For many, this comeback exhibition of Berlin cultural and nightlife impresario Daniel Pflumm arrived as a surprise. In the 1990s, Pflumm came to attention for his bright, coolly appropriative lightbox works, in which logos were hollowed out of their corporate referents, and his proto-meme-like sampled videos, cut from the bizarre consumerist wonderland of advertising. A quintessential night owl, he founded techno labels (such as Elektro Music Department), nightclubs (Elektro and Panasonic) and a TV station, and designed a logo for his then-young gallery, Neu. Ultimately, following shows at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in 2003 and Whitechapel Gallery, London, in 2008, Pflumm crashed out into a twilight of cynicism. As a thoroughly-jaded Pflumm told frieze d/e in 2015: ‘I have “don’t believe the hype” stamped on me in big letters’.
Pflumm’s current exhibition – his first at Neu in 15 years – presents two new video works. Little has changed by way of protagonists: flows of capital; an increasingly corporatized, information-burdened media culture; and art, as a dark one-way mirror reflecting back onto it. A reception area has been cleared out and replaced with an empty circular show rack, signed, caustically: ‘Special’. Here, a video work, Kindercountry (all works 2019), tracked to electronic music, is a super-cut of TV commercials and cable imagery. Pflumm’s cynicism bleeds into everything: a late-night thriller; a shop display reading ‘LOVE’; a clip from German-French middlebrow arts station Arte; numerous viscous shots of liquids and gels that poke at the skin of the commodity. The effect is akin to taking a pill of deep suspicion that makes you ponder if any of this – anything – is worth it altogether.
To present his video Hallo TV – FFM, Pflumm has converted Neu’s main room into a cinema (gallery, cinema and nightclub are analogous spaces for Pflumm). The video is a series of slow shots of Frankfurt am Main’s banking hub, which feature outdoor views of trainyards and the sheening windows of Deutsche Bank’s headquarters at night. To a low, thudding soundtrack by long-time collaborator Klaus Kotai, Pflumm depicts bankers pulling late hours, the reflections of traffic on windows, building construction in empty lots and other blank signifiers of gentrification, city life and other nebulous abstractions of capital. Pflumm’s position is perhaps too knowingly outside, even performatively peripheral, like the friend who uninvites himself to the party but shows up anyway.
The fine, dark cynicism of this show is warranted by the truth that it charts out: the corporate formatting of everyday life. Countercultural positions are deeply rooted in Berlin, though whether art has any role – or stake – as a mode of resistance is perhaps the question that haunts Pflumm. Perhaps nightclubs and galleries alike are extinct as sites of congregation, though Pflumm’s critique of commercialization has an edge even within Berlin’s highly professionalized club and artistic industries. Even his use of the stream or ‘channel’ – in which artistic form is supplanted by technological format – seems to presage an algorithmic reality in our day of Apple Music or, now, Apple News. This kind of capitalist critique might seem old hat, but this scepticism is equivalent to our continuous discomfort at even thinking, for more than two seconds, about the scripted, programmed aspects of our experience.
Pflumm’s scatophilia – with numerous images, sourced from mass media advertising, of faecal-like matter, such as Play-Dough being squeezed out from toys – is a morose comment on the bathos of junk imagery and media. Today, cultural effluvium floats like pollution on the banks of the Main, but we are left with two false alternatives: taking morose pleasure in watching, or remaining too afraid to look. Pflumm’s is a grim, cultural-pessimistic view of it all that both somehow redeems and imperils his project: another show, another product, another experience of vacancy. Does this get us anywhere, either? Don’t believe the hype.
'Daniel Pflumm' was on view at Galerie Neu from 1 February until 2 March 2019.
Main image: Daniel Pflumm, Untitled, 2019, lightbox, 22 x 35 x 15 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Neu, Berlin; photograph: Stefan Korte
First published in Issue 203