By Professor Canice Prendergast
On the third floor of the Harper Center, overlooking the winter garden atrium, there is a video artwork by Peter Wachtler, a German artist born in 1979. It is an animation of a rat going through the routines of contemporary life, narrated by the artist. The action is repeated, not only through repetition of the animation, but also through the use of the artist beginning every event described by "How I....".
At face value, the piece is about the depressing routines of a contemporary life, where a sense of world weariness is etched through a series of memorable events. Wachtler is a keen observer of life, and the piece is well worth a view and listen for this alone.
Yet his interests are more complex than this. His ulterior interest is to understand how stories and plots are constructed through cliché and trope. This can be seen by the subject material of the piece: some of the events he covers feel personal to the artist, yet others are little more than tried and trusted tropes, seen in the media every day, to evoke emotional responses. The best example of this is at the end of the piece, where he sings "Down to the River" by Bruce Springsteen. This is both a sentimental and affecting end to a description of a modern life, and touching for that reason, while at the same time, it represents the most clichéd view of the working man. As such, Wachtler is probing not just a description of our times, but also how we construct tales.
For anyone who wants to learn more about this artist's work, he will be having a show on campus at the Renaissance Society, beginning February 7.
Professor Prendergast is the W. Allen Wallis Professor of Economics at Chicago Booth