Mario Pfeifer

— Approximation in the digital age to a humanity condemned to disappear


CIRCA Projects present the first major solo exhibition in the UK by German artist and filmmaker Mario Pfeifer – developed with the artist for a disused warehouse space on the banks of the river Tyne.

‘Approximation in the digital age to a humanity condemned to disappear’ is an exhibition Pfeifer produced whilst living on Isla Navarino, off the southernmost tip of Chile. The exhibition weaves 4K digital video, sculptural objects, anthropological artefacts, text and photography to present the different realities of an area that indigenous people, settlers, and military personnel all call home.

At the heart of the exhibition is a 3-screen video installation which looks at the wider archipelago area of Tierra del Fuego, where Isla Navarino is located. It looks at manual and industrial labour, at plant life, at the activities of descendants of the area’s indigenous Yaghan people in Katushaiwa and at the nightlife of the world’s southern-most city, Puerto Williams. ‘Approximation…’ presents a portrait of a nation and community that is violently undergoing cultural and religious, social, political and economic transformation. Through an observational approach and with the acceptance of the community, Pfeifer’s video installation aims to make visible the cruelty of anthropological practices in the region. It appeals for a different kind of representation in moving images of cultures that have existed long before the imperialistic gaze.

The soundtrack to Pfeifer’s video installation is contributed by Kamran Sadeghi, New York-based musician and member of the Soundwalk Collective. Creating a digital composition, Sadeghi, in dialogue with Pfeifer, samples field-recordings made in 1923 by missionary and anthropologist Martin Gusinde of Yaghan chants. The use of these samples paired with minimal electronic instruments and programming, gives this archival material a contemporary reappearance.


Carefully selected photographs, text and objects, some of which feature in the video installation, reject the use of anthropological objects as a truthful depiction of people. Instead they construct narrative threads which deepen and challenge our perceptions of Isla Navarino – problematising any one reading of this place, the cultures and people therein. A series of scenes in Pfeifer’s video installation show workers in icy factories packing shellfish exclusively for export to China – showing the intuitive Yaghan techniques of Centolla fishing have been automated. Even in the most remote parts of the world, cheap labour is sought to compete in international trade. A replica harpoon made by a Yaghan descendant, is displayed in the exhibition space – hinting at the hypocrisy of the external forces whose fascination with the indigenous culture also inflicted rapid industrial change which led to their extinction on surrounding the islands. These replicas are made for both museums and tourists.

A new publication, also entitled ‘Approximation in the digital age to a humanity condemned to disappear’, will be published by Sternberg Press in September 2015. A special In Conversation and screening event will be held at BALTIC on Monday 19 October between Mario Pfeifer and curator Amira Gad (Serpentine Galleries).

Mario Pfeifer exposes in his accompanying publication different theoretical discourses from online sources indicating the complex history and context of the region, the engagement of missionaries, settlers, economies and politics that transformed the land of its original inhabitants drastically. Additionally, an essay by design scholar Hugo Palmarola – pictured with commissioned 3D renderings – discusses the Yagán Jeep within Chile’s political turmoil and economic shift from a socialist to a a capitalist industry during the coup from Allende to Pinochet. A conversation between Thomas Seelig, curator and co-director of Fotomuseum Winterthur and the artist, offers insight in the conception and production of Approximation within Mario Pfeifer’s artistic practice.

16 October — 21 November 2015
CIRCA Projects


Publication, Sternberg Press