Peter Piller

Barbara Wien, Berlin, Germany

Peter Piller is known for presenting images collated from his personal archive of photographs, magazines and newspaper cuttings. Using the power of repetition, he gives new meaning to news clippings of houses in which crimes have been committed or aerial photographs of people washing their cars. In his solo show, ‘Behind Time’, however, Piller presents two sets of works that he has created himself: photographs of birds taken in the wild, punctuated by doodles and collages on headed paper.

The exhibition is dominated by the large bird photographs – or, more accurately, landscape photographs with birds. In Piller’s images, hawks, crows, kestrels and woodpeckers are obscured by grasses, hidden behind branches and, more often than not, blurred or cropped as they flee the frame. The tiny kingfisher in Eisvogel (Kingfisher, all works 2017) becomes an iridescent insect, its blue-bottle belly bright against the gun-metal grey of the blurred river. In Mäusebussard (Buzzard), below a silver sky, the buzzard is all wing, arched into the black silhouette of an electric pylon.

web_pp_fv04_maeusebussard_2017_80x120.jpg

Peter Piller, Mäusebussard (Buzzard) 2017, archival pigment print, framed, 85 x 125 x 4 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin

Peter Piller, Mäusebussard (Buzzard) 2017, archival pigment print, framed, 85 x 125 x 4 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin

In an interview with Piller presented at the exhibition, much is made of the fact that the images fail as conventional wildlife photographs. Yet while they do not reflect the high-definition pictures that saturate glossy nature magazines, the fleeting glimpses that Piller offers are much more successful representations of the human experience of birds than those presented in the likes of National Geographic. We never see merlins swooping open-winged towards us; we never see kingfishers pincering fish, enveloped in glittering, beaded water. We experience birds fleetingly, as blurred apparitions and half-obscured shapes in the trees, their bodies and heads hidden under folding wings. Piller’s birds are not anthropomorphized but fully themselves: transitory, distant, elusive, in all senses flighty.

In previous exhibitions, Piller has redacted textual information from East German military magazines, for instance, to alter our perception of the images presented. In ‘Behind Time’ the opposite technique is employed. We discover through the accompanying texts that the genesis of the photographic series was his ten-year-old son’s desire to take up bird watching with his father. When, as an adolescent, his son abandoned the shared project, the artist carried on alone. Piller suggests nothing so trite as a direct connection between his son ‘flying the nest’ and the birds flying from his photographs, but it is impossible not to read a certain pathos into images that capture the joyful transience of birds, long a metaphor for the fleeting nature of time.

web_pp_zeichnung_stabiles-traumgebilde_12-16.jpg

Peter Piller, Stabiles Traumgebilde, 2016, indian ink and color pencil on paper, 30 x 21 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin

Peter Piller, Stabiles Traumgebilde, 2016, indian ink and color pencil on paper, 30 x 21 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin

Piller’s text also reveals that these pictures are a refinement rather than a departure from his archival works. For the bird watcher, the photograph is not the objective; it is a record, a verification that a given species of bird has been spotted. As in action painting, the images are a residue of the actual work; in this case, it is one of watchful anticipation, which, as Piller states, ‘is an active rather than a passive state’.

The sketches dotted around the large colour photographs accentuate the sense of time passing, the ephemera of a life lived waiting and watching. The works – made on headed paper from the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig, where Piller teaches, and from the Leipzig hotel where he stays – are hard-to-read, feverish doodles, reminiscent of surrealist automatic drawings, suggesting human figures, voids, chained hearts, crowds and quays. Together with the photographs, an image emerges of an artist waiting alone in hides for birds, sitting in lengthy academic meetings, bored in hotel rooms, the passions of his life – his art, his family – in other locations, in other times. In the context of Piller’s wider practice, it makes the exhibition particularly humane, personal, touching even.

Peter Piller, ‘behind time’ runs at Barbara Wien, Berlin, until 17 February.

Main image: Peter Piller, Teichrohrsänger (Reed-Warbler), 2017, (detail), archival pigment print, framed, 65 x 95 x 4 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin

Ben Fergusson is a writer and translator and teaches at the University of Potsdam. His debut novel The Spring of Kasper Meier won the Betty Trask Prize and the HWA Debut Crown and in 2015 he was shortlisted for The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. His second novel, The Other Hoffmann Sister was published by Little, Brown in 2017.

Issue 194

First published in Issue 194

April 2018

Most Read

In further news: white supremacist vandals attack Rothko Chapel; Israeli minister bans art produced in solidarity with...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
The US writer, who died last week, brought a quality of inestimable importance to the modern novel: a mind that was...
The $21M painting was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction
Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018