Peter Fengler

Peter Fengler
put the needle in the sausage

Exhibition June – July 2024

Exhibition Views

Accompanying the solo exhibition BAROQUE NON BAROQUE, put the needle in the sausage by Peter Fengler at JUBG, Cologne, the following text is a re-sampled transcript of a live conversation between Peter Fengler, Florian Cramer and Maziar Afrassiabi.
More than relying on authorial interjection to facilitate my reading of Fengler’s work, I am drawn to interventions that extend the possibilities of the work itself by re-composing the patterns that mediate experience. An attempt to reconfigure given positions by organizing new infrastructures of encounter that facilitate movement against representation’s hold on reality. The text below is a re-staged version of a conversation from the day before at WORM in Rotterdam. When my phone failed to audibly record that first conversation, the whole thing had to be re-done. As it turns out the resulting audio could be almost a work of Peter Fengler, where recording conditions, the playback device, and the sound they carry, all equally contribute to its experience. A result the industry often considers useless because they resist easy consumption. In Fengler’s work, all the components that define it, claim equal space or are allowed to be an active part of the experience.

It messes up with all my arrangements. Tom, can you get me off the hook? For old times sake.

Maziar Afrassiabi, June 2024, Rotterdam

O: Where were we?

官無名: I think we started the conversation yesterday with…,

P.H.A.F. help me remember the exact term.

O: Proportionism?

官無名: Proportionism. Exactly.

P.H.A.F.: Ah yes, with the photo of the penis.

官無名: Yes, indeed.

P.H.A.F.: The penis out of the fly. Yes, for sure. The hair out of the book. The fill up. YEAH, Sega. YEAH, that was it.

P.H.A.F.: YEAH, YEAH. When you got the doctor OK from. In this invest well and to look in the secretary’s text.


P.H.A.F.: For this bit sort of hard out the book. Does that take it out of the resource from? Transcripts he and said they need glooped, but in principle in the clouds they produce. Is there was pass.

O: Hmm. Hmm.

P.H.A.F.: Interceding interact. And that’s neither functional out in Venezuela.

O: Can you speak? Can you speak English please?

P.H.A.F.: Oh YEAH and cutting sound in vinyl, you know, is very flabbergasting. When you see the groove, and you imagine that you hear like a complete orchestra. Simply out of a line which is engraved in the material. So, from there I was interested in this reproduction idea. But not so much in the perfect reproduction, the hi-fi, which is in a way, a hoax. At high fidelity, which means that it’s the same as the original. But I was more interested in the not perfect copy of the original.
In this transcription, when the AI makes mistakes, it suits. This idea of production artifacts being part of the sound was in a way the beginning of my research in sound reproduction, and from there it evolved. What I show now are things which have to do, not specifically with the reproduction of sound itself, but also with its periphery, of all kinds of components and so-called peripherals involved in the process that are often kept from being experienced.
I also made a note yesterday, that such resulting demystification, because that is what it is in a way, is maybe also part of the attitude of making it available for the Misfit to enter the real world, so to say. Also, in the context of our conversation yesterday as a welcoming space of deviance.

官無名: Just to recapitulate this, we started yesterday’s conversation about Proportionism with the anecdote of your dick hanging out of your pants and how it became a kind of graphical score for Proportionism, right?


官無名: And then this score took on its own dynamic. It turned into a performance, and later the performance turned into objects. Which is what we’ll be seeing at JUBG gallery. I remember that we talked about the fact that all kinds of objects you produce are performative. They’re even like ghosts. They bear the kinetic energy of previous performances. Yesterday, we also talked about Proportionism, in relation to one of JUBG’s gallerists, Albert Oehlen, and the record cover he made for Palais Schaumburg’s very first 7” in 1981, and how the motto of the German post-punk record label ZickZack, on which it was released, was “better more than less”. Proportionism, however, seems to suggest that it’s not the one or the other. It’s not the post-punk DIY strategy of “better [release or produce] more than less [no matter the quality]”. But it’s neither the minimalist-conceptualist strategy of “less is more”. Instead, Proportionism seems to suggest some way of tuning.

P.H.A.F.: YEAH, you’re right.

