art news & reviews & Interviews. jeff bergman, editor

167 – Paul Pfeiffer

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This year has ended with a beating, a pummeling, a brutal, crushing defeat.  This year seemed to make sense and then just like a late round knock down, we wake up on the canvas with blood in our swollen eyes.  I have long loved boxing though I identify as a pacifist.  There is a real dichotomy between the sport of boxing and a fight and while I should abhor what two boxers do to one another, I admire the grace and stamina it requires.

“It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay, And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way” – Bob Dylan on Ruben “Hurricane” Carter in The Hurricane

I am no expert on pugilism.  I know the big names, have watched my share of Muhammad Ali fights, documentaries on Ali, Jack Johnson, and in fact will happily listen to Miles Davis’ Ode to Jack Johnson all day every day and watch Raging Bull every time it’s on.  But the true brutality in boxing is in the long fight, the ones that never seem to end and that 12th bell (in this fight) just never seems to come.

Paul Pfeiffer’s show at Paula Cooper recently ended and I am sorry I did not scream from the hilltops about its greatness.  I saw it twice and was of a different mind about the world both times.    In a large space, one watches two screens simultaneously, not unlike a film editing suite.  One screen is always the fight.  The other reveals the machinations of re-creating the sound of the fight and the process of editing that sound into the film.

Here is an excerpt from the gallery press release:  “Three Figures In A Room (2015-2016), features televised footage of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao’s highly publicized boxing match at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, in May 2015. The original audio has been replaced by an eerily quiet Foley soundtrack, which isolates the physical exertion of the boxers and movement among the stadium audience—a rhythmic thud of footsteps; an acute smack of leather on flesh; a hissing snarl of exhausted breath. A second video channel shows the sound technicians as they distill and recreate the sound effects. Mirroring the boxers’ athleticism and focus, the Foley channel plays in sync with the fight channel, each placed against opposing walls in the main space of the gallery. Audio playback alternates from one channel to the other, sparring across the room and enveloping the viewer in the meticulous process of sound production.”

Watching the real event reenvisioned with an artificial sound track allows a completely different reading of the event of a live boxing match.  The sounds of smacks and punches and shuffling feet tell a story of loss.  While someone is always the victor in boxing, both fighters lose.  And so we watch, a losing battle with life and time and while payment and history comes to the winner, also the long brutal decline into illness that most often concussed people deal with.

“I hit him, yes, it’s true, But that’s what I am paid to do. Don’t say ‘murder, ‘ don’t say ‘kill.’ It was destiny, it was God’s will.” Who killed Davey Moore, Why an’ what’s the reason for? – Bob Dylan “Who Killed Davey Moore?”

The fight here is energetic, even balletic in its improvisation.  Neither fighter becomes the champ in these moments, only a more battered man.  Mayweather’s ultimate victory (I had to look it up) doesn’t matter in the recut, unreal fight.  The inauthentic sound, created by a Muay Thai fighter, fills the fight with breathy workmanship, rather than big fight exuberance.  Every fake sound makes us question each real hit.  Adding something would make it theatrical, but removing things makes it more brutal.*

These days, I spend my time worrying about the next body blow.  There are too many distractions and I am ill equipped.  There is more to be done and it’s just now that I realize my place in it.  This is the long fight.

“Not I, ” says the referee,
“Don’t point your finger at me.
I could’ve stopped it in the eighth
An’ maybe kept him from his fate,
But the crowd would’ve booed, I’m sure,
At not gettin’ their money’s worth.
It’s too bad he had to go,
But there was a pressure on me too, you know.
It wasn’t me that made him fall.
No, you can’t blame me at all.”
– Bob Dylan “Who Killed Davey Moore?”

*Thank you Andrew Witkin

-Jeff Bergman
December 2016

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