‘Approximation in the digital age to a humanity condemned to disappear’, seems like a prophetic title, steeped in a type of dystopian rhetoric; in fact it is a much more specific, contemplative description of the dissolution of smaller cultural identities, irreverently ignored and ousted by globalised industry and capital. The focal point of Pfeifer’s exhibition with CIRCA projects is an expansive twenty-six minute high definition video made whilst perambulating Isla Navarino, off the southernmost tip of Chile. In reaction to a culture in the process of rapid modernisation, ‘Approximation…’ is a kind of free flowing time-based cartography of industry, digital technology, heterogenous culture and historical narratives. The three-channel video installation is a striking collage; an abstracted non-narrative diary, constructed out of socio-geographic research and resulting in beautifully constructed cinematographic vistas followed by depictions of stray chimeras of light and movement interspersed with intimate portraits, all in vivid 4K spec (the highest definition of digital video).
Upon reaching the site of the exhibition, which is housed in a Gateshead industrial complex, interpolating punches of bass slice the room at a time - evidently the hypnotic flurries of the video’s cascading soundtrack. The techno rhythms are enticing, leading viewers past the vitrines and ready-mades of the second room. There’s something about the variant simplicity of a 4x4 Techno rhythm in film or video - Its pared back structure, its dense repetition, its erratic pulses of muffled noise, all akin to the pressured flow of blood in view of sequential filmic frames. The rhythm sits perfectly with the stark blue lighting that cloaks the exhibition and the video itself. It is a colour re-appropriated from a scene in the video, in which shellfish are packaged in a factory to be exclusively exported to china. Historically, blue was the colour most sought after and the hardest to construct from western pigments (its scarcity due to it largely being imported from eastern continents), but the stark cold-blue motif of the exhibit is different - a million miles away from the darker, more bodied natural pigment. This new, hollow, prevalent blue is counterintuitive as a synthetic construction by and for large western industries, and is thus doused in unnatural semiotics. Released in the second room via a filter applied to the strip-lights above, it literally alters our impression of the composite colours in Pfeifer’s other works and publications: analogous to a silent ideology permeating activities of distant lands.
‘Approximation…’ contemplates the importance of a renewable digital archive for societies that may not only retain their historical documentation but may frame it as they wish - it should always be considered that historicisation is always formulated with political incentive, however minute. Pfeifer, having temporarily retrieved images of the indigenous Yaghan people from a German museum, took such images to their descendants in the process of making the video and records the current inhabitants of the Isla Navarino community flicking through their heritage on an iPad. Significantly for some of them, this is the first time they have been introduced to this technology. Whilst stroking the screen, at once pointing and moving, feeling an image or touching their past; one imagines confronting one’s history for the first time through a technology experienced for the first time. Whilst in danger of exoticising their remote isolation and considering that largely they will be accustomed to similar technology, nevertheless, their navigation of such content is of course framed and contextualised here in a sentimental and emotional moment.
There is also the small matter of a cow’s head being sawn in half. It reads as a quasi-Marxist visualisation of that which is typically alienated from the everyday in colossal economic countries, and is presented here in the highest of definitions before our very eyes. Suddenly the indigenous butcher habitually grips the viscous static eye of the dismembered head in a visceral scene, that sticks out like a splinter of the videos skin: abrasive, vivid, confrontational, and a bloody mess (as one would imagine it).
Later in the film, the depictions of Yaghan descendants performing techniques of traditional Centolla fishing is followed immediately by museological displays, and we are left to consider, how long will it be before such processes are presented in museums? The initial joyous, trance-induced 4x4 techno rhythm thus becomes potent with trepidation; of modular, structured, synthetic, relentless, unending, pulses… fast shadows in the drum of industry.