Oliver Pietsch

27 January – 2 February 2014

Oliver Pietsch, The Conquest Of Happiness, 2005

27 January – 2 February

The Conquest of Happiness (2005), 45 min

The Conquest of Happiness is a 45 minute compilation of drug use and its representation in film. Pietsch’s overview on drugs in film is sorted by substance, ranging – in the chapter on cocaine – from  Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) to Al Pacino’s Tony Montana in Scarface (1983). It establishes visual patterns and citations of drug use (Robert de Niro and Leonardo di Caprio smoking opium, for example) and cuts them into a rapid, pop-promo staccato.

Interview with Oliver Pietsch, January 2014

Grace Storey: The Conquest of Happiness uses over 300 clips of drug use, sourced from recognisable Hollywood movies, indie archives and documentary films. The clips are organised by substance, in an almost encyclopaedic manner. Did you have a clear idea of the structure of the film before selecting these particular sequences, or did it evolve organically?

Oliver Pietsch: Conquest… is based on far more than 300 clips! It took around two years to produce, but the research was in fact easier than with my other works, because drug movies relate to a genre. Subjects like death or love can be found in nearly every movie; you could watch forever.

Conquest… was largely a by-product of two earlier videos, Drugged and Tuned (both 2004), which look at drug induced hallucinations and actors under the influence. In the end, there was so much material left that I started experimenting and the idea for another video evolved quite organically – showing a range of different drugs and how to take them.

GS: Many of the films you draw upon were originally intended to be hard-hitting cautionary tales about the consequences of drug use and abuse, but your piece avoids didacticism. The piece both emphasises narrative through its sampling of different films, and deconstructs archetypal filmic strategies. Do you aim to create a new narrative through the final work, or let the viewers make their own decisions?

OP: Right, many films dealing with drugs have a message and it’s not a hedonistic one. Early films like Reefer Madness (1936) were intended to warn viewers about drug abuse, but actually they’re quite funny and pure exploitation. In most cases, seeing someone taking drugs in a film triggers your desire.

My aim was to mirror the subject drug by aiming for a similar absorbing and lulling effect. The structure of repetition goes well with the principle of drugs: Again!

GS: The work is a seductive exploration of addiction, partly emphasised by the soundtrack, which includes samples from Neil Young, Brian Eno and Roy Orbison. By replacing the original soundtracks, the music becomes an essential part of the film itself. Could you talk about the relationship between sound and imagery in your films; does one come first, or is it a simultaneous process?

OP: It is quite simultaneous. Sometimes I look for the music, whereas other times a sequence is built around a certain song: music is the strongest tool. At the last Venice Biennale I noticed that every work I really enjoyed was built around music. Anri Sala’s great installation Ravel, Ravel, Unravel for example or Camille Henrot’s fantastic film Grosse Fatigue.

GS: Your new film Tales of Us (2014) is also an exploration of a particular universal theme, equally seductive but more optimistic than The Conquest of Happiness. Whereas the latter focuses largely on the solitary experience of the individual, the former takes the viewer on a journey of love, lust and desire from young to middle to old age. Could you talk about the new work, and how your technique has changed and developed since the 2005 piece? The Conquest of Happiness appears to use more of a collage technique, whereas the new work is more of a montage?

OP: That is a good point. Montage instead of collage. In the new work I tried to avoid too much repetition. There are some serial sequences (hands/sex), but there is also much more dialogue than in earlier works. The narration is built around a timeline: the progression of age and the progression of a typical relationship. That means that I had to deal with a big cliché, but in the end, when you cement a cliché and emphasise it, the cliché can tell a deeper truth (and the truth is not to show how movies work or manipulate; it is not about deconstruction).

It’s still interesting watching a lot of kisses in a row. The serial principle is unbeatable… comparative viewing. But little by little it got constricting, and after Conquest I tried to develop my montage towards a more open texture – a form that allows me to combine everything with everything. The Shape of Things (2008) for example is a very non-serial work.

Oliver Pietsch (b.1972, Munich), lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Recent solo exhibitions include From Here to Eternity, MM Projects, Karlsruhe (2012), The Shape of Things, Kibla, Maribor, Slovenia (2011) From Here to Eternity, Myymälä2, Helsinki, Finland  (2011); From Here to Eternity, Nettie Horn, London (2010); Pietsch Week, Goff+Rosenthal, New York (2009), The Shape of Things, D.O.B. Gallery, Belgrade, Serbia (2009). Group exhibitions include The Art of Pop Video, Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Köln, Germany (2011); Featuring Cinema, Coreana Museum of Art, space*c, Seoul, Korea  (2011), No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better. Scheitern, Kunst und Wissen, Kunstverein Hildesheim, Hildesheim, Germany (2010).

Visit Oliver Pietsch’s website.