Since the early nineties, Peter Friedl (Oberneukirchen, Austria, 1960) has been producing a heterogeneous body of work that explores abuses of justice and the configurations of power in the contemporary world. His interest in the concept of subalternity – in the broadest sense – has led him to focus some of his work on black communities in Miami, South Africa, Haiti and other postcolonial contexts. He has also delved into other, more subtle situations of exclusion, such as childhood. Some of Friedl’s works explicitly draw on the theory of justice developed by the American theorist John Rawls in an attempt to revise Rousseau’s social contract for his own period. Friedl is interested in exploring little-known abuses from the past and in civil disobedience, and he shows how conflict arises when there is a lack of consensus. His work entails social and political critique and an in-depth study of the codes, cannons and genres of artistic modernity. His series of drawings encapsulate the interests of the artist.
This work forms part of a series of drawings on paper in a range of media, which the artist worked on for four decades. It is a substantial selection that had been part of the artist’s private collection for many years, and has rarely been exhibited. The drawings are visibly fragile and provisional (some have been made with pen or marker on paper), and in another context they would have been considered tests or preparatory drawings, rather than canonical works. The artist’s desire to exhibit the works in a museum are linked to his commitment to turning the aesthetic act of the gaze into a political gesture.
At the same time, Friedl classifies his drawings – which are all entitled Untitled – in strict chronological order, in order to avoid the usual narratives based on style or subject matter. The first drawing dates from September 1964, when Friedl was four years old, and the last is from 22 August 2005. The chronological reading (like the alphabetical order that Friedl has used in some of his works) has more to do with the sphere of documents than artworks, and this ties in to the rethinking of institutional logic and of the conventions that have traditionally governed museums and exhibition centres.
These drawings display the formal elements and the iconography that has gradually shaped Friedl’s universe over the years. The handwritten text, the use of colours, the recurring motifs, signs and symbols, and the historical references in the drawings are also present in many other works by the artist. This extensive archive clearly draws on autobiographical and historical references, although it is not the only time that that the artist has used children’s drawings in his work. Some of his own childhood drawings became the basis for later works, and he has also used drawings by his own children, and footage of groups of children.