until 21.08. | #3534ARTatBerlin | EBENSPERGER BERLIN currently presents the exhibition “Not Enough” by the artist Jens Pecho.
Throughout his life, the philosopher Herbert Marcuse described as “reification” the endeavor of consumer society to generate ever new, ever more complex desires. Instead of enjoying life in prosperity, the modern individual produces the desire for “useless things” without resistance, even compulsively. In the affluent society, Marcuse wrote in 1964 in his well-known work The One-Dimensional Man, people work not to live well but to constantly produce new goods. Bolstered by seductive and manipulative language in political discourse, advertising, and social media, the triumph of consumerism and mass culture continues to this day.
Language and manipulation are significant tools in Jens Pecho’s practice. “Not Enough” brings together works by the Berlin-based artist for the first time in a comprehensive solo gallery exhibition. In his text-based works, videos and installations, Pecho uses found material, which he isolates, brings into a new context or condenses on the content level. His interest is in an ongoing negotiation of language and its levels of meaning: How is meaning generated, what is real and what is fiction? Quotations from films, fragments of well-known songs, legal texts, empirical data, pseudo-scientific diagrams, or words taken from common usage acquire a new quality through alienation or contextual shifting that brings the subliminal to the surface and lends depth to the supposedly banal.
Like a capitalist mantra, the words “Not Enough” of the exhibition title hover over the gallery’s basement. There, in a multi-media installation, Pecho combines video, sound, and objects to create a complex spatial experience that oscillates between sacred place of worship and shopping mall. Yet our desire for redemption and immoderate consumption-as suggested by the two locations-remains unfulfilled in the end. In his video Aah, Awe and Ugh (2021), Pecho explores the historical shifts in meaning of the terms “awful” and “awesome” and, through a narrative arc of suspense, directs the viewer’s attention to the emptiness of meaning generated by inflationary use of the term “awe”-a feeling of reverential respect towards the sublime.
Scattered throughout the exhibition space are Soft Sculptures from the series Do Not Eat, Throw Away (2021), which are modeled after larger-than-life silica desiccant sachets. T-shirts printed with the slogan “I’m with stupid” adorn two clothing rondels (Unisex / Perfect Fit, 2021) and seem to refer to each other as if in a round dance. They remind us of the mass circulation of commodities and how this contributes to elevating kitsch to the aesthetic standard of our society. The postcard edition Ceres and Triptolemos with Corvus cornix (2021) depicts a group of sculptures in the park of Sanssouci Palace. An allegory showing Ceres instructing Triptolemos in agriculture, thus teaching mankind the first agricultural cultural techniques. A misty crow on Ceres’ head temporarily complements the marble sculptures. Taken as a whole, the works make the exhibition space seem like a soulless department store, where art becomes an interchangeable mass product.
In Medley (2008), the importance of mass-produced goods and the impact of their proliferation also play a role. For the video, Pecho recombined 143 song fragments with homophobic content from hip-hop, black metal, reggae, and other musical genres. Comparatively harmless insults can be found in it as well as calls for the murder of gay men. Adapted to the rhythm of the lyrics, their transcription runs as white continuous text across the black screen of a monitor. By repeating and stringing together derogatory terms such as “faggots” or “sissies,” Pecho makes us aware of explicitly anti-gay content that is disseminated as a product of pop culture and indoctrinates its listeners. Through their condensation, Pecho exposes a fear of de-masculinization disguised as aggression, which is hidden behind the degrading language of the singers.
Pecho’s works confront us with statements that in their literalness seem to allow little room for interpretation, but by shifting context allow for new connotations or other meanings. They move skillfully between distanced depictions of different communication systems and the effects they have on society and the individual. On the ground floor of the gallery is a poster in DIN A0 format from Pecho’s series Statistisches Bundesamt, Fachserie 12, Reihe 4 (since 2009 – ongoing), which is based on the annually published data on deaths in the Federal Republic of Germany. The classifications by cause of death, sex and age are taken from the Federal Statistical Office. The titles for the edition of the respective year are based on the first names of deceased persons from the artist’s personal environment. By marking these persons within the listing, Pecho refers to the discrepancy that exists between the anonymous and sober facts of the statistics and the personal consternation in the face of the deaths.
The video work Three Casualties (2018) examines scenes from three different films, each featuring a stunt that resulted in the death of the stunt double performing it. In some cases, these scenes were left in the final version of the film, resulting in viewers seeing a real, as well as fictional, death on screen at the same time. Here Pecho looks at the body from two points of view: as a medial body, which in the viewers’ imagination only suffers physical death in the film, and as a real body, which reminds people of their own mortality. Ultimately, the indifference of an exploitative film industry also comes to the fore, which literally walks over corpses for the sake of profit and the desire for mass entertainment.
Pecho deconstructs language and images in such a way that constructions of truth are questioned and destabilized. The result of an ambiguous search engine query becomes a humorous “saint” juxtaposition in its pictorial representation (Madonna with Child, 2017). Light boxes depicting textual works are placed at various points throughout the exhibition. The authorship of the writings remains unknown, but in terms of content they seem to take on a commentary function. The intrusive language of a self-optimizing society (On Improvement, 2020) or the exaggerated seriousness of art business jargon (Eine Kunst, die Ja sagt, 2016) are thrown off balance. Pecho’s recourse to the existing and the analytical consideration of artistic formal language are as much in the tradition of conceptual art as the play with the viewer’s expectations. While the smooth aesthetics often suggest something simpler, the complexity of the works only reveals itself upon closer inspection. The effectiveness of Pecho’s works always results from the juxtaposition, repetition, and constant interplay of text, image, and form. By detaching the content from its conventional environment, appropriating and reassembling it, the words and images condense into a critique of language and form that is not least to be understood as a critique of society.
Exhibition dates: Friday, 01 July until Sunday 21 August 2022Zur Galerie
Title image: Jens Pecho, courtesy the artist + EBENSPERGER Berlin
Exhibition Jens Pecho – EBENSPERGER BERLIN | Zeitgenössische Kunst in Berlin | Contemporary Art | Exhibitions Berlin Galleries | ART at Berlin