In this, her first solo exhibition in North America, Kirsten Pieroth showed a series of works dealing with various interpretations of the term “inventing.” The artist researched facts and fables on the life of American inventor Thomas Alva Edison, who still holds the record for the most patents registered. Through these works the myth of his productivity and creativity gets transferred into general questions about artistic production.
The phrase “I regret that a previous engagement prevents me from accepting your kind invitation to dinner at your home, on Thursday evening, September seventeenth,” taken from an original Edison letter, was the title of an exhibition of Pieroth’s work at Klosterfelde Gallery in Berlin last fall. The works in that exhibition form the core of the show at the Contemporary Art Gallery.
The same phrase is also the starting point of the work Letter of an Inventor. Could the excuse with which Edison declines the invitation be an invented one, and therefore be patented as an invention? Searching for an answer, Pieroth undertakes a complicated course of correspondence: by equating the two meanings of the word “invention” – either the creation of something new or an untrue story, something made up – and dissolving the border between the life and work of Edison, she undermines the claim to truth and efficiency usually applied to patented inventions.
Edison’s Workbench is based on one of the various depictions of Edison sleeping, in this case on his work table. The photograph is signed “Thomas A. Edison,” a signature proven to be a fake. Pieroth reconstructs the table and transfers the signature onto the object. With this doubling of the fake autograph, the relation of original and copy, authentic document and reproduction is questioned. Opposite to the work table is Edison’s Restbench, a reconstruction of Edison’s garden bench from his Experimental Garden in Florida. Built out of old wooden boards with rusty nails sticking out, the work subverts the original function of the bench as a resting place.
Into this complex net of references and associations the gallery space was integrated by reconstructing the exhibition from Klosterfelde Gallery in Vancouver. Reminded of the process of Henry Ford reconstructing Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory as a museum exhibit in Michigan in 1928, Pieroth reconstructed a column, a feature of the Klosterfelde space, in the Contemporary Art Gallery. The white painted brick column is the same measurement and height as the column in the Berlin exhibition space, and in the same relation to the walls, but it appears as a dysfunctional object. Traveling to the original site of Edison’s laboratory in New Jersey, Ford discovered that the original buildings of the laboratory were mostly gone except for a few surviving materials. Determined to rebuild Edison’s “invention factory,” Ford reconstructed the site from photographs. This process was mimicked for the construction of the column in Vancouver.