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The pure products of America

go crazy--

mountain folk from Kentucky


or the ribbed north end of


with its isolate lakes and


valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves

old names

and promiscuity between


devil-may-care men who have taken

to railroading

out of sheer lust of adventure--


and young slatterns, bathed

in filth

from Monday to Saturday


to be tricked out that night

with gauds

from imaginations which have no


peasant traditions to give them


but flutter and flaunt


sheer rags succumbing without


save numbed terror


under some hedge of choke-cherry

or viburnum--

which they cannot express--


Unless it be that marriage


with a dash of Indian blood


will throw up a girl so desolate

so hemmed round

with disease or murder


that she'll be rescued by an


reared by the state and


sent out at fifteen to work in

some hard-pressed

house in the suburbs--


some doctor's family, some Elsie

voluptuous water

expressing with broken


brain the truth about us--

her great

ungainly hips and flopping breasts


addressed to cheap


and rich young men with fine eyes


as if the earth under our feet


an excrement of some sky


and we degraded prisoners


to hunger until we eat filth


while the imagination strains

after deer

going by fields of goldenrod in


the stifling heat of September


it seems to destroy us


It is only in isolate flecks that


is given off


No one

to witness

and adjust, no one to drive the car



William Carlos Williams, "To Elsie" or "The pure products of America / go crazy"

from Spring and all (1923)




Much like his art, even Paul Pfeiffer's name rings with an ethereal familiarity grounded in a misspent adulthood immersed in tv culture. Yes, our visiting artist this week shares his name with Josh Saviano's nerdish character on "The Wonder Years", wherein, week after week, Fred Savage's older, wiser and fictional inner narrator (voiced by Daniel Stern) neatly tied up the loose ends of a late '60s childhood with a kernal of '80s cynicism wrapped in a lyrical and nostalgic lilt of phrase. Paul, the generally faithful next-door neighbor, was never privy to these inner monologs, nor was he granted any of his own. So, he had to try harder, toil away in the magic space between scenes, that silent partner of narrative, until he was allowed back into the main storyline, plot points ironed out and ready for his close up. Paul Pfeiffer, visiting artist, seems to work that same magic space of narrative, but, in his case, he's doing it right in front of our eyes, like a game of three-card monty. And boy, he's more obsessive than Paul Pfeiffer, the awkward middle school teenager, ever dreamed of being. I mean, subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, altering EACH frame of his short animations to either emphasize, say, the basketball, or erase the main characters (as in the Ali fights); that's COMMITMENT. (Most animators I know spend months, if not years, on a single piece; Pfeiffer seems to turn these things out almost overnight, or so it seemed as he shared them with us a few nights ago.)


But, beyond the sort of trumped-up, manufactured familiarity of his name (trumped up and manufactured by ME), I also felt many of his ideas were familiar, too. I had to ask myself, just what is the difference (in technique anyway) between Pfeiffer and Dan Reeves (a video artist who, at least 5 or 10 years ago, was already working with that morphing sensibility) or Tony Oursler (another video artist who projects odd videos onto sculptural surfaces) or William Carlos Williams (see epigraph to this post; though where Williams aims for our gut, our bankrupt and proudly illegitimate lusts, I felt that Pfeiffer allowed too much unearned mystery into his tableaux; does the puppet-like dance of his Stanley Cup sufficiently address the thirst for skillful brutality that birthed it? I guess I'm saying "no".) or Lucas Samaras (whose mirrored corridor is in the Denver Art Museum collection, of which I was reminded of by Pfeiffer's peephole corridor)? I'm not saying that I don't have some respect for Pfeiffer's energy and talented manipulation of a wide variety of material (and materiality), just that, but for a moment here and there, it all seemed "overly" derivative (to be distinguished from a certain amount of derivative quality that's sort of inherent in responding to living in the world we're in these days.)


That said, I do need to acknowledge that I found the small pieces with imagery that mimicked/referred to religious art to be alternately resonant and (gasp!) moving. Perhaps because my experience of religious art is fairly cursory I didn't care (or know to care) how the specific context of any given appropriated composition/overall suggestion might have related to its new context. All that mattered was that sort of blanket approximation of religious meaning and cultural power. Whereas, when I felt I could sort of place TECHNIQUE among recent work/artists, the newer work lost some juice.

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