O: Vibrato and vibrator. Vibration is all about less or more, attunement as a process, not as a destination. So, you could say that P.H.A.F.’s work is not a reaction to anything, but it’s a discontinuity of the less or more anxieties, as Proportionism. I was reminded of an interview with the British philosopher Ray Brassier who locates philosophical originality in how one thinks, rather than what one thinks. The vibe perhaps. I think this applies also to art in all its forms. A question of mentality, which is another word for being in a vibe. A question of perpetual reconfiguration of means, making new means without an end, that like vibration or a vibrator have the effect of simply decoupling parts, letting go, instantiating dissolution. Orgasm, rather than revolutionary claims that often are conservative and make no systemic difference. To Brassier, claims that proclaim their own radically, or that present themselves as radical or groundbreaking are, on close examination, actually not. They rely on premises that are questionable and not very radical. So, for him the point is not to look for radicalism or originality, because these are part of the problem. The very fact of being over conscious prevents orgasm. To Brassier, heresy, a term taken from Laruelle, is more radical than revolution, because revolution draws on what it tries to overturn and therefore retains some of what it tries to break with. A lot of art today tries to find its urgency and originality by relying on what it is trying to overturn, mainly to remain eligible for the market. If the object of overturning is not clear, i.e. marketable, then it’s hard to sell the resulting art. The originality of heresy lies in the fact that it reconfigures the rules of recognition and legitimacy, requiring a recognition from the void.

官無名: I remember a vinyl record from the 1980s called “Revolutions Per Minute – The Art Record”, [with tracks by, among others, Eleanor Antin, Terry Fox, Les Levine, Douglas Davis, Chris Burden, Buckminster Fuller and Joseph Beuys]. Revolutions can also be the revolutions of a record player, like 45 or 33 rpm. In our conversation yesterday, I mentioned P.H.A.F.’s participation in the Woonopstand housing protest in Rotterdam, where he was walking with a kind of self-built Lego house that wasn’t really identifiable as any kind of activist or agitprop object. P.H.A.F., you then told how you used similar poetics in your past as a squatter, to deter the police. Like when you and friends were squatting, and the police came to kick you out of the building, you all pretended that you were diplomats and had a reception. Which led to the police not being able to deal with the situation. So maybe there is something revolutionary in P.H.A.F.’s work, but it’s rather the revolution of records and of diplomats in a squat.

O: Well, maybe my point was basically that if you want to make work that is loosely based on a tradition, let’s say Fluxus or whatever, you can decide what is it rooted in, then how do you continue that tradition if you want to break with that tradition as the status quo. That was what P.H.A.F. was saying, that he wants to create a new status quo.
So how do you create a new status quo without relying on that which you want to discontinue? Do you understand, P.H.A.F.

P.H.A.F.: YEAH. I’m trying to listen more to your discussion, of you two. Because that’s more interesting for me than talking myself about my own work. But besides that, YEAH, the changing of the status quo, you have to see it in a microcosmic view. In my opinion. Meaning that it’s not the aim to change the status quo of the big system, because in a way, I agree with you saying that it is conservatism because it just changes into another big system. Most often, if there is too much idealism involved. So, in that sense, it’s also what I said yesterday when we left that we have to not make it bigger than what it is, you know. It’s just a humble little cowardice which presents itself to an audience, you know.

P.H.A.F.: But in that sense, of course it is. It is an opponent of a bigger ambience where it is always about the biggest, or the best or the highest, or the fastest. The fastest guitar player. So maybe it also has a connection with not feeling well with that kind of approach of all kinds of things. I mean, it doesn’t really answer any question you said.

O: Yes. No, it does. It does. I’m thinking. I’m thinking how to continue.
The example of you facing the police in the squats and disguising as diplomats was a real intervention that kind of changed the rules of that situation.


O: But can that also work in your performance in situations where it is expected?

P.H.A.F.: You can constantly change the rules by creating a certain direction in the performance and then, like for example, when I did a reading for the opening of Dennis Tyfus (D.T.) exhibition in Hasselt in a cultural center, I started reading, and then I had mentioned some things from my curriculum vitae, which is a bit of a shameful situation, you know, to proclaim yourself in that sense, by introducing myself, but at the end, so there was a sort of like, “alright, YEAH, here we are again, a bit of funny things he does, and we all feel comfortable with this relationship”, but then I also started to talk about the death of our neighbour in that period, after being at the intensive care in coma, et cetera, et cetera, and that he was cremated. And then I also started to list all the funeral services offered to us for his cremation.
You know, and he didn’t have a lot of money, so we had to do it with a budget cremation.
Which is still funny, you know? And then you read this kind of stuff, like all the regulations and what you can get for €1500 and what not. Based on a maximum of four people, but when you want coffee for ten, then you suddenly have to pay extra, et cetera, et cetera.
So they [the audience] were still OK, but then I made a little death card for him. I don’t know the right word. It’s a bit cranky in the Catholic sense. So there was a photo of him and the date of birth and death and accompanied by a sort of little text and I gave it to the audience to pass it through, you know. So suddenly the whole relationship was changed because at that moment, they became part of this uncomfortable relationship with death. With somebody they don’t know. Before, it was still a sort of abstract thing, you know, it could be imaginary. It could be even imaginary just having the card in your hands. But to do that gesture, suddenly it didn’t feel anymore as an abstract proposal, as part of a sort of humoristic, cabaret context. So you can change rules and positions.

