Daniel Pflumm, Hallo TV—FFM, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 60 minutes 46 seconds.

Daniel Pflumm, Hallo TV—FFM, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 60 minutes 46 seconds.

Daniel Pflumm

Daniel Pflumm’s exhibition at Galerie Neu—his first solo show in fifteen years at his Berlin gallery, featuring his first new video works in more than a decade—had the makings of a comeback. Pflumm built a reputation in the club scene of post-1989 Berlin, launching the now-legendary techno venues Elektro and Panasonic. By the turn of the millennium, he was gaining more and more recognition in the art world, which thrilled to his fast-cut videos and light boxes with gutted brand logos. Then, suddenly, the artist disappeared from view. A lot has happened since then: The city, technology, and the world at large have all undergone wrenching changes. In this exhibition, Pflumm, whose art always injected a pop-culture emphasis into the notion of “contemporary” while leveraging a critique of the world of shiny surfaces and brands, reflected on those changes in a way that acknowledged the time passed, yet managed to stay true to his roots.

Pflumm partitioned the gallery’s main space into two separate rooms. In the first, the video Kindercountry, 2019 (the titular chocolate bar came on the market in 1989), cautiously updated the trademark style of his earlier videos, at least technically speaking: He now works in HD and shows on flat screens. Everything else was more or less as it used to be: the ultra-repetitive metallic sounds of a techno audio track, the found footage from television advertisements, and the ostensibly subversive critique of consumerism. Stock imagery—of health and beauty products for her, toys for the kids, cars and liquor for him—was intercut in a delirious collage, culminating in a grotesque sequence of explosions. The gentle air of anachronism—television?—that surrounded the piece was the small price Pflumm was willing to pay for signal consistency, integrity, and credibility. Or perhaps this was deliberate, a means of quoting himself?

Presented in an even more nostalgic setting—a movie screening room complete with stale air, wall-to-wall carpeting, rows of German Democratic Republic–era folding chairs, and ashtrays—the video Hallo TV—FFM, 2019, is the artist’s longest to date (with a running time of just over an hour), and is based entirely on footage he recorded himself. The elegiac, almost meditative images were shot from various buildings and rooftops in Frankfurt am Main, whose acronym provides the work’s subtitle. Created with help from Hallo TV, Pflumm’s production collective from the 1990s, this film—again accompanied by sepulchral techno and ambient music—captures the infrastructure of international financial capitalism at its German center. Like props in a puppet theater, trains pull into a station, cars snake through streets, and factory smokestacks dramatically punctuate clouds. But the film’s true protagonists are the facades of the surrounding skyscrapers. The camera sweeps and scans these architectonic outer skins of global capital, which reflect the sun during the day and the headlights of cars at night. With a voyeuristic curiosity, it keeps trying to zoom in on office workers pulling late shifts behind illuminated windows. The perspective is that of an outsider—until, toward the end, an abrupt cut reveals the empty office suite from which the camera is staring out at the city.

This video doesn’t flaunt its contemporary production values nearly as much as Kindercountry does, yet it was here that the exhibition most fully brought the present moment into focus. Whereas Kindercountry plied the “classical” perspective of Pflumm’s former videos to near perfection—the strategic inside-outside of subversive infiltration that literally ends by blowing it all up from within—we were now confronted with the question of complicity. As we watched, were we not transported back to a musty screening room, grafted like an aged second skin into the slick gallery space, marking the latter as an infrastructure of global capitalism much like the surfaces the video sizes up? This double-edged self-consciousness extended to the artist’s own story. In a precise gesture, two-way mirrors were embedded in the lateral wall, so that, from the dark, we could observe others in the front room watching a video made in the trademark style of an artist named Daniel Pflumm.

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.