Peles Empire: Dissolving the Past

What happens when you copy a copy of a copy, until no trace of the original remains? Since 2005, Peles Empire have recreated rooms from Peles Castle in Romania. Ahead of their show at GSS, we quizzed them about a work that disappears even as it expands

Article by Jac Mantle | 29 Apr 2013

The opulent 19th Century Peles Castle is the ultimate work of stylistic pastiche, with every room decorated in a different architectural style. German collaborative duo Katharina Stoever and Barbara Wolff create installations based on a detail from one of their previous reproductions of the castle, in a perpetual fragmentation and distortion of the ‘original’ source.

Your early incarnations of Peles were visually overwhelming, conveying the castle’s aesthetic richness and exuberance – A3 colour copies papered over every inch of the walls. More recently, you’ve moved into 3D, making sculptures based on objects found in the castle and on details of your previous reproductions. What are you planning for GSS?

For GSS we are playing with the idea of wall-based sculpture and floor-based paper works. The wall pieces are made out of concrete, referencing the space’s floor, and a sort of papier mâché.  This, in turn, is made from large floor pieces consisting of A3 sheets, folded paper pieces in the size of the area between the pillars. The image on the paper is a manipulated reproduction of a single sculpture which is not part of the show. This object was part of a previous exhibition and references another abstracted image element from the castle. 

What attracted you to Peles Castle originally?

We were and are mostly interested in the castle’s method of reproduction, the non-hierarchical combination of different styles and epochs. Initially we simply ‘copied the copy,’ whereas now we try to explore how far this method can be pushed. 

You often exhibit a distorted, abstracted image that is a detail from a digital photo, alongside a sculpture that is also a copy of a detail, but lacks the low-res quality of the 2D image. How does the ‘poor image’ function in relation to the ‘high-definition’ of the sculptural copy? 

As mentioned, we see no hierarchical difference between the elements and materials we use. The emerging quality is a constant gain and loss, mostly highlighting the process rather than the finished ‘product.’ Also, even though the objects seem ‘HD,’ how they develop is through a lot of low-level processes; the shapes and patterns develop by chance, or rather ‘accidents,’ emphasising the copy or reproduction process. 

Some might say such devotion to one subject is madness! What made you decide to explore endless repetitions of the same subject, and what is to be gained by setting yourselves this narrow trajectory?

Somehow, this narrow trajectory gives us a paradoxical form of freedom. By setting these boundaries we are forced to explore how far this process of reproduction can be pushed. And by this, we find new ways and materials through which this can be done. The imagery, for example, can become more and more abstract. In other cases, it can become more self-referential, for example by ‘tiling’ A3 papers of an image in a seemingly random order. 

You also run two mirroring spaces, where invited artists show their work. Does this introduce an aspect of democracy or randomness into how Peles Empire develops?

The two exhibition spaces we run are part of our practice, which is also why we would not describe ourselves as curators. We see it as a constant exchange between our work – that is, a more abstract exploration of the castle and the simply copied exhibition spaces. There, the constant change comes from the invited artists. They are completely free in what and how they want to use the space. We rather see it as a moment of opening up the collaboration. In a sense, it is more than democratic, as we step back as soon as we invite someone. 

Your investigation into continual representation is potentially infinite – where will it end? 

We definitely see it as infinite. A painter would probably not be asked when he would stop painting.