At times being an art writer feels like being a perverse lepidopterist, subjecting artists to the cruel and unusual punishment of being trapped, preserved and dissected by language and de nition. Seeing one’s subjects, that once ew free, pinned to a board, one harbours the nasty suspicion that the instinct to explain is somehow lethal.
An acute awareness of this critical anxiety is an appropriate starting point in engaging with the art of Peter Giggleberger. His strange and beautiful works are, quite rightly, designed to evade simple critical interpretations in order to protect the soul of his artistic practice, trading as it does, in the subtle and the ineffable.
Peter describes his works as paintings. They are, in fact, multimedia works, combinations and col- lages of photography, printing and painting. Visually speaking, they hard to read. Looking at them it is often dif cult to tell where the use of one medium stops and another starts. This formal ambiguity is one of Peter’s most effective tactics, imbuing each painting with a profound and unique presence, making each one a thing-in-itself, elevated above being a mere vehicle of representation or documentation.
Each work typically begins with the discovery of a kind of congealed atmosphere or feeling of a place found in an abandoned building or structure; an old house, a disused factory, a crumbling barn, an empty warehouse. Accordingly, most of the surfaces that Peter depicts are damaged, dilapidated and decaying. They are cracked and broken. Paint is blistering and aking off... wallpaper is faded and peeling... there is moss and mould... weathering and water damage... Employing an involved and often complex process, Peter initially sketches or photographs these surfaces, prints the photographic images, cuts them up, glues and collages them, cut-ups them up again, rearranges them and then, in what is generally the nal creative act, paints on them.
In some works, the painted elements are clear and foregrounded. Die Contenance Verlierenm, is a painting made on a tablecloth. In some areas Peter picks out details, accentuating the pinks and yellows of a handful of petals, in other areas he muf es the decorative motifs with a thin coat of beige before setting of the whole composition with a few expressionist touches, a series of drips and a quickly pain- ted, Z-shaped brush mark. In other works like Buntling or Bauernaufstand, both close-ups of sections of decaying walls, it is almost impossible to tell what is actual paint or an image of paint.
There is, perhaps, in this involved and laborious process an element of sympathetic magic an invo- cation of the Law of Similarity, that states that ‘like produces like’. These depictions of surfaces compro- mised by time and erosion, are themselves, agglomerations of surfaces deliberated compromised by the series of creative processes.
The nished works are landscapes of entropy, in which the world slowly falls apart. Yet they are more than aestheticised studies of decay. Each work conjures a powerful sense of a speci c place, embodying that place’s atmosphere. They are places that Peter discovers on the walks and explorations that he habitually takes through marginal and forgotten territories, both rural and urban, both local and foreign to him.
As he describes it, Peter has always been drawn to places nobody else is interested in. These explorations that are the heart of Peter’s intellectual and creative practice and through them he someti- mes discovers a place that becomes, immediately, special to him. These spaces mean nothing to the rest of the world, but for Peter, something ineffable about them, their spirit, speaks to him and this is the key to Peter’s work. He is a collector of these rare and unusual atmospheres that accumulate and condense in the corners of long forgotten rooms. He is, in essence, an accomplished psychogeographer who pre- sents his ndings to the world, in the form of these beautiful, delicate and melancholy works.
So as it turns out Peter, much like an art writer, also takes upon himself the dif cult and anxious task of capturing and preserving some of the delicate and ephemeral qualities of the world.
Psychogeography is the cultural practice of playfully exploring urban landscapes in the search of
unusual experiences and sensations. In 1955 Guy Debord, the poster intellectual for the Situationists, de ned it as “the study of the precise laws and speci c effects of the geographical environment, consci- ously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” For these pioneering psychogeo- graphers in the early day of the post-war, European consumer boon the city was a vast and endlessly dynamic collage, constantly throwing up spectacle and affects.
But that was then, and this is now. In thinking of a parallel for Peter’s work in the world of contem- porary psychogeography, the work of British author Iain Sinclair presents itself as a rich and profound companion. For decades Sinclair has explored London on foot. His epic walks have taken him around, across and through every area of the city; central and peripheral, wealthy and deprived, famous and for- gotten. His quest had been one of cultivating a gentle and wise empathy with the city as ancient, living entity, a quest of understanding, looking beyond the familiar sights at the overlooked, the marginal and the ephemeral. Here is Sinclair describing the pavements of London:
“A dull carpet of ill- tting stone slabs, tarmac and fast-food detritus, becomes part of the curvature of the universe. The slightest scars – scratchings of heels, bicycle tracks, old blood, recent vomit, lea-
ves embedded in cracks, rusty rivulets, ice damage – register a history that the questing photographer, a profound scientist of urban alienation, records and exposes.”
Over the years Sinclair has produced a series of subtle and beautiful books on different aspects and areas of the city. Published in 2017, The Last London, was Sinclair’s eighteenth book on the city and, as the title suggests, his last. It is an elegy for a London that is now, for Sinclair at least, disappeared. The artists, the eccentrics, the homeless, those who live on various different margins, have been pushed out and moved on by the ef ciencies of global capital, manifest in rising rents and perfect, airless pro- perty developments. For Sinclair, this new London “is no longer reachable by the forms of writing I’ve practiced for forty odd years and in that sense that cycle of London is coming to end and obviously a new London emerges, but for me it’s a ‘last London’, the written London that had a past and referred back to previous writers, always one generation drew on what had come before, I think is over, because you are now wedded to a kind of instant, dominant present tense of the electronic digital world where people no longer move around the city, but above the city, oating on their devices”
In these subtle observations on the fragility of cultures, the inevitability of historical change and the sense of profound loss of memory and experience that comes with it, I see Peter’s work. To me each of his paintings, is like a passage of Sinclair’s writing describing a worn paving stone or the history of an East London street. Both champion long, lost causes, ght in their own way to preserve the fragments of overlooked cultural memory. In doing so they subtly shame the world that, in its desperate and ceaseless ambition, blindly charges ever forward into the future, attening everything in its path, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
One reading of the history of Western civilization is that it is a story of ever-intensifying alienation, from nature, from ourselves. As Sinclair so eloquently warns, our new age of frictionless virtual worlds
is a new site of alienation, in which we will nd ourselves estranged from the built environments that had become our nature. Peter’s pictures are elegies for our lived experience of the world, they are, as he once described them, “visual rescue operations” to save these delicate fragments of a fast disappearing world.