官無名: It became existential. That’s also what I see in all your work. There’s always an existential dimension. And we talked about this yesterday when we brought up the anecdote of Zhuang Zhou [alternative spelling: Chuang Tzu], the Taoist philosopher, who preferred to be an alive tortoise dragging his tail in the mud, to being a dead tortoise put on a museum wall as a beautiful object. And although, P.H.A.F., you weren’t familiar with that anecdote, you completely agreed. You also liked that Zhuang Zhou used it as a kind of martial art. In the anecdote, he is being approached by two court officials who want him to work for the Emperor, and he lets them answer the question of what the tortoise would prefer to be, to get himself out of their recruitment. He does a judo move against the officials by making them draw the conclusion that they shouldn’t recruit him.
So that is the existential part. The part of getting into the dirt, but not as an expressionist performance, but as something where existence, expression and dirt also feed into something conceptual. And that’s maybe a part of Proportionism, right?

P.H.A.F: YEAH, that’s right. It’s a technique, almost. It’s a, it’s a tool, let’s put it that way.

O: Zhuangzi extends this argument to say that making ourselves useful is risky. There are several stories in the Zhuangzi about useless trees that are so bent and twisted that they are unusable. The upright, beautiful trees are cut down and made into things. The twisty, gnarled trees are left alone.
In this world, if you want to thrive, you need to be ugly, a bit bent out of shape, and useless. As the Zhuangzi puts it, “Everybody knows the usefulness of usefulness, but nobody knows the usefulness of uselessness.” (Zhuangzi: Dragging Our Tails In The Mud.
P.H.A.F: And it’s interesting that you mentioned the martial arts because there also you change the positions when you are attacked. You go with the attacker, and you feed the attacker with their own energy, which also happens in Zhuangzi’s anecdote of the tortoise. An example of deflecting the question. They had to bring suddenly the bad news [to the Emperor] without knowing themselves that they caused the bad news by agreeing with Zhuangzi.

P.H.A.F: So that’s interesting. It has to do with fluidity. It doesn’t have to do with a revolution in the sense of ideals. It has to do with a continuous practice of trying to put yourself and the other in a new position also without big words, it’s not about big words. Taoism also not in this sense of dirt. You can also see in a certain approach of materials or by saying for example, like yesterday, I spoke about paintings on which I put paper as a sketch and then just accept this as a final, or at least the sort of final stage.
Which is of course not really accepted because it’s meant as a sketch. But then you question also about this idea of perfectness or the highest point or if it’s interesting to make it as a wrap. Sort of. YEAH To call it a wrap.

官無名: By the way, I just misunderstood you phonetically, but it was an interesting misunderstanding when you said “accept this as final” in relation to the sketch being the painting. I misunderstood “accepting it as vinyl”. Like a vinyl record, you know, which I think is equally valid, isn’t it?

O: A very dadaist association. But somehow, I read 官無名’s comment as an indirect reminder to P.H.A.F. not to deviate from the vinyl. Accepting a sketch as final or even as painting is far from being deviant in art, dirt or not. We need to be careful not to confuse the court official for Zhuangzi. It’s the problem of proclaiming one’s own deviance or any qualification for that matter. Projecting, to the point that one starts to believe in it.
Last year you performed at Rib. We have a video recording of it by the way. It is on our Vimeo Channel if anyone wants to check it out. The camera work at the start of the recording is very telling. It seems somewhat lost and searching.
I remember there was a lot of tension in the space. Here I felt more tension compared to the other performances I had seen before. But of course I was also the host now, and you told me before the performance about the bad news. Something the audience didn’t know.
It felt like a balancing act. You seemed to constantly threaten to throw the towel in the ring. But it remained unresolved, with the effect that the tension remained. I also felt a lot of recalcitrance. Expressed both toward the place and yourself. Almost like school kids that protest their dysfunctionality and dislike of the school by bullying the teacher while burning their own bridges.
I am curious how much of it was planned and in general how do you deal with unplanned forces of…. of reality during a scripted performance?

