Back to Reviews

Peter Zimmerman
by Katerina Gregos

Peter Zimmerman, "Re-Mixes" 1996

Peter Zimmermann has become best known for his investigation into communication processes by appropriating dispensable consumer items such as posters and leaflets. In the past, he has also dealt with the allure of merchandise and packaging in his cardboard boxes and painted book covers which examine notions of presentation, reception, and content. In his more recent work, however, Zimmermann returns to his conceptual roots, subverting his original method and concentrating more on the modus of communication itself, rather than the message. His focus has shifted from an interest in advertising and market strategies to an examination of the nature of language and its mutability.

In "Remixes," Zimmermann manipulates computer technology to explore issues of image processing, artistic interference, originality and multiplicity. For this work, the artist has produced a CD-Rom with a limited print-run. Upon entering the gallery the viewer is confronted with a large computer-generated print which almost covers the entire wall. It is the result of a "remix" of previous poster material, and two further versions mixed by two independent editors, presented in its random, reassembled form. The result is an amorphous optical field characterized by an amalgam of psychedelic shapes and colors. Here, the degree of interference has been such that only upon careful observation can slight fragments of the original material be discerned. During this "editing" process, preexisting, identifiable imagery is dissolved, reconstructed, and rendered illegible. The resulting "original," bears no resemblance to its initial identity. Form and content have been altered.

Zimmermann's interventions examine the ambiguity underlying concepts of originality. While the remixed imagery may be "unique," his method lends itself to duplication, so it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish the original from the borrowed, and the authentic from the fabricated.

In effect, Zimmermann subverts the process of appropriation. The poster material he employs (both for the remix and for exhibition), with its familiar commercial style appears to be borrowed but is, in fact, original imagery produced by the artist. By faking appropriation, Zimmermann is making a mockery out of an archetypal post-modern exercise. In an age dominated by the possibilities of technological reproduction and representation, Zimmermann's ironic commentary works on many levels and demonstrates the fine line that exists between the original and the borrowed, the multiple and the duplicate. In addition, he illustrates the susceptibility of image and meaning to alteration or distortion at any given moment, as well as pinpointing the complicity of the messenger of information, in this case the computer.

Presented in addition to the remix in predetermined groups are the other originals--a series of varied, colorful posters that combine image and text, aptly entitled posterwall. Here, Zimmermann manipulates the language of graphic design to examine the nature of communication. The images, themselves, also appear appropriated, when again they are not, despite the fact that they resemble a variety of cultural or political announcements, whose appearance ranges from the kaleidoscopic style of 1970s activist billboards to the minimal typeface so typical of the 1980s. The first impression is one of familiarity and instant recognition, reinforced by the use of catchy marketing visuals. On closer examination, however, one observes that text and image are entirely unrelated and are based on what appears to be an arbitrary selection, thus, shattering initial precepts of a coherent, readable image. Read on its own, the text on each poster seems nonsensical. But Zimmermann again overturns the viewer's initial reaction. It transpires that he has devised a systematic method of presentation: only when the posters are read in a specific order does the text acquire a coherence and meaning, revealing a highly theoretical document commenting on art, semiotics, and sociology. It would appear, then, that we have been deceived. The work hovers between being simple and direct, to being complex and impenetrable. It is precisely the interplay between the variability of interpretation, Zimmermann's sabotage of given visual and textual values, that makes his work both challenging and interesting.

Through this process of interference and alteration, the artist challenges the blind faith with which we consume optical data and points to the gap that exists between image, text, and meaning. His method signifies both visual and perceptual interchangeability, and demonstrates that meaning resides in many different levels. Zimmerman is a skilled manipulator of the familiar visual language of the media. By recontextualizing it and offering altered perceptions of reality he not only plays with audience expectation, but comments on the relativity of meaning. In addition, his work is both symptomatic and reflective of the increasing density and variability of information generated by the media and the electronics industry. If there is one thing that characterizes modern society, it is the fragmentation of ideology and the possibility of a multitude of differentiations, producing, what the artist calls "a huge semiotic variety." Zimmermann's work is a significant reminder that today, nothing can be taken at face value.

Katerina Gregos

Athens, Greece

Back to Reviews