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Peles Empire

In this week's issue of the Zeit Leben magazine I stumbled upon an article on the London based art project Peles Empire which has its origins in Frankfurt (Main) and consists of Barbara Wolff (cf. http://www.artnet.com/artist/425095591/barbara-wolff.html) , Katharina Stöver, and Marc Cohen.
The name of the group derives from a Romanian castle which was built in the late 19th century. Peles Castle shares features with seemingly each and every castle built in any of the relevant architectural styles of the last five centuries, which puts it into an ancestry line with "Schloss Neuschwanstein" (cf. http://www.neuschwanstein.de/english/castle/rooms/index.htm) or Cardiff Castle (cf. http://www.cardiffcastle.com/castle.htm).

The group's link to the castle is Wolff who was born in Romania. The main achievement of the group can be seen in contributing to the revampment of the so called "Salonkultur" (parlour culture), a development that has already been recognised by German public mainstream media (cf. http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/kulturheute/724194/).
Peles Empire use high resolution print-outs of the interiors of Peles Castle to decorate the walls of rooms (e.g. a Brick Lane room in London). The impression created is surprisingly convincing, if only on print and for a few seconds (cf. Zeit Leben, 14 (2008). 52f.).

Quickly, Peles Empire (the place in London) became a hub of the local art scene, a development that has been both celebrated and criticised in Britain (cf. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1781661,00.html).

From a philosophical point of view the project can be seen as the culmination point of the postmodern paradigm of the dominance of the image. After all, there seems to be some validity to the Baudrillarian (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baudrillard) proposition concerning The Evil Demon of Images, a concept hated on as much as on any Baudrilliarian idea, especially by analytical philosophers like the lesser known Richard Hanley who devoted an astonishing amount of thought and time to Baudrillard although he ultimately believes Baudrillard to be irrelevant (cf. http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_fr_hanley2.html).

Glenn Ward has done a brilliant job breaking down Baudilliard's propositions into its two main compartments
1. The reference principle of images must be doubted.
2. Images precedes the real to the extent that they invert the causal and logical order of the real and its reproduction (Ward, Glenn Postmodernism. London: Hodder Education, 2003, 66-74. )

1. That images do not refer to the real world should be old news by now. Even moderate theorists agree that they don't do directly. I will not go into detail concerning the dominance of the image, manipulation of impressions, and the role of digital image-editing. Been there, done that (cf. http://stefanweisshampel.de/test/the_blogs/archive_stefan.php?recordID=21).
2. However, the second proposition seems to be a bit more daring and possibly needs some further clarification. As Ward puts it:

"The big paradox in Baudrillard's work is that, while simulations are emancipated from any reference to reality, they are nevertheless firmly embedded in our lives. They may not refer to some natural, unsimulated reality, but they do have very real effect."

Hanley might think that "there’s a consensus amongst analytic philosophers that post-modernism is largely self-indulgent, self-important bunk,[...]." (Hanley, http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_fr_hanley2.html) and Baudrilliard surely is a kind of figure-head of this very school of thought. But is the idea stated above really self-indulgent, self-important bunk? Did you ever overhear a conversation in town that sounded like audio-copy-and-paste from a soap opera? There you go. Deeply embedded into our daily lives although the template used is an artificial reproduction without original.

Looking at Peles Emire, one gets the impression that the whole project can be described as an aesthetic representation of Baudrillarian thinking. Places like Peles Castle, Neuschwanstein, and Cardiff Castle are already examples of simulacra. All those places worship an aesthetic ideal--and ultimately a society and a time-- which never really existed, safe in the mind of its creators. Peles Empire takes the romantic 19th century images of medieval times, and re-reproduces them using 0 and 1 only.

In an art.tv production (cf. http://stefanweisshampel.de/test/youtubes.php) Wolff makes her artistic- and philosophical ancestry line perfectly clear: "The very idea is to copy without any inhibition whatsoever and to arrange those fragments within a completely different context." What has been done more or less unconsciously in in the 19th century now is the main theme: reproduction and, of course, the imperfectness that necessarily comes with it.

The reproduction of historical epochs was doomed to fail in the 19th century and is even more so today. In her Zeit Leben article on Peles Empire Julia Grosse describes how the artists trawled through numerous coffee-table books to find images whose resolution would allow to create something which only for a few seconds and on a superficial look creates the illusion of authenticity of the inauthentic. Yet, the partly blistered wallpapers quickly discover the camouflage. However the cultural history of copying has become the central theme in art that it should be. A cultural practice as dominant as copy-and-paste is today simply has to be.

Using the Baudrilliarian ideas discussed above, Peles Empire not only discuss questions of copyright and intellectual property, but also challenge their own project. The 2008 London version of the "Salonkultur" (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geistesadel) can hardly be described as a new idea. (Just like its role model). However, wallpapers and interiors suggest ironic brackets around Peles Emires own reproduction of an intellectual and artistic elite that –as such– has never really existed. So, is "copy-andn-paste" the leitmotif of our time? Peles Empire do not provide you with a ready-made answer, but at least you start thinking about the question.
2008-04-08 17:32:55