Peter Friedl’s work analyses diverse political, historical and cultural contexts, and scrutinises conditions and types of representation, such as language systems and imagery, in particular. He questions how meaning
is created and how this sometimes can lead to misinterpretation. His work emphasizes the friction between aesthetic and political awareness, occasionally resulting in the rift between what is really meant and
what is actually understood. An example is his large neon sign, representing a handwritten sentence from Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks (Quaderni dal Carcere): “Io posso trovare fantasie dove non c’e’ nessuno” where the author attempted to translate a passage from Magnificence, a play by the eccentric English poet and humanist John Skelton. Magnificence is a “morality play,” with allegorical figures in which good prevails over evil. In verse 1040 Fancy, one of the characters, says: “I can find fantasies where none is.” Gramsci translates the sentence incorrectly: “Io posso trovare fantasie dove non c’e’ nessuno.” (I can find fantasies where there is no one). The suggestion is that the “Freudian” mistake might be caused by his solitude, being incarcerated in prison, and this of course opens the sentence to other forms of interpretation. The translation may be wrong but what is important is that we find ourselves facing a new collapse between
micro- and macropolitics. It is through this narrow and unwanted crack that desire, or to be more emphatic, the weight of suppression creeps in. The work is an example of the way Friedl uses conceptual analysis
of language and images as an art form, in which he involves the observer, not as a passive onlooker, but as an active producer of meaning. A second work, Wall Painting, Untitled (1999) deals with the difficulty to trust what we think we know. The walls of the exhibition space are painted in a monochrome silvery colour up to a height of 151 centimeters, which is one centimeter higher than the height of Gramsci (who suffered from a malformation of the spine that stunted his growth). The work has ambiguous connotations: on the one hand the space presents us with a “fact” about Gramsci, without giving us a clue about its reliability;
on the other, a presence is evoked opaquely by entirely abstract means. Resembling neither a classical tribute, nor critique, or hagiography, Gramsci’s conceptual “portrait” (if one could even call it that) again asks the viewer to work to draw his own conclusions about the heritage and contemporary position of this historic figure. Using conceptual analysis as a tool, Friedl’s work engages the viewer in the exercise of critical thinking.