Dan Peterman

Ingot God statuette (13th–12th century BCE), copper, Enkomi, Cyprus, courtesy the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus (left); cover of Röchling steelworks trade publication, Hanover, 1968 (right)

Dan Peterman has been working at the intersection of classical sculptural questions pertaining to form, mass, and volume, and pressing socioeconomic and ecological concerns since the beginning of the 1980s, when he first moved into the former recycling plant that has been his South Side studio ever since. It is part of a larger complex called the Experimental Station that proved to be an important early hub of the so-called social practice phenomenon in contemporary art with which the city of Chicago has become so closely associated.

An interest in alternative economies and the logic of circulation and recycling has led Peterman, born in Minneapolis in 1960, to concentrate on two materials for documenta 14, both of which come steeped in deep art-historical meaning, and whose coupling closely mirrors the fraught economic relationship between Germany and Greece: steel and copper.

A chance encounter with a small Cypriot statue referred to as the “Ingot God” (Cyprus was the source for most copper circulating in the ancient eastern Mediterranean) turned Peterman’s attention toward the notion of the ingot as unit or archetype, as basic material form—in effect, another type of currency in a global economy perennially caught between the illusory promise of dematerialization and the brute reality of the world’s irreducible materiality.

Tours of both the historical sites of Germany’s past and present industrial might (such as the Saarland steel mills, where some of the world’s largest outdoor sculptures are produced, as well as factory grounds in Kassel that have played high-profile roles in Germany’s eventful military past) and the underbelly of Athens’s flourishing scavenging economy have resulted in a series of site-specific interventions. These range from a copper-casting workshop to a trail of iron ingots, sourced from a factory specialized in recycling iron dust, and scattered throughout the exhibition trajectory in a manner that conjures memories of classical American Minimalism, while simultaneously referencing the constant stream of “stuff” that keeps the world economy afloat. And, of course, tellingly in these times of violent worldwide upheaval, the immortal words of Otto von Bismarck, the father of the modern German state, come to mind: “Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided … but by iron and blood.”

—Dieter Roelstraete

Posted in Public Exhibition
Excerpted from the documenta 14: Daybook