Peter Kogler

Since the last Documenta in Kassel, where his ant wallpaper was installed in the entrance hall of the Friedericianum, many people have formed a fixed idea of Peter Kogler’s work, tending to see in it a variation on certain themes rather than their further development. He has often used computer-generated ant, brain, or tube motifs as basic modules to form paths that fork mazelike across the walls, creating an even allover structure.

Depending on which interpretation one subscribes to, one may prefer to speak either of coherence or dearth of ideas in Kogler’s work. His Secession show, in any case, marked a change in his decorative system. While the wall piece built on his now-familiar tubular motif, here it occurred at more irregular intervals and assumed a greater plasticity. Kogler seemed for the first time to give up his tidy orthogonal structure, so that the tubes darting obliquely over the walls gave a greater impression of instability, producing a strongly architectonic and spatial illusion—tubes seeming to leap forward and backward animating the entire space—rather than the flattened effect of the earlier works. Although Kogler, as always, simply papered his motifs onto the walls, the work seemed almost to explode the strict spatial organization of the Olbrich building, its spectacular effect like a Sol LeWitt wall drawing morphing into a Vito Acconci installation.

The nearly sacral Jugendstil architecture of the Secession building has often inspired very particular responses from artists. Many have simply failed to find an appropriate way to work with the special character of the space, or have at least been forced to alter their plans. Kogler’s canny solution allowed him to gain control of the space without violating it. One can’t help wondering, however, whether the work extended beyond a spectacular formalism. Those who see Kogler as commenting on the tightening nets of the information society will probably read an intimation of an impending electronic disaster into the impression of a collapsing structure, while others who have up until now admired his orderly use of repetition and compositional balance will probably complain of an excess of illusionism.

The wall installation here was undoubtedly convincing from a formal standpoint. But Kogler also included an interactive video work, which featured a monitor showing a similar system of tubes in motion, so that the viewer facing it was recorded, his image “sucked up” on the monitor into one or another tube. One was forced to choose between the two possible interpretations of Kogler’s work: either we were dealing here with pure, more-or-less entertaining technoplay, or yet another narrative of the individual subject caught in the web of communication, a victim of the manipulative potential of information society. Neither reading is terribly exciting. The one glimmer of hope lay in the possibility that Kogler aimed to ironically depict, via the latest technology, the banality that was for once eluded by his wall installation.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.