Reading Systems

Reading Systems

Christina Guadalupe Galván for Damn Magazine - 8 August 2017

Peter Halley explains how his colourful installations signify the digital system that is closing in on us more and more

Cells of colour on two-dimensional planes atop larger two-dimensional planes that together define a space. That is how Peter Halley presents his work. Taken as a whole, it is a 3D presentation comprising two 2D layers. From his viewpoint, this makes all the difference, as it instils in the work the nature of a text rather than a sculpture. 

Halley's calm and gentle character contrasts with the fierceness and storminess of his work. In his work he represents, with great wit and humour, the mechanisms of control employed by post-industrial societies using geometric mechanisms for interconnected isolation. He first conceptualised these back in the 1980s using his now famous cells (or prisons) and conduits, which today are more relevant than ever, given the evolution of communication technologies and the ruling of the internet. Actually, in a 1985 article called On Line, he wrote: “The proliferation of the computer is the development that most ensures the closure of this system.”

DAMN had the pleasure of Halley’s company for several hours in his New York studio, once the headquarters of the independent Index Magazine he ran from 1996 to 2005. A lively conversation about art, architecture, sociology, philosophy, urban theory, and popular culture, ensued.

DAMN: Your work is more contemporary than ever, now that technology has almost completely overtaken social relationships. Did you foresee this when you started? 

Peter Halley: Oh, sure. Most of it! (Laughs) The only big surprise is maybe email. That people would rather write than talk. But the fact that they are isolated in front of computers and tied into the network isn’t so surprising. Truly big influences in formulating all this were: firstly, Norbert Elias with his book The Civilizing Process, which is about how we all become self-constrained; and the second was The Fall of Public Man by Richard Sennett, in which he describes the decline of heterogynous, chaotic urban life and the desire for everyone to be in a safe, vent-less society.

Read the ful interview