Manfred Pernice

A faint, unmistakable odor filled the air: sawdust. As a recipient of the Piepenbrock Sculpture Prize 2000, Manfred Pernice actually set up an atelier in the Hamburger Bahnhof. By adding freshly cut sculptures to completed pieces, the Berlin-based artist essentially transformed his award exhibition into a work in progress. Those who attended only the opening ended up missing most of the show.

Although the studio was located within the exhibition space, Pernice did not turn the exhibition into a performance. The artist’s working space remained off-limits to the public, its entry sealed with a padlock. Apart from the scent of sawdust, a green industrial dust collector was the only other evident sign of production. Pernice’s preference for building materials—chipboard, pressed wood and plywood, often secondhand, sometimes painted, and occasionally decorated with images—made all of his efforts look equally unfinished. The walk-in construction Europa, 1998-99, seemed to be an ongoing attempt to figure out where to install a window; two squares were cut out and carefully framed, only to be filled in with wood (the glass ended up on a solid wall beside them, reflecting the sculpture’s surroundings). The decision to incorporate the atelier, however inconspicuously, was appropriate to the makeshift nature of Pernice’s work. It also fit his evident penchant for adding impromptu spaces to the museum walls. Drilled holes appeared, like the traces of a bygone exhibition, near the images and texts collected for Dosentreff ’00 (Can meeting ’00), 2000, a congregation of wooden canisters. In another room, a large rectangular section was removed from a wall, revealing the supporting frames inside, all nicked by a saw.

Pernice’s interventions, whatever their scale, manifest a sense of determination and precision, but no evident purpose, nor hope for use—like the work of a builder who has lost the master plan and is hoping to be guided by memoire involontaire. Found texts, photographs, old advertisements, even posters for the artist’s own exhibitions were arranged haphazardly on the walls, emphasizing the associative and historical nature of Pernice’s work. Printed excerpts from an interview with the collector Hartwig Piepenbrock made an evident reference to the sculptor’s benefactor; color snapshots of a forest and a house in the country were more ambiguous. These fragmentary signs of the past appeared as so many attempts to unite personal and collective memory while resisting the prepackaged nostalgia proper to memorabilia.

By including the time and place of production within the exhibition space, Pernice ultimately questions the finality of an artwork as well as its reception. The marks of hesitation on the canisters—an unpainted or a missing section—underscore the precarious nature of the creative process while frustrating any desire to see the pieces as identical. By refusing to transform his work into a performance, Pernice created the possibility for a more subtle, less clear-cut interaction with viewers, who were often unsure whether or not they could walk on his uncanny constructions or sit in the secondhand chairs casually placed in the exhibition space. No matter how industrialized and hermetic Pernice’s sculptures may seem, they bear the traces of an attempt to explore both a personal and collective unconscious process.

Jennifer Allen