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Paul Pfeiffer

New York City-based, Filipino American artist Paul Pfeiffer earned a BFA in printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute, an MFA from Hunter College, and was a participant in the Whitney Independent Study Program. 

His work has been seen in numerous national and international group exhibitions including the Whitney Biennial, New York; the Sydney Biennial, the 49th Venice Biennale; UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX; the Contemporary Art Museum, Honolulu; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; The Barbican Arts Centre, London; Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin; Sammlung Goetz, Munich; and the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila, among many more.

Paul’s residency occurred January–July 2018.  

Paul is a pioneer in video, sculpture, and photography using recent computer technologies to examine the role that mass media plays in shaping consciousness. He invites his audience to exercise their imaginations and project their own fears and obsessions in his works.  For example, his sculptures consist of computer-generated recreations of recognizable props from Hollywood films. By incorporating these references into his videos, his work reflects a contemporary culture fixated on popular culture and celebrities.

Paul’s residency spanned six months which included a production schedule for a new video and series of sculptures. He took inspiration from two seemingly disparate sources: the traditional craft of life like wood carving and the Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber. 

 

Encarnador is the old Spanish term for the carver of Santos, or devotional images of the Catholic saints. Specifically, it refers to the craftsperson specializing in the final step of Santo production in which the image is finished with a skin of paint, turning carved wood into human flesh. He visited Willy Layug—one of the leading and most famous santo makers in the Philippines who apprenticed under encarnadores in Spain—in his studio in Pampanga and collaborated to produce a segmented rendering of the image of Justin Bieber.

“To me, the word ‘incarnator’ is about production. The production of an image. The production of human flesh…What interests me is what production means in 21st century global capitalism, where the means of production have been radically separated from their natural function.  This is Marx in the 21st century perfected into a global scheme; a branded production, where innocence is turned into a profit-making system in the face of a child.” 

–Paul Pfeiffer

A truly global phenomenon, Justin Bieber served as an unlikely muse for Paul as the unmistakable icon of 21st century capitalist values, whose primary demographic are young children and the next generation of consumers. Just Bieber has also become on the world’s first popular popstar Evangelists, disseminating Christianity with the same fervor and techniques that he employs to promote his songs. 

Further engaging with the history of sculpture and paired with his fascination with new technologies of mass production, Pfeiffer, his team, and the artisans at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar created portraits of the artisans’ children using state of the art 3-D technology. Each of the participants’ heads were scanned, then 3-D printed. Selected prints were then carved from wood using a machine duplicator while others were hand-carved by Las Casas master artisans from the Filipino carving district of Paete, which speaks to the often invisible effects that digital translation has on the most manual aspects of life. 

Paul’s resulting film, Incarnator, hones in on the craftsmen from the wood carving workshops at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar originally from the town of Paete, the centuries-old center of Santo production in the Philippines. The repetitive gestures of the carvers at work are explored visually in relation to the surrounding landscape, where the rice-planting season is underway. Timeworn traditions of manual labor are recast as a metaphor for the production and consumption of images in today’s global marketplace. 

The video and sculptures were exhibited at Bap’s Outpost in Makati on July 7–October 6, 2018.

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