P.H.A.F: It came out of a talk I had with a woman in Zurich. I met her outside the hotel we were in. I came out of the hotel, she was there, and we looked at each other, and then she said, ha, nice weather. And then I thought, ah, there are a lot of potential stories in this woman, otherwise why does she say nice weather? So I said: “YEAH, of course. It’s really nice weather”. And I immediately started recording. And then there was a sort of complete chit-chat talk for about half an hour. And so I was hanging around and thinking like, what the fuck are we talking about? You know, it’s about nothing. But I was very interested in this nothing as a potential food for philosophy. So from there I started to write more and more about chit-chat and nothing conversations I had over time.
Which is also a form of reality, you know, it’s hyperreality in a certain sense, this chit-chat. So I think from there also these ideas of bringing the death of Rui into the performance, because I was not in the best of circumstances, to produce work, you know. So then I thought, it’s maybe also a martial arts thing. If it opposes you, you bring it to the arena, and you give it a hug, and you use it as a tool or as a material, too.
So for me, it’s maybe neutralizing the situation and at the same time it gives a lot of existentialism like 官無名 said. But also this nonsense. This chit-chat talk with this woman for half an hour…You follow the conversation 官無名 or you were out for a while?

O: It became almost like. How do you call it? Something that stands in for something else? What is the term for that?

P.H.A.F: It’s represents?

官無名: A metaphor?

O: A metaphor? Not really.

官無名: A parable?

O: An analogy, maybe.

官無名: Now you trigger the comparative literature guy in me, because in our discipline, we have all these tropes…

O: YEAH, but let’s say the chit-chat became a kind of coping mechanism for the existential situation.

官無名: Yes.

官無名: I wanted to ask whether Proportionism is also a Proportionism between composition and improvisation. Which would be like the old conflict in experimental music, whether you’re a composer or an improviser, and in most cases you’re either the one or the other.

O: It goes a bit back to the Glenn Gould conversation. Gould thought of himself as a composer when performing classical pieces from other composers. He hated drama. Rather than a fashionable fidelity to a score based on a romanticist consensus about a composer’s intentions, he would go against contrast between parts of a musical score. He would rather choose to read the future in it, the analytical standpoints of the day. He would slow it down. He would eliminate the distinction between performing and reading. He would read a composition with the ears of another. And he would look for similarities and continuities between the parts.

官無名: YEAH, you could call Glenn Gould an improviser because he was humming along with his own playing the piano. So that was also a form of existential Proportionism, bringing in his body and its idiosyncrasies, and not cutting it off or abstracting from it, as classical musicians normally do.

O: But there is a fine line between becoming a bully and a serious performer. But of course this is beside the point because we know Peter is a genius.
If you know when you fall out of your role, or out of your script, then it is no longer risky, whereby the method of risk taking in the dynamics of reality and fiction becomes predictable. Lot of Dutch comedians perform like this, perhaps.

P.H.A.F: That’s a question for me?

O: For both of you?

P.H.A.F: 官無名 how do you deal with that as a performer?

官無名: I’m only a performer when you put me on stage for your experiments.
Maybe that was also the genius of De Player, because De Player made everyone a performer when you went to a De Player night. And you, P.H.A.F set the bar as the maître de conference. I remember that D.T. once said that he was afraid of performing in De Player because your introductions of the evening and the artists set the bar so high for everyone else. In most De Player nights, you as the conférencier were the best performer. In our conversation from yesterday, we used the term orgy. There was something orgiastic in De Player, and an orgy also makes everyone a performer.

P.H.A.F: In that sense, all the positions are also changing constantly.
To open an event in that sense as a master of ceremony always was also a sort of invitation or a trial to set a certain tone, to step in altogether. It was not meant as a sort of machismo, although it could feel like that. So that was always a sort of question mark, because then it would have become, like we talked about it yesterday, fetishistic.

官無名: But, you know, I once had a discussion with Goodiepal about that, about your performance as master of ceremonies at De Player. And my theory was, and now you have to prove me right or wrong, that it came from the Katendrecht red-light-district DNA of De Player, basically, from De Player taking over a former gambling and sex club, including its original name, “De Player”. With you, P.H.A.F as the pimp of Katendrecht, but in a camp version.

P.H.A.F: YEAH, the basic idea when I started the club with Annemiek was let’s make a nightclub for art, because all the art appears in these ‘beautiful places’, you know, with ‘beautiful people’. It doesn’t feel right for us, so we have to put it in a different mode.
So this idea of a nightclub and then later on also in the context of Katendrecht next to the Black Sea bar and with the hookers and this symbiosis of this mentality, of course, I can imagine that you position it in that sense. And of course it has a campy side too.

