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Peles Empire: Even here, I exist

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Key takeaways

1. Dealing with the contemporary concept of ‘hybridity,’ the duo tries to achieve cultural mix and the nonhierarchical combination of disparate elements in the exhibition

2. The group has participated in solo and group exhibitions at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Sculpture Projects in Münster


Mar 12 - Apr 26, 2020


Barakat Contemporary

Barakat Contemporary



Peles Empire is a collaborative duo consisting of the artists Katarina Stöver and Barbara Wolff. Their name comes from Peleș Castle, a summer residence of the Romanian royal family. Each of the castle’s hundreds of rooms boasts styles from different historical times and places, ranging from the Gothic to Art Deco, Rococo, Oriental, Renaissance, and Italian Baroque styles. Intrigued by this pastiche and the postmodern style of the castle, in 2005 the artists began a collaborative work working from photographs of the castle.

The artists attached A3 paper printouts to the wall of their Frankfurt apartment living room, working from photographs of the princess’s bedroom to produce an actual scale replication of the castle’s interior. The project of reproducing the castle, which itself is a reproduction of the various architectural styles of the world, gradually attained an abstract quality through the process of copying and addition of other various media, compressing and deconstructing the original images.

In essence, the artists use the tension generated from the mixing of intrinsically different elements as the driving force in their work, and deal with the contemporary concept of “hybridity” as one of their main themes. They combine different times and spaces together with disparate media, mixing things that are traditionally divided along dichotomies—from their own clashes as a duo to divisions of original and copy, historical and contemporary, elegant and lowbrow, and two-dimensional versus three-dimensional. The artists present their working process as the final work, and the images from previous work and exhibitions are reincorporated once again into new artwork. In this way, they are attempting to blur the inherent order of classification and hierarchy within us.

In this exhibition at Barakat Contemporary as well, Peles Empire tries to achieve cultural hybridity and the nonhierarchical combination of disparate elements. By taking photographs of the gallery floor and then attaching them to the walls, the artists create a site-specific installation that aims to blur the boundaries of space. The artists also researched Korean ceramics for the exhibition, drawing inspiration from comb-patterned earthenware, Silla-era clay dolls, and Goryeo celadon. One of the origin stories behind the English word Celadon is the name of a character in the 17th century pastoral comedy L’Astrée (1627). This character is typified by the light green ribbon he wears, and Europeans found the color of Chinese porcelain reminiscent of this image. Delving into the “Celadon” story, the artists find the concept of Arcadia, the pursuit of a utopian ideal within a simple bucolic life.

The exhibition also derives its title, Even here, I exist, from the concept of Arcadia. Arcadia has been continually represented in numerous works of poetry, literature, and art, amongst the most prominent of these being the French painter Nicolas Poussin’s work The Shepherds of Arcadia, in which the words “Et in Arcadia Ego” are inscribed on a tombstone. The ego(“I”) here is sometimes seen as symbolizing death itself, alluding to the fact that while human beings forever aspire to ideals, all things come to an end, and there is no such thing as perfection.

The variations on this cultural interpretation continue into the artists’ Cleopatra series. The image of Cleopatra that appears in the work comes from a Gobelins tapestry in Peleș Castle. The Cleopatra images appear transformed from their original though the European perspective, depicted in a manner analogous to Jesus as he appears in traditional sacred art. Tapestries are weavings that occupy three-dimensional space, but also have inherent painterly qualities, and Cleopatra was a both an icon of romantic feminism and a powerful ruler who defended her land against the Roman Empire, both contrasting elements that drew the artists’ attention. The motif of the snake, an allusion to Cleopatra’s death, is transfigured into various symbols throughout the exhibition space and cites the use of Cleopatra in the Tom Stoppard’s 1993 play ‘Arcadia,’ connecting the works with the theme of the show.

In these ways, the work of Peles Empire forms an endlessly cycling space where stories infinitely unfold. In this space, history and present are intertwined, stories and objects hold equal standing, real spaces are compressed into digital images, and the digital images installed in a real space repeat themselves, folding and unfolding. The copy assumes a new originality as the original disappears; artworks that are both something new and references of what came before transform amid this endless cycle. Sharing their work for the first time in Asia with this exhibition, Peles Empire will absorb the cultural DNA of Korea and continue its reproduction elsewhere.