28 • 01 • 20Bea Istvánkó
Péter Puklus is known to think in series that are not unlike novels or epics—they are long, extensive, and often take years to complete. The final form these series usually take is a publication, a photo book. Such was the case with The Epic Love Story of a Warrior, a series based on the fictitious story of a family. Completed in 2016, it was shortlisted the same year for the Paris Photo – Aperture Foundation Photobook of the Year award. How to Dismantle a Pallet, from 2018, came as something of a surprise, in the light of Puklus’s former, relatively voluminous books, in which series received the full-scale treatment. The new work was “only” a 48-page, risographed, saddle-stitched photozine—though numbered and signed, and in this regard dissimilar to xeroxed fanzines in the traditional sense.
Printed at Hurrikan Press, the black-and-white publication is related to Péter Puklus’s most recent series, The Hero Mother – How to Build a House—as is apparent from the logic of the titles. A small selection from that series was presented in 2018, at Trafó Gallery’s exhibition, Life is Techno, with more works shown a few months later at Glassyard Gallery’s show, Hero Mother_Subtitle. Though the title essentially refers to the role of the mother in the family, the series itself is in fact more a portrait of the Father, i.e. the artist himself; the focus is on the diverse responsibilities of the novice head of the family. Several of the pictures are about fatherhood, with the artist on his own or with one of his children—while there is also the odd photo of the mother. Much like a journal, the series contains several pieces that are informed by the same motif: the difficulty of making a home, both in a metaphorical and literal sense, with the design and construction of a house appearing as themes. At the exhibitions, the idea was further driven home by the construction materials – beams, shuttering panels and rebar meshes – that were part of the installation.
One such staple of the construction industry, the pallet, takes centre stage in the most recent publication. With the title, the artist lays bare his uncertainty—or what are, at the least, mixed feelings—about the tasks he needs to perform. It can be read as a call for help—just as it may be taken for a reference to the countless “How to” videos on YouTube that provide uninitiated but enterprising viewers with instructions in DIY, renovation or construction.
The pallet is one of those objects whose presence we take for granted while never giving a thought to its importance. Similar pieces of logistic equipment were already in use in ancient Egypt in the 1st millennium BC, but the pallet did not gain its current form until the Second World War. Forklift trucks had come into use by that time, making the movement of heavy or voluminous loads significantly simpler. With a number of manufacturers catering for the increased demand for pallets, a variety of standards were in use, which often did not match well and resulted in an uneconomic use of space. The breakthrough came with the introduction of a single European standard, created in 1961 by Ivar and Tore Svensson. The Swedish brothers developed what came to be called the EUR-pallet in response to the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies’ call for designs, drawing their inspiration from fruit crates. The standardization reduced loading time by 90 per cent. Sixty years after its invention, the heavy-duty, massive EUR-pallet continues to be used in many fields of logistics. Pallets are essential for the transport of building materials, and you can find them at DIY stores and construction sites.
If the subject Puklus chose for his zine does make a reference to the practical significance of the ERU-pallet, How to Dismantle a Pallet demonstrates an atypical use of the object. As you leaf through the photozine, you can see a pallet broken down step by step, and then being built up again. Upon closer inspection, however, you will find that it is only the way the pages are arranged—A3-size sheets are folded in half—that gives rise to this narrative; there is in fact only one, deconstructive, process documented, wherein someone, probably the artist, takes the object apart in 24 steps.
Shot from the same camera position, the photos, apparently two-page images, seem to form a time-lapse video. However, these are not two-page images, with the exception of the cover and the centrefold: each pair of pages shows one half each of two consecutive steps of the process: the first half up to the middle of the booklet, and from that point, the second half. As you leaf through the fanzine, you may have the impression that the pallet comes apart with ease, almost of its own accord, while its main components remain planted. Appearances notwithstanding, it is worth knowing that a pallet, whose weight-bearing capacity is 1.5 tons, takes a great deal of physical force to dismantle, a lot of hammering, prying and moving about, so each shot, which may bring in mind the assembly instructions of IKEA furniture, required painstaking preparation and arrangement. The method of dismantling, the tools used and the artist himself do not appear in the series, giving the lie to the promise of the title: from this publication you will certainly not learn how to dismantle a pallet.
Objects often symbolize abstract concepts in Puklus’s photographs, and such an interpretation seems well in order here. The artist likens the pallet to the fundament of being, or to a skeleton. Taking it apart is thus a figurative questioning of being, where the apparent “assembly,” which never took place, returns us to the starting point. The elements are given, every pallet is exactly like the next one (which is its very point), and we may look upon the process, as we leaf through the booklet again and again, as a never-ending cycle.
(Translation: Árpád Mihály)