Dan Peterman

Kunstverein Hannover / Helga Maria Klosterfelde

Dan Peterman’s work comes from a brick building in Chicago (“the Building”), whose precincts housed a self-managed recycling yard, a bicycle repair shop, the publishers of a journal (The Baffler), a community service organization, and guest studios, as well as Peterman’s own work space. Peterman continually alternates between the production processes typical of the Building and those of the art industry. For example, the gray-greenish plastic from which he makes his variable object groups and which has become his signature was made there in the recycling center. After the Building burned down, on April 25, 2001, he documented the fire’s destructive effects in the series of photographs shown in Hamburg—this was Peterman’s first photographic exhibition—alongside meticulous detail shots, rescued from the flames, of rooms in the Building stuffed with recyclable found objects. The unexpected combination of the two groups of images documents an artistic environment and its destruction, which then became a political matter. The city had already wanted to demolish the Building, and only after a five-month legal battle—and numerous letters from curators testifying to the Building’s unique significance for Peterman’s exemplary political art praxis—did he receive permission to renovate it himself.

Given Peterman’s ecological interests, one imagines that the title of his Hannover exhibition, “7 Deadly Sins and Other Stories,” refers to sins against the environment. Peterman designed the exhibition around seven “islands” made of discarded furniture, each containing the same component parts (table, chair, pitcher, mirror, carpet, bookcase, and refrigerator). Whether everyone will perceive the nominally worthless materials fished out of the garbage as provocative when exhibited in an art context is not the point here. Rather, it is the atmosphere of privacy evoked by the ensembles of used furniture that communicates a sense of hopelessness within the circulation of goods, of rapid devaluation in a consumer society. Archive (for 57 people), 1998, a functional room module—shelves, stools, and a kind of applied parquet floor—made by recycling the plastic used in the course of a year by fifty-seven people living in the USA, takes the transformation of materials to yet another level and shows how recycling can add value to them. The wood-grain texture of the surface and the gestalt of the objects, derived from the canonical forms of Minimalist art, combine the expectations of the private environment of domesticity with those of the art industry.

Like Nils Norman, Peterman uses irony to thematize art’s inability to generate a practical, political effect. In Finishing Room (cheese), 1999, Peterman used a greenhouse—which in its very name refers to what is potentially the greatest ecological catastrophe of our time—to store a local artisan’s organic goat cheese far beyond its natural aging process, producing a predictably strong odor and the deliquescence of the cheese. In Excerpts from the Universal Lab (plan b), 2000, he used curious objects found in an unofficial amateur laboratory that has emerged as a self-contained realm within the established science community at the University of Chicago. With old-fashioned instruments borrowed from this lab, Peterman transferred the idea of alternative research to the world of art. He arranged the vast and minutely detailed collection of scientific paraphernelia according to formal aesthetic criteria, thus tucking the chaotic collection of materials into a fictitious artistic system. The painstaking negotiations with the university for permission to exhibit the materials echo the battles over the Building. The institutional resistance against which Peterman struggles represents a part of his political praxis, and this in turn suggests a contemporary form of institutional critique.

Nina Möntmann

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.