaries before him, his enthusiasm for modernization and change encourages a naïveté that blinds him to the power of admittedly anachronistic political ideas. This is a deadly flaw when you are preaching the abolition of nation-states in favor of radically different entities founded mainly on the interpretive discoveries of oceanographers, geologists, and the like.

Michael Corris