Peter Robinson

Galerie Kapinos

Born in New Zealand a descendant of the Maori, Peter Robinson has been living in Germany for several years now. His work has been represented at the Johannesburg (1997) and Venice (2001) biennials and more recently in exhibitions like Media_City Seoul and the 8th Baltic Triennial of International Art in Vilnius, both last year. Undoubtedly, Robinson fits the profile of the artist as global player; he is a “migrateur” in the emphatic sense in which curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist used the term at the end of the ’90s. As might be expected, Robinson has been enormously interested in examining the new divisions and conflicts that have arisen since September 2001. One result has been the twenty-five drawings on view in Berlin, of which a dozen are large-format with roughly hewn lines: a diary under construction that at times recalls Raymond Pettibon’s contribution to Documenta 11 but which comes from an entirely different direction. Robinson is not portraying the contradictions in the clash of ideologies; rather, his own production is bound up in its ambivalences. He is aware that he may be seen as an exotic, yet in his visual language he identifies entirely with Western pop culture.

To that end, Robinson makes use of familiar icons: He uses Johnny Cash as a symbol of the lonesome cowboy, his projection of autonomy making him a role model for the contemporary artist, and Darth Vader to embody our culture’s fascination with conspiracy theories; to Osama bin Laden he attributes the statement “Michael Jackson rocks” in the form of a comic-strip speech bubble. Only contradictory statements remain possible, though these exist simultaneously: “No more expressionism!” is countered with “No less expressionism!”; elsewhere, a beer bottle is accompanied by the comment “failed work.” For Robinson, the process of drawing is defined by precisely this confusion: Everything depicted in it is in danger of being taken for the artist’s viewpoint but since Robinson himself lacks coherent identity, the work has to document itself as a failure.

At the same time, loss of identity is always the subject being depicted—a vicious circle, but a productive one. Thus Robinson can make reference to Philip Guston’s round heads by appropriating them in a “kiwi style,” with bristly hair. Guston, too, had reached the point in his career when the need to contradict the expectations of others made it impossible for him to work abstractly anymore. The conflict is similar for Robinson: At the Venice Biennale in 2001, he represented New Zealand with complex installations joining cybernetic models with premodern Maori myths. The binary 0/1 model of computer logic played a role as a religious symbol for describing divine beings. In his new works, Robinson searches through the trash of everyday culture to find objects of indeterminate status within the high- and lowbrow formations of society. Pornography becomes associated with Stephen Hawking’s theory of “black holes”—an obscene schoolyard joke, but it has significance beyond the vulgar pun: The black hole is, in fact, characterized by both presence and absence; it can be detected but not directly perceived. Taking advantage of the play between textual commentary and concrete images, Robinson loads all his drawings with metaphor. They are about weathering the contradictions that arise from the mixing of cultures. For him, equanimity and vexation about this state of affairs go hand in hand.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.