Discovering the Secrets of Monsieur Pippin
ISBBN 2 908257 17 3. Published on the occasion of Steven Pippin’s exhibition
Les Coopérateurs at F.R.A.C. Limousin 1995
Ascribing mythic points of origin to an artist’s body of work has a dubious history. It follows that Steven Pippin’s childhood initiation into the elaborate rituals of processing and developing film, as well as the ontological mysteries of photography, took place in the family bathroom, which was regularly converted into a darkroom by his father.
The British artist’s work is concerned with the cautiously eccentric and charmingly anachronistic “rigmarole” of photography: the ingredients and processes, the light-tight manœuvres, the fumbling in the dark, the unblinking pin-holes whose unforgiving exposures fix long silences in a variety of chambers – and the palpable desire for these reflexive procedures to signify.
With the camera obscura and other outmoded optical devices as operative metaphors, Pippin converts bathtubs, wardrobes, refrigerators, washing machines, toilets, and gallery spaces into site- or object-specific chambers. These places or domestic objects, kitted out to make pictures, bespeak truthful inferences about the world that surrounds them. The results are unglamorous, abused photographs, documenting a temporality of absence, and always foregrounding the sequestered cameras as instruments of waiting and interiority – waiting in a bath, in a laundromat, in a lavatory, or outside a photo booth.
Discovering the Secrets of Monsieur Pippin is the most exhaustive catalogue of Pippin’s work to date, fully documenting an intriguing, quietly experimental career whose procedures have spanned photography, film, video, and kinetic forms of sculpture. The copiously illustrated bilingual catalogue also includes Pippin’s germinative notebook drawings as well as four texts: essays by Frédéric Paul and Michael Tolkin and two wryly descriptive pieces by Pippin himself.
Ultimately, Pippin pulls the rug from under the positivist fantasy that increased refinement in photographic technology will inevitably create photographs as loaded with information as the objects or places themselves, the representation and the “real” ultimately becoming indistinguishable. Pippin works in the opposite direction, exploring the camera as recorder of its own inner darkness.