O: What 官無名 says made me think of the mockumentary film Zelig by Woody Allen from 1983. Wherever he went, he dissolved and assimilated into the given setting, adopted the new accent, even skin color of people surrounding him. No stable sense of self, no identity. Hence, he was called ‘the human chameleon’. So what you’re implying 官無名 is that basically, P.H.A.F fulfilled the role that was reserved for him in that real context. He filled a gap. The master of ceremonies is also a kind of puppet master. More than in his other movies, Woody Allen here acts as himself. Lacking identity, he can move freely between all these worlds and introduce fiction as mimicry: performing a documentary.

官無名: In those early days of De Player when I arrived in Rotterdam, still as a kind-of tourist from Berlin, I thought back of it as a 21st century Cabaret Voltaire. Today, the Cabaret Voltaire has been sanitized through art history, but it was everything but sanitized in its own time. For example, Emmy Hennings was a morphine junkie and sex worker, and Hugo Ball was her pimp – not in any metaphorical sense, but literally, as documented in Swiss police reports from that time [published in: Kata Krasznahorkai and Sylvia Sasse (editors), Artists and Agents: Performance Art and Secret Services, Spector Books, 2023, p. 394-411]. Cabaret Voltaire was not running for an art crowd, but mainly a very rowdy student crowd that was drunk and wanted amusement. That’s how all these emigrant misfit artists could survive, at least for the year in which Cabaret Voltaire existed, because there were enough of these rich kids throwing money at them for their performances. There was a very similar student fraternity audience for Kurt Schwitters and Theo van Doesburg on their Holland Dada tour in 1923.
And for a long time, this was not recognized in any art history book. It took almost half a century until this was seen as a part of 20th century art. Back then, I had a feeling with De Player that it had something magical.

O: I remember one of the early acts was by someone who ended one of his performances with sitting on a huge cucumber he found by chance on the counter, with ease. Once you got the logic of the place, you thought everything is possible. But towards the end, I had the feeling that the art world started to flirt with De Player, wanted to capitalize on its so-called otherness, and as a result, the dirt or subversiveness of De Player started to become normalized. That was its death sentence.

官無名: We talked about this yesterday, but maybe the last dirty performance in De Player was when Alexander Brener smeared his own shit into his face, almost exactly ten years ago in June 2014. In our conversation from yesterday, P.H.A.F., you said that this was pretty close to your own Proportionist existential-conceptual approach.

P.H.A.F.: YEAH, definitely. I felt connected in a certain sense with him.
And spent a few nice days also with him, sitting at the waterside of Katendrecht and reflecting on the city as a fascistic concentration camp. I think he even wrote a book on that. City development as the continuation of the concentration camps of the Nazis. Which was an interesting point of view. Also regarding the changes of the whole area there, of course the concentration camp in this sense also is a metaphor of a lot of things. I was just looking at the comment of Mona Keijzer, politician of the Dutch right-wing farmer party BBB, on the Dutch television that asylum seekers, meaning islamic refugees, because when she talks about refugees she always means Arabic or Islamic people, don’t know anything about the holocaust, and an important item in the new coalition agreement is to educate ‘them’ about the holocaust. Have you seen this video with [the Dutch Jewish writer] Arnon Grunberg and her?

O: Yes, I saw that, it’s shocking, she became almost our prime minister but will still play an important role as a minister of the farmers party BBB. It’s also not so shocking, such prejudiced views are increasingly becoming normalized. She also implied that Muslims are intrinsically, by culture, which sounds to me more by nature, antisemitic.

官無名: This reminds me of the Dutch naturalization exams me and my partner are currently doing. We’ve currently done half of them, including our “knowledge of Dutch society”.
What we learned was that at the test center, no one will get the same questions. And neither will your individual questions be randomly chosen, but you’re being profiled and given questions that the Dutch governmental immigration agency thinks fit you. My partner is Taiwanese and only got questions like: what do you do if people say that Asian food isn’t healthy?

O: What were your questions?

官無名: As a German, I got more than ten questions about swastikas, concentration camps and the German occupation of the Netherlands. And if you’re Islamic, then you’ll get lots of questions about gay people and whether you want to burn people in the street and stuff like this. Actually, I had a colleague, who’s Indian and gay. And then he got this question: You’re at a bus station, and you see two men kissing each other. What do you do? The multiple-choice answers were: (a) you do nothing, (b) you tell them to stop, and (c) you call the police. And he told me that he got a hysterical fit of laughter in the testing center, because he missed a fourth option: I want to join them and turn their kissing into a threesome. So he went to the test center staff and said that he wanted to have that fourth option.