- Pravu Mazumdar
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The works of Peter Bauhuis remind us of Lacan’s famous dictum: "I am an Other“, which implies that all reflection is essentially archaeology.
The works of Peter Bauhuis remind us of the famous dictum of Jacques Lacan: "I am an Other“, which implies that all reflection is essentially archaeology. For, as I dig into myself, my expectations of hitting anything like a rock bottom of my "innermost nature“ is thwarted whenever I find myself crossing a threshold to an Other that has been lurking within me all the while, eroding my inner unity with its uncanny and clandestine difference.
The Other in Bauhuis’ Gallium Project (The Gallium Treasure of Obertraun) is more than just an "other mind“. It is an "other life“, including other practices and (metallurgical) techniques, other materialities and certainly other modes of enhancing life with jewellery. In 2011, Bauhuis exhibited the Gallium pieces within one of the venerated spaces of the Archaeological Museum of Munich as a display of findings made by a (fake) Austrian archaeologist called Johann Niederpointner, whose very name signifies the act of pointing downwards towards the earth, which, in this context, must be understood in its dual sense as 1) the depository of a past to be dug out and brought to light and 2) the geological source of the symbolically loaded metals and stones of traditional jewellery.
Around these pieces, Bauhuis spins an archaeological lore in the style of the documentary literature, which typically accompanies archaeological exhibits. He elaborates how Niederpointner discovered them unexpectedly in a little place called Obertraun in Austria shortly before his mysterious disappearance, and underscores the technological and aesthetic proximity of Niederpointner’s findings to the iron-age artefacts of the Hallstatt civilisation. While opening the show, Bauhuis introduced himself as the curator of the exhibits, without disclosing the fact that he himself had produced them and stating instead that his interest in these objects resulted from a certain "affinity between them and my own works as a jewellery maker“.
Besides the arm-rings and neckpieces in the shapes of archaic objects like skulls, hollowed spheres or seeds, the Gallium treasure trove includes a series of oversized finger rings, which are not really wearable – partly due to their scale and partly due to the peculiarity of their material, Gallium, which begins to melt at body temperatures. It is in this vein that Bauhuis concludes his preface to the exhibition catalogue by formulating the essential question generated by his "pataphysical" [ 1 ] archaelogy: What is the cultural telos of jewellery rendered unwearable through a specific property of its constituent materiality? Are such works, derived from cultures alien to us, meant only for the dead? Do we have to rethink our notions of prehistoric funerery rites?
In a more recent project titled Replika, Bauhuis takes his archaeological thought experiment a step further by going over from the unwearable Gallium rings to a new set of wearables. The latter includes visually oversized but eminently wearable rings, cast in bronze and fire-gilded by employing an ancient Greco-Roman technique hardly known in contemporary jewellery. The result of such a technique is a dull golden sheen of the metal surface that is left unpolished in order to display the unevenness produced by this type of gold plating. Are these pieces objects in their own terms or copies of the Gallium originals? Is it possible to pirate ones own work? In connecting the Replika rings and their muted golden sheen to the earlier Gallium pieces, we find ourselves questioning our habitual ideas of authorship.
Imitating the Lacanian Other in the Me can thus engender an ontological theatre displaying a whole undergrowth of dormant and hitherto unlived possibilities and spelling out the guidelines for a practice of self-transformation. Placing ones own work within the context of an invented archaeology and creating a series of wearable copies of the same can thus amount to a technique of breaking out of the prison-house of ones own style and rending apart the shell of technological and aesthetic preconceptions informing ones work till such a point.
[ 1 ] Pataphysics is a mock-scientific discipline initiated by the French symbolist writer Alfred Jarry and presented by him in Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll (1898). [Jarry, Alfred, Exploits & Opinions of Doctor Faustroll, Pataphysician. A Neo-Scientific Novel, Boston: Exact Change, 1996.] Peter Bauhuis was in fact nominated as a member of the London Institute of Pataphysics (https://www.atlaspress.co.uk/theLIP/) in 2010.
About the author
Pravu Mazumdar studied physics in New Delhi and Munich and has a doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Stuttgart. He writes in German and English, and his books, which use themes like migration and consumerism to unfold a diagnosis of modernity, are closely connected to French Postmodernism, in particular the philosophy of Michel Foucault. His book on jewellery was published in 2015 under the title: Gold und Geist: Prolegomena zu einer Philosophie des Schmucks (“Gold and Mind: Prolegomena towards a Philosophy of Jewellery”), Berlin: Matthes & Seitz.
Born and brought up in the eastern provinces of India and living between several languages and three continents, Pravu Mazumdar leads a typically contemporary interstitial existence. An essential category of such a mode of living is the idea of hybridity, to which Mazumdar has devoted several writings, like Das Niemandsland der Kulturen (Berlin: 2011) or “Wishful Thinking” on jewellery and existence.
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