Peles Empire is a collaborative work by Katharina Stoever and Barbara Wolff founded in 2005 in Frankfurt. Peles Castle, its eponymous subject, is a Romanian oddity in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Built between 1893 and 1913, its interiors are a pastiche of period architectural styles such as Orientalism, Renaissance and Rococo. Stoever and Wolff have devoted their artistic practice to this castle, imitating its method across different contexts and media. What began as simple reproductions have mutated over time into abstractions of detail as the collective’s investigations have developed: ‘somehow, this narrow trajectory of working only with Peles castle gives us a paradoxical form of freedom. By setting these boundaries we are forced to explore how far this process of reproduction can be pushed.’
For Bold Tendencies 2012, in Peckham, South London, PelesEmpire created a sculptural installation. Fountain 1 is a rectangular block of concrete tiled on one side with the fragmented image of a vessel found in Peles castle, depicting a water scene, and completed on the reverse with ceramic protrusions that channel water flowing along its surface. This collision of different materials with the modernist, industrial context of the car-park produced tensions that revolve around the functional and the aesthetic, as the castle’s logic of appropriation and recontextualisation is pushed a step further by the artists.
This combination of diverse formal, material and cultural elements was similarly evident in Peles Empire’s solo show, Formation, at London’s Cell Projects in 2013. This exhibition revolved around a single room of the castle. Heavily manipulated black and white images of the Armory crowded temporary hangings that divided the gallery space. The immersive environment thus created was punctuated with sculptures hewn from a mixture of unglazed porcelain and black grog. The tension brought about by the proximity of these objects to the altered images of the Armory Room is set against an encounter between military force and a form of representational violence that removes objects from their original function.
Peles Empire’s irreverence is reflective of their subject, their mechanisms of distortion through copying mirroring those of the castle. However, their formal reproductions of architectural reproductions are not descended from the endless appropriation that characterises certain forms of postmodernism. Neither do they simply uncover the human drives to which the castle is a lasting testimony. Instead, Peles Empire spin out and intensify the mimetic impulse and rather than dealing with distinctions between authenticity and inauthenticity in the object, they pay attention to the mechanisms of reproduction, which drive a process of constant gain and loss.
Previous solo exhibitions by Peles Empire in 2013 include Cell Project Space, London; Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Germany; and GSS, Glasgow. They have also exhibited at Shanaynay, Paris, NKV Wiesbaden, Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, (all 2013), Temple Bar, Dublin; V22, London; and ‘Bold Tendencies’, London (all 2012). In 2011 they were selected for Frieze Projects at Frieze Art Fair, London. 2009 shows include ORTON.nl, Rotterdam. In 2007 they were invited by MAK Center for Art & Architecture at the Schindler House, Los Angeles to exhibit in ‘The Mystery of Life’, as part of their residency.