Peter Fischli and David Weiss: Serious Play

photograph by Fischli and Weiss that uses sausages and bacon to create a fashion show

The Sausage Photographs:The Fashion Show

Rarely do I sit at my desk laughing out loud when I write this blog. In fact, I can’t remember ever feeling like I was going to fall out of my chair from laughing while writing. But how can anyone look at the Sausage photographs and the film “The Way Things Go” by the Swiss duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss and not laugh.

Fischli and Weiss focus their attention on the everyday, creating absurd situations that are funny and poignant at the same time. Writing in the New York Times Ken Johnson says of the artists… “(they) demonstrate the power of creative fooling around to invigorate and free hearts and minds.

Fischli and Weiss unfired clay sculpture

Mr & Mrs Einstein shortly after the conception of their son, the genius Albert

Fischli and Weiss unfired clay sculpture

mick jagger and brian jones going home satisfied after composing ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’”

Fischli and Weiss unfired clay sculpture popular opposites: theory and practice”

Imagine being given just six weeks in which to visualize and execute an exhibition. If it were me I’d think small – not too conceptually demanding and with a limited number of objects. When Fischli and Weiss found themselves in this situation early in their career their response was to make 180 small clay sculptures that showed all world knowledge and history as they imagined it (see above images – note, they ended up continuing this series over a period of thirty years). I can see these guys sitting around drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and coming up with outrageous examples of all that has ever mattered in the world. To quote Fischli “(I) was never afraid of the stupid joke, the joke that’s so bad it’s embarrassing.”

Fischli+Weiss art installation

The same sensibility is found in their work from the early 1980s in which they reproduced in exacting detail all the detritus in their studio – M&Ms, peanut shells, empty coffee cups, each meticulously carved out of rigid styrofoam and hand painted. Fischli called them “… a collection of replicas of worthless everyday objects.” There is something that is both very sad and funny about these overlooked items – they serve an important daily function but are ignored as subjects for serious art. Here they are looked at with the accepting glance a parent bestows on their homely awkward child.

Fischli+Weiss photographs of sculptures made of balancing domestic objects

In the photographic series Equilibres, Fischli and Weiss turned their attention to ordinary household objects, combining them into mock formalist modern sculptures, all in precarious states of balance. These are absurd temporary sculptures, created through a playful interchange between the artists. Once again, I can imagine the artists egging each other on, daring each other to see what crazy juxtapositions they can conjure, and yes, balance. These guys did seem to have fun.

The Equilibres pieces led to the film “The Way Things Go.”  Playing with the idea of balance and using slapstick humor the artists devised a Rube Goldberg-like chain of causal events – a trash bag hits a tire, which rolls down a piece of wood, which… explosions, fires, bubbling chemicals – one precarious and unpredictable act after another. The viewer is held in a state of suspense but rather than feel fear the overriding emotion is amazement.

 (For those of you reading this through email you can click here to see the excerpt.)

Fischli and Weiss found text mural

I like this description of Fischli and Weiss written by Randy Kennedy in the New York Times – “… the work of Fischli/Weiss …was about heroic failure, depicting a relentlessly hopeful industriousness that everyone but the protagonists of their work plainly realizes is doomed. Or meaningless from the word go. And yet it goes on, a failure more deeply human, in the Fischli/Weiss worldview, than conventional success. The work springs from what the two men once called a kind of perverse post-Enlightenment desire, particularly European, ‘to attempt the encyclopedic and at the same time run it aground.’”

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