You can’t escape them. They crowd into your field of vision.
They jump out at you from newspapers, TV, internet and magazines.
They sink their teeth into you. Images of nudity and nakedness are ubiquitous,
are part and parcel of the system. They’re made to be a turn-on.
They demand us to look. They want us not to just click it away. Want us to buy.
Never mind what. Anything. They are hackneyed, they are unavoidable,
they penetrate without asking. They are calculating and staged –
and yet in their very triteness they convey the message of a promise.
Among other projects, the Berlin-based artist Peter Freitag has been working on the subject of pornographic images. He is not the first. Especially Thomas Ruff’s "Nudes", digital re-workings of pornographic pictures found in the internet, have come to the attention of the public. With their Gerhard Richter blur filter-like fuzziness, they make some of the erotic ennui perceptible that the perpetual consumer of porn may experience.
"Private Stages" is what Peter Freitag calls his series, the point of departure of which is the search for pornographic photos in the internet. The artist is interested in their interiors; he is searching for that which is private, for a particular ambience, an atmosphere in space that suggests intimacy and authenticity. He is searching for pictures that bear a promise within them that as pictures they will never be able to keep – projection screens for evermore. He prints the internet pictures and then uses an unusual artistic technique: with a hole punch, he cuts small circles out of the pictures – then reassembles them as collage. Concealing and revealing at one and the same time.
By the fragmentation of that which was once whole, by combining different contexts, and creating new correlations through collage, Freitag, in this age of digital - photographic disarray, has succeeded in the use of a technically traditional but extremely effective device. The technique of collage has been chosen with precision as a way of creating a picture of the failure of pornography – pornography does not keep its promise, awakening desire that ultimately can not be satisfied.
Collage in this case is: de-collage, de-contextualization, but also re-construction. The assemblage of the small, colorful dots into new body shapes seems an appropriate response to the tangled mass of endlessly reproduced images from advertising and pornography, whose message above all is: take me. Buy me. But now there is nothing left to buy, not even to look at. In the newly collaged pictures, that which was once central has now disappeared. The body becomes distorted, disappears, dissolves, disintegrates, becomes an ornament, a decoration.
On the other hand, the surrounding objects and space take on new importance. There where a body once lay with legs spread wide, promising lasciviousness, there now lies a cluster of closely nestled dots that form a new body with their contour. But no skin is to be seen in these little round scraps. On the contrary – there is nothing but bedding, sofa coverings, or other interior surfaces that the artist has punched out of a second copy of the same picture. Before us we see staged privacy, fake pretences of a private world, modelled living space, backdrops in front of which the pornographic production is staged. But this same production has disappeared under the blade of the hole punching low-tech re-toucher. What is left is a space full of promises – and disappointed expectations.
The pictures created in this way bear fictitious but personal women’s names like "Iris", "Esther" or "Janine". They are names that Peter Freitag has affectionately be-stowed upon his anonymous models. They convey an idea of how each of these internet-women actually looks. The pictures that have been literally "emptied" now reveal their function as containers for the desires and longings of the observer. Thus, the personalized picture, "Iris", is a "projection container" of the many ideas and associations one might have of an Iris.
These works have a lot to them. The reality of pornography is still there, but the work also takes it a step further, going beyond the pornographic – and, the delight in the actual technical process is always present. When Freitag says he could hardly stop making these little collages, one takes him at his word: he is addicted to pictures, an addiction that reminds of another addiction rampant especially in the USA. Perhaps the most popular victim of this addiction (to pornographic pictures) is Anthony Kiedis, the Red Hot Chili Peppers vocalist – a man who has had completely real physical sex with the likes of Heidi Klum, Sofia Coppola, Madonna and some thousand other women. But early last year Kiedis publicly admitted to being addicted to pornography. According to a US neurologist the fault seems to lie in a particular area of the brain that is activated by pornographic images. Therefore, men have to like pornography.
But back to Freitag’s works: These small, delicately framed cut-out pictures are exquisite jewels of cultural transformation. They are linked to a long tradition of art that questions outer beauty and tears apart, cuts up, perforates that which with its hollowness, boredom and commercial exploitation no longer promises happiness for us anyway.
Peter Freitag himself uses the term "found footage" to refer to his acquisition of material from mass media for his art. The term comes from experimental film and refers to films that consist of extrinsic film material. "Why should we invent a new aesthetic when we already have one", Boris Groys rightly asks in this context. Peter Freitag cuts up pseudo-reality, cracks its cohesiveness, exposes its inner contradictions, transforms its body image, revealing the contrived quality of pornographic pictures, illustrating their failure. Yet along with all this, he manages to transport into the new picture a bit of their promise.
Boris Groys is surely right – but: why read Boris Groys when we could be browsing through this wonderful sex booklet? It’s got everything: irony, beauty, contradictions, the digital as well as the analog, art, life, sex and their opposite. As the art theorist successors of Foucault have been telling us for decades – the body is vanishing. It seems to me that someone has come and pasted over brand-new pictures, grazing dead-on this very loss.