Fischli & Weiss
Peter Fischli b. 1952, Zürich, Switzerland
David Weiss b. 1946 – d. 2012, Zürich, Switzerland
Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss began collaborating in 1979, creating works that celebrate in a humorous way the banality of everyday objects and events. They worked with a wide range of forms of expression, from film and photography to sculpture in various materials, as well as artists’ books and installations. From their very first collaborative project Sausage Series (1979) the duo focused on their interest in commonplace objects. Pictures of sausages and cuts of meat with generic titles such as In the Mountains and In the Carpet Shop set the tone for a body of work that has extensively and comically studied everyday triviality. At the same time, the collaboration was characterized by a critical and investigative dialogue, never more apparent than in the series of works in which the artists appear as the characters Rat and Bear.
The first performance by these animal figures was in the film The Least Resistance (1979–1980), in which they stroll through Los Angeles while reflecting on how they can make money from their art. In their next film, Der Rechte Weg (1983), we meet these two immensely likeable figures again, this time wandering in the Swiss Alps, meandering through the mountain wilderness while contemplating matters great and small. In 1981 a book entitled Order and Cleanliness was published, in which Rat and Bear’s ideas for ordering the world are set out. The animal costumes have also been included in later works. The works of Fischli & Weiss are characterized by philosophical research combined with a clear materiality.
They prefer to use utilitarian or poor media such as crepe, rubber and unfired clay, and in a number of their works they have employed the materials that surround them in their studio. In 1987 they created the now legendary film The Way Things Go. The 30-minute film shows an extended chain reaction in which these everyday tools and receptacles roll, fall or spill into one another, each triggering a new link in the process. On the one hand the collision course provides fascinating and funny entertainment value, and on the other it can be interpreted as an apocalyptic vision reflecting the gradual dematerialization of the art object that has typified much of the twentieth century. Yet the object does not disappear.
On the contrary, despite the destructive course of events, Fischli and Weiss restore our faith in concrete things, and even suggest a sense of the eternal. Several of their best-known works are the result of painstaking studies that are presented in the form of comprehensive collections: sculptures, photographs, hour-long video projections or endless questions. In 1981 they produced Suddenly This Overview, comprising 250 small sculptures in unfired clay. The work catalogues scenes from historic events, recreated from memory, but typically, the artists dwell on the small details that are missed by the sharp scrutiny of science. Such a personal method of research is also behind Visible World (1987–2001), a collection of 300 photographs taken in different places on the artists’ many travels that has been presented both in book form and laid out on a long light box in a gallery setting. Through the aggregation of seemingly random motifs ranging from familiar tourist sites to unknown details from the artists’ immediate environment, a loose narrative arises.
In one of their most recent projects, Sun, Moon and Stars (2008), Fischli & Weiss also present a large collection of pictorial material ¬– 800 photographs of advertising hoardings that are experienced as an overwhelming reaction to capitalism. The pictures are arranged in different formal groupings based on thematic and chromatic likenesses, but although the material has been meticulously ordered, the presentation is very much open and accessible to new interpretations. When the renowned duo represented Switzerland at the Venice Biennale for the second time in 2003, they projected several hundred handwritten questions onto the walls in a darkened room. The work, Question Projection (1999–2002) summarizes the essentially philosophical and playful tone of Fischli & Weiss’s unique collaboration. Some of the questions asked are humorous and some are profoundly serious, touching on both the banalities of daily life and the quantum questions of existence.