After first working as a theater critic, Peter Friedl later established his artistic reputation as an incisive interlocutor of representational forms. His formally diverse body of work highlights the ideological thinking that informs artists’ decisions to expose historicity and increase viewer’s visual literacy. Often depicting shapes that are historically and ideologically overwrought, Friedl emphasizes the interdependency between text and image to show that “nothing goes without saying,” as the Dutch theorist Mieke Bal so eloquently put it. By playing hollowed-out forms against one another, Friedl’s works not only disarm historical power structures, they also resolve the contradictions of the modernist project by lending common forms to incompatible concepts. In so doing, they reenchant the promises of the past.
Friedl’s Rehousing series (2012–2014), for example, plays on the multiple meanings of the architectural scale model. As a conceptual tool the model offers a condensed description of the world, but as a political instrument it also prescribes the future. The title of this series references a project of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, called the American Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program. The program’s stated goal is to “provide financial assistance and services to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless and to help those who are experiencing homelessness to be quickly rehoused and stabilized.” Providing housing to the homeless, however, is merely an ideological remedy to the excesses of rampant capitalism.
Because Friedl’s house sculptures are presented without context, they hover between the generic and the specific. They represent the history of modernism as a series of heterogeneous problem cases, including the artist’s parental home, the Black Forest hut of philosopher Martin Heidegger, the private residence of the communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, an American nineteenth-century slave cabin, a Berlin shack built by immigrants, and an unrealized colonial residence by the modernist architect Luigi Piccinato. As an architectural response to both private and political needs, each model represents the politics of a particular subject and ideology. By testing the limits of architectural representation, Friedl ultimately aims to question the aesthetics of cultural memory. Liberating the model from its function as an intermediary between concept and implementation, he calls the sculptures “case studies for a kind of mental geography relating to an alternative strain of modernity.”