BAW JOURNAL: Your group exhibition is called ›touch‹—what is the significance of touch in the art context, and has it changed in the last six months on account of the pandemic?
Peles Empire: There have been several situations in recent months that have really brought the subject of »touch« to the fore—who do you touch and who don’t you touch? How do you touch things? What could be tainted with something? As an artist you’re always touching something—so the topic of touch is always very relevant in art.
How does Sung Tieu’s video ›Memory Dispute‹ (2017) deal with touch?
The film has a very quiet, beautiful aesthetic, and yet it is also about the deconstruction of nature. One scene in the film shows a forest where napalm bombs were dropped during the Vietnam War—another scene is about ›skin whitening‹. What you see are closely cropped images of a woman very carefully and slowly applying a liquid to a naked male torso. A later scene shows how parts of the skin are removed from the young man’s body. These two elements are edited together to create a counterpart to one another. In this way, Sung combines the history of the Vietnam War—which killed and burned many people through the use of napalm—with a promulgated beauty ideal. We first saw the work at Art Basel 2017 and it has been with us ever since.
Is there a self-concept behind everything you do? What issues or topics do you find exciting—as artists but also as curators?
We don’t see ourselves as curators—we want to give artists a platform. The project space is a static element that is constantly changing with the exhibitions. Our work takes a back seat there. We began working together on an exhibition space in London before we started our own artistic practice. The basis of our artistic work is Peleş Castle, the Romanian royal palace completed in 1883; inside is a chaotic juxtaposition of furniture copies and interior design from various stylistic periods. We continue to push this concept further and further into abstraction. Both elements are important to us, which is to say the space and our work.
What’s next for you after Berlin Art Week?
We just postponed a residency in Cyprus until next year. But starting next week we’re working on an exhibition at E-Werk in Luckenwalde, which will open in January 2021. The work we’re showing there is a reference to older works that relate to the castle. At the same time, we draw reference to the approach and materials left over from the process of generating power, or electricity. The former power station used to be coal-fired and is now fired with wood pellets. There is very little waste product, just black ash. That is what we will be working with.