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Full Access Rivalry, Retribution, and Religion: The Art of Paul Pfeiffer

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Rivalry, Retribution, and Religion: The Art of Paul Pfeiffer

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Abstract Drawing on the work of literary critic René Girard, this paper considers the work of contemporary digital artist Paul Pfeiffer, arguing that his work establishes compelling parallels between various biblical narratives and aspects of contemporary-culture as defined (and dominated) by technology’s omniscient and all-seeing eyes. Fleshing out the comparison Pfeiffer seems to make between the vengeful eye of an all-seeing, Old Testament God and our own culture’s relentless surveillance by mass and new media, I suggest that Pfeiffer also aligns various biblical sacrifices—namely, the Old Testament sacrifice of the world by flood, and subsequently, in the New Testament, the sacrifice of Jesus by God—with the contemporary sacrifice of the world (or more accurately, reality) by new technologies that have radically restructured our relation to both time and space. Pfeiffer thereby reinterprets new media, treating it as if an enactment of dynamics at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition, perhaps performed for the purpose of decatheting the primal trauma described therein. Moreover, although not expressly referenced by Pfeiffer, the Fall, as wrought by man’s rivalrous consumption of the apple in the Garden of Eden, is everywhere present in Pfeiffer’s oeuvre, whether in the form of athletic hubris or (see the sacrifice of Larry Johnson in Pfeiffer’s Fragment of a Crucifixion), or in the quintessential form of man’s desire to acquire information known only by an (announcer’s) authoritative and disembodied male voice (see Pfeiffer’s Desiderata, a work made with raw footage from the well-known game show The Price is Right). That these rivalries necessitate some form of compensatory sacrifice is a fact that brings together the various components of Pfeiffer’s work, comprised as it is of various rivalries alongside originary sacrifices and the rituals designed to recall their significant and, for Girard, palliative effects.

Affiliations: 1: University of Georgia

10.1163/156852912X635214
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Abstract Drawing on the work of literary critic René Girard, this paper considers the work of contemporary digital artist Paul Pfeiffer, arguing that his work establishes compelling parallels between various biblical narratives and aspects of contemporary-culture as defined (and dominated) by technology’s omniscient and all-seeing eyes. Fleshing out the comparison Pfeiffer seems to make between the vengeful eye of an all-seeing, Old Testament God and our own culture’s relentless surveillance by mass and new media, I suggest that Pfeiffer also aligns various biblical sacrifices—namely, the Old Testament sacrifice of the world by flood, and subsequently, in the New Testament, the sacrifice of Jesus by God—with the contemporary sacrifice of the world (or more accurately, reality) by new technologies that have radically restructured our relation to both time and space. Pfeiffer thereby reinterprets new media, treating it as if an enactment of dynamics at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition, perhaps performed for the purpose of decatheting the primal trauma described therein. Moreover, although not expressly referenced by Pfeiffer, the Fall, as wrought by man’s rivalrous consumption of the apple in the Garden of Eden, is everywhere present in Pfeiffer’s oeuvre, whether in the form of athletic hubris or (see the sacrifice of Larry Johnson in Pfeiffer’s Fragment of a Crucifixion), or in the quintessential form of man’s desire to acquire information known only by an (announcer’s) authoritative and disembodied male voice (see Pfeiffer’s Desiderata, a work made with raw footage from the well-known game show The Price is Right). That these rivalries necessitate some form of compensatory sacrifice is a fact that brings together the various components of Pfeiffer’s work, comprised as it is of various rivalries alongside originary sacrifices and the rituals designed to recall their significant and, for Girard, palliative effects.

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1. Arning Bill "“No Phantom Punch.”" Paul Pfeiffer: The Long Count (Rumble in the Jungle) 2001 Cambridge MA LIST Gallery Exhibition Brochure
2. Art21 "“Paul Pfeiffer: Erasure, Camouflage, and ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.’ ”" Art21 PBS, 2003. Web. 17 Jan. 2012. < >
3. Art21 "“Paul Pfeiffer: Scenes of Horror— Poltergeist, The Exorcistand The Amityville Horror”" Art21 PBS, 2003. Web. 17 Jan. 2012. < >
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23. Lewisohn Cedar "“A Perfect Match.”" Art Review 2006 Feb./Mar 10 58 63
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26. Pfeiffer Paul "“Private View: The Sun is God.”" Tate Etc 2 2004 Autumn Web. 17 Jan. 2012
27. Pfeiffer Paul "“Paul Pfeiffer and Thomas Ruff in Conversation.”" Paul Pfeiffer 2004 Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany Hatje Cantz 63 75
28. Pfeiffer Paul Shaw Angel Velasco , Francia Luis H. "“ Quod Noman Mihi Est? Excerpts from a Conversation with Satan.”" Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream 1899–1999 2002 New York New York University Press 279 289
29. Schmidt-Burkhardt Astrit Levin Thomas , Frohne Ursula , Weibel Peter "“The All-Seer: God’s Eye as Proto-Surveillance.”" CTRL [Space]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother 2002 Cambridge MA MIT Press 17 31
30. See Sarita Echavez The Decolonized Eye: Filipino American Art and Performance. 2009 Minneapolis MN University of Minnesota Press
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33. Wallace Isabelle Loring "“From the Garden of Eden and Back Again: Pictures, People and the Problem of the Perfect Copy.”" Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 2004 Dec Vol 9 3 137 154 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0969725042000307682
34. Wallace Isabelle Loring "“Technology and the Landscape: Turner, Pfeiffer, and Eliasson after the Deluge.”" Visual Culture in Britain 2011 Mar Vol 12 1 57 75 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14714787.2011.541190
35. "“Whitney Celebrates Tenth Anniversary of the Bucksbaum Award.”" 2010 Apr 16 New York Whitney Museum of Art Press Release
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2012-01-01
2017-02-24

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