Two films called Paris (2004) and London (2008) – on show as part of the Daniel Pflumm exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery 2 April-9 May – suggest connections between Pflumm’s work and the city-symphony, as it was developed in films such as Walter Ruttman’s Berlin (1928) and Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler’s Manahatta (1921). In an interview included on the gallery hand-out, however, Pflumm seems to repudiate this, observing: “the video is only called ‘London’ following my tradition of giving videos the name of the city they are first shown in. This doesn’t naturally mean that there is no London in it. It consists of a series of loops followed by a succession of atmospheric situations underlined by electronic music.”
Nonetheless, far from negating a connection to the city-symphony, Pflumm’s comments can be read as indicating changing notions of film, city, and their relationship between 1920 and 2008. Take, for example, Ruttman’s own description of Berlin – reprinted in Kevin MacDonald and Mark Counsin’s anthology Imagining Reality - as “making something out of life, of creating a symphonic film out of the millions of energies that comprise the life of the big city.” (74) Consider, too, Siegfried Kracauer’s critique of Berlin as:
A film without a real plot, it attempts to allow the metropolis to arise out of a series of microscopic individual traits… leaves the thousands of details unconnected, one next to the other, inserting at most some arbitrarily conceived transitions that are meaningless… There is nothing to see in this symphony because it has not exposed a single meaningful relationship. (Imagining Reality, 75)
Such ideas are in dialogue with Pflumm’s description of his work above, and also with Nicholas Bourriaud’s comments on Pflumm in Post-Production, highlighting a mesh of continuities and developments in the urban milieu and its artistic representation. Bourriaud’s ideas about Pflumm and his generation of artists include: a refusal of metonymy; shifting from a static sense of site or place to one of a place of production; site as the “socius” where all “the channels that distribute information and products” (71) are present. In the relationship of the individual and group, any individual component is part of a body but one whose parts can be detached, altered and rearranged, as if comprised of prosthetic limbs. All these ideas can be related both to the artist and to the city itself.
If much writing and art about the city continues to evoke ideas of flaneur and dérive, then, via Pflumm and Postproduction, it is possible to identify some new tactics out of the role of the artist as a “phantom employee” concerned with liberating forms, who “blackmails the economy that he parasites” (80) and whose resulting images are:
The products of an analogous micro-utopia, in which supply and demand are disturbed by individual initiatives, a world where free time generates work, and vice versa, a world where works meets computer hacking…[and the artist-programmer is engaged in] a search for tension between the iconographic source and the abstract form. (80-81)
This Pirate’s Gallery of Pflumm’s images, derives from scanning the extensive open source image archives of Pflumm’s web site and thinking through these questions after viewing Paris and London at the Whitechapel Gallery, whose looped screening also includes Questions and Answers CNN (1997) and Europäischer Hof (2002).