Peter Wächtler Chisenhale Gallery / London

November 28, 2016

Peter Wächtler’s Far Out (2016), a four-minute animated cartoon, presents visuals whose deceptive simplicity underscores the work’s narrative complexity. A catchy rock-and-roll tune captures one’s attention in the otherwise dark space.

The animation is projected on a short wall built to divide the gallery in half lengthways, positioned central to its width. Wächtler plays with audience expectations and a somewhat elementary idea of entertainment by constructing the visuals to fit the duration of a rock song.

The film is composed of just thirty-five frames. The artist has described its slightly hypnotic quality as akin to that of a screensaver. A black screen, the distant sound of wolves howling in the night, fades into an almost fixed landscape, where a character in a top hat and tails walks away, his back turned to the viewer, toward a moonlit castle on top of a barren mountain. The Gothic night scene is complete with a full moon, a flock of black bats hovering over the castle and a mysterious light mist. A slow zoom gives the impression that the character is approaching his destination, while his walking remains static.

The backbone of the work is its soundtrack, composed and sung by Wächtler accompanied by up-tempo boogie piano music. The lyrics tell of the opportunities on the road ahead as well as the desire to leave a troubled present behind. They appear in large subtitles on the screen, but as the singing gets increasingly hysterical, the written words start to disassociate themselves from the song and turn into a monologue.

There are moments when the viewer feels addressed directly: “Choose your way and so will I, this road will never ask us why” is the refrain. The choice of cartoon animation opens a space for absurdity — at one point the moon explodes in the sky — as the narration becomes disjointed and unreliable. Caught between carefree excitement and uncertainty, Wächtler’s work is rich with pathos, melancholic and farcical. Like the slurred but insightful speech of a drunken man in a bar who has seen it all, it draws from the outlandish to touch deeper truths about existence.

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