In a black and white photograph, two hands present a small architectural model, delicately balanced on fingertips. Within the maquette, we can discern the form of a miniature vehicle parked outside the facade of a modernist building. This partial edifice stretches out vertically from the curve of a hill, on which the diminutive figures of trees have been scattered. A person, tiny, stands along a path that traces the model’s edge. It appears likely that this character, having just exited their miniature care, now walks toward the building. Through its transparent facade, another persona can be seen. Do they wave at the first? Was this a planned visit, an appointment, or do they look down upon the lawn with a happy surprise? This, a microscopic moment, a scene in a small universe a universe held entirely in two hands.
For PEANA, Peruvian artist Pier Stockholm stages a personal universe situated by a minimal, wooden plane. It is suitable that Stockholm, known to bring his studio into the gallery, shows here in the workspace of another. In the exhibition, the studio returns, the worktable acting as a metonym. It is with this table that Stockholm –interested as he is in systems, games, and rules– arranges his playing court; those objects that occupy the surrounding space become tools of the game in turn. Of interest for Stockholm are those points of imbrication between the universal and the personal, the rule, and the accident –the moments wherein the system spills into serendipity.
The installation Elephant Island orients the mise-en-scene. Here a crowd of objects and materials find themselves on and below the aforementioned tabletop. This surface shares the dimensions of a ping pong table, the platform on which the game of table tennis is played. In ping pong, the playing surface is designed in accordance with its function: to allow an arm the exact distance needed for the full arc of a swing, while also providing room for the ball to bounce. Though the table structures the space of the game, it is the human body that provides its measurement and rule. When we look out on Elephant Island, we can nearly sense the exactness of this calculation, the accommodation made for arm and hand. The installation is lit from below by bright, fluorescent tubes. Unlike the minimalist light sculptures of Dan Flavin they may recall, however, these industrial materials are forthright in their honesty: their swirling cables, electrical sockets, and extension cords remain plainly in view. With the introduction of these fluorescents, installed unceremoniously on the floor, what was at first but a platform on which to place objects, or a surface on which to play a game, transforms into something more. Lit from below, the table becomes a planer environment. Upside down, we must now inspect its newly illuminated underside.
Huddled around the lights, potted plants augment this subterranean milieu. Here simple biological organisms, in their minimal white pots, expand into a complex aesthetic system of shape and scale. Selected for their formal qualities, internal geometries, and colors, this flora originates from a local market in Mexico City. Stockholm himself remained undecided about which plants would join the installation’s mélange of objects until after his arrival in Mexico (though succulents, of course, are particularly well suited to symmetry and structure). This is another game the artist plays, a game of chance. While the rules are set a market, Mexico City from there, possibility expands.
The objects found on the surface of Elephant Island—the clamps, drawing ruler, translucent plastic, the pins, and picture frame—converse with one another through the happy accident of their shared surroundings. Unified by their wooden support, these tools and materials occupy a horizontal landscape. Their size, relative to the stretch of the table, should remind us once again of the body, and of the architect’s maquette. For we look down upon this table, and stretch over it, as if upon a map or a diagram. Tiny colonies of pins are suddenly explorers traversing a vast, unblemished terrain, or the marks of hidden riches. These are objects, Stockholm would remind us, made for the hands, but felt much larger in the head.
A wooden frame rests in the table’s center, bookended by a curved, translucent green ruler and triangle of orange plastic, each held upright by paired clamps. The colors of these tools mimic the plants below and are repeated again in the picture frame’s partially painted edge and in the tinted overlay of the enclosed photograph. The image of the frozen crag presented here also finds its echo among a series of aluminum and foam frames situated on a wall across the gallery (shrouded this time in yellow).
This photograph of a glacier directs us toward the icy and mountainous landscape of Elephant Island, located off the coast of Antarctica. The glacier acquired its name from the HMS Endurance, a mid-century Naval ship, which was named in turn for the ship sailed by Anglo-Irish polar explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton. Notably, Shackleton is famed, not for the triumphs of his expeditions, but rather for his extraordinary survival following a shipwreck on the glacier’s ice. The explorer stands in here for human accident and endurance in the face of greater forces. Are the pins now Shackleton and his crew, the frame the glacier? Suddenly the clamps, with their curve and their triangle, begin to appear like polar adventurers bearing flags.
On the gallery’s walls hang flags of a different sort, and like the table of Elephant Island, they bring with them their own games and rules. These monochromatic, geometric prints on cotton –“A” Flag Red, “A” Flag Blue, and “A” Flag Black– illustrate the convergence of two systems on a single plane: the A series paper format (ISO A), and the Pantone Color Matching System. ISO internationally standardizes the cutting of paper according to a mathematical formula which maintains a uniform aspect ratio while eliminating waste. Equally exact is Pantone’s color system, in which each shade is given a unique identifying number, e.g. PANTONE Red 032. In the prints, Stockholm borrows these universal, organizational structures and idiosyncratically merges them, the rules of color coming to fill those of paper.
“A” Flags trace the folds of the A-series, constructing lines that split the planes into geometric forms of muted color. These shapes –rectangles and triangles– grow from the picture’s corner, reticulating outward as the forms build in size. Standing in front of them, we can nearly feel the weight of these folds with the hand: sharp corners stretching out to meet their partners, like an arm that reaches across a ping pong table. These images read like instruction manuals, like floor plans for folding. Though they are digitally produced, the materiality of cotton gives them the look of the hand-labored and the delicate resemblance of a watercolor. This is an inside joke Stockholm is making with his media, a game he is playing with systems, color, and paper.
With The Weight of References, we return appropriately enough to the body and the system, though the system is now history’s archive and the body that of Stockholm’s in the present. Composed of a thick roll of paper suspended in the air by a rope and pulley, the sculpture makes physical the weight of influence. The bundled photocopies and images that form this mass have been collected by the artist over many years, pages worn and folded over with use. Art historical precedent and the telos of invention, Stockholm suggests, hang heavy, can drag and pull. On the outermost layer of The Weight of References is the black and white image of a pair of Corinthian columns, calling forth a particular history of form and flying in the air like flags. Ultimately, we could argue, it is only ever the explorer’s flag that remains, a pin-mark against the vastness: an intervention of the personal within the universal.
Years ago in Paris, Stockholm met Mariel Calderon, whose grandfather once owned the first specialized factory in Mexico for the production of miniature objects for architectural models: the trees, people, and cars the architects use to set the scene and provide human scale. Calderon, who now runs the factory her grandfather’s stead, has invited Stockholm to visit Central de Maquetas upon his arrival to Mexico City. He remains open to what he may find there and the serendipity of systems.