Manfred Peckl

Manfred Peckl in his studio. Photo © Maxime Ballesteros

Tearing up word, syntax and grammar to create the new visual rhythms

Manfred Peckl’s studio is a maelstrom of slices of paper. Different colours, words, shapes from magazines and posters, some discarded, some being saved for later use, are piled in boxes, on the floor, on the desk. It’s all part of what the Viennese artist calls “making one big thing out of smaller things”. 

As well as the obvious relation to collage, one of his most-used media, that notion applies equally to his attitude to his whole oeuvre. From the words that he creates his ultra-verbose pictures with also come ideas for songs for his band, The B-Men. It also inspires the composition of his poetry, his word sculptures, as well as books and catalogues. He is an equal-opportunities recycler – finding use for faces, words, colours and objects. 

“It’s interesting to let the material lead you to the solution,” he says. “You can see afterwards what the result is.” A viewer of Peckl’s work is typically subjected to several different linguistic messages simultaneously, a reflection of the marketing communications we are bombarded with on a daily basis. For his forthcoming show in Hamburg, the artist will be performing songs and poetry from a new book, wearing his “word sculptures”, as well as gloves and a skirt made of languages. Ambiguous words are made out of large cardboard tubes, creating, for example, a looping  handwritten helmet / crown made out of “anger / range”, another from “how / who”. Looping a word around itself creates confusion about which word is intended. 

“It’s exciting to perform with these sculptures, because the text I’m reading is quite poetic, composed and rhythmic,” he notes. “I want to change the meanings of the words… and then combine that with pictures, which might disagree with what the words are saying.” Often, even the titles and the designations contribute to this uncertainty. He has named one of his abstract collages of brightly coloured letters “Traksbat”, and for a recent exhibition he created nine different anagrammatic identities (Fred P. Leckmann, der Lampenfeck, and so on) each of whom was responsible for different pieces in the show. “Manfred Peckl himself claims not to have noticed that most of his works are not by him,” the show’s programme enigmatically suggests. As language becomes destabilised, so does the whole conceit of art exhibiting. 

Peckl’s work hasn’t always been so focused on language. For many years he made landscape collages, where he meticulously pieced together torn up maps to create fictional places, where he would create impossible, destabilised geographical narratives. Maps of flat northern Germany were turned into mountainous iceberg sculptures, bursting the walls of the room that contained them, while the outlines of the Himalayas were turned into a seascape with only the peaks remaining above the water, green again in this future eco-fiction. 

“I was doing those works for eight years,” Peckl says. “Then I just decided, ‘That’s enough. I can’t do it any better.’ I became an artist to be bold – not to just go to the studio to work on one thing, but to have a wide range and to bring things together you’re not used to. This is the bigger adventure at the moment.” 

It’s evident that Peckl’s obsession with words remains, situated in the world of layering meanings. The shifting significances of language are what inspires him, overlaying different sensory experiences of communication: one big thing out of many little things.

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