zaterdag 10 mei 2014

Peter Fischli - David Weiss Catalogue Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris PHOTOBOOKS CHALLENGING THE EDGES OF THE MEDIUM Photography

Peter Fischli - David Weiss

Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, 2000. Catalogue. In-4, (27.5x20 cm), broché, 82 pages, iconographie en couleurs ; neuf sous blister. Fischli Peter,Weiss David.

PHOTOBOOKS CHALLENGING THE EDGES OF THE MEDIUM. A conversation with Paul Kooiker about two newsprint editions on photobooks, in cooperation with Erik Kessels and published by APE: Terribly Awesome Photobooks and Incredibly Small Photobooks


In my collection such a publication gains added value. Within the categories I collect, a book establishes a position; it’s representing something. And The Wonder of Innocence is matching a catalog of Fischli & Weiss, published by Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in1999. It is about: “Instants recreated in fantastic images and sayings from around the world”. This publication is about playing with that innocence. This is showing the skilfulness of the artists.


Yes, an interesting juxtaposition… And once again you use the metaphor of the “oil spill”.


Yeah, this makes it interesting for me. Look, also the design is similar: a loose-leaf edition, ‘posters’ in fact, reproduced on a high-quality paper type. I teach at the Rietveld Academy and discuss with students the graphic design of potential book projects and explain that this type of binding is an easy solution: posters are printed and folded, and it enables new sequences, new narratives to occur.


A new storyline based on one and the same content?


Yes, that aspect. The origin of this technique is very visible in the catalogue by Fischli & Weiss. And wonderful is the fact that the individual sheets are not clean cut. Further, there is no page numbering; you can determine the order. At the same time, it is an impossible book. No one will take a look at it…The catalogue just falls apart. It is an artist’s book that is inaccessible. I’m a big fan of Fischli & Weiss.

Fischli and Weiss: the art of humour
The Swiss duo's witty, irreverent work has influenced both contemporary art and car ads. Following the death of David Weiss, Jeremy Millar pays tribute to a unique partnership

At the Carpet Shop by Fischli and Weiss
Don't play with your food: At the Carpet Shop (1979) by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. Photograph: Courtesy Galerie Eva Presenhuber,Zurich.Spruth Magers Berlin London,Matthew Marks Gallery
It is a small black book and, among the dark pages, hand-written in white, are questions. Like nocturnal doubts, they don't seem to expect an answer, and are offered up to the void more in hope than expectation – and that hope soon dissolves. The book is called Will Happiness Find Me? and is the work of Peter Fischli and David Weiss, two Swiss artists who, over the past 30 years, have made some of the most important, most unexpected and funniest art of our time. Weiss died of cancer in April at the age of 66. "Am I doomed to wander through the vale of tears as a clown?" the book asks. "Is my being filled with serenity?"
While the book might be considered typical of Fischli and Weiss's practice, it is so on account of its sensibility – curious, disarming, humorous – rather than its form. Indeed, so varied has been their art-making during this period that it is impossible to summarise, and examples only highlight the incongruity of their work, whether it be the perfect copies of workshop debris, carved from polyurethane and painted with beguiling exactitude, or the perfectly banal photographs of tourist scenes.
"They had a profound influence on the way artists and curators saw art in relation to everyday life," says Jonathan Watkins, who worked with Fischli and Weiss in the mid-1990s and is now director of the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. Even the airports through which they passed became the subject of a book of photographs, a publication that the film-maker John Waters described with keen-eyed precision as "a shockingly tedious, fair-to-middling, nothing-to-write-home-about, new kind of masterpiece".

However, their most obvious masterpiece is The Way Things Go (1987), a 30-minute 16mm film that presents a seemingly continuous chain reaction of everyday objects as they clatter joyously through a Zürich warehouse studio. It was first shown in a back room of Documenta, the international exhibition of contemporary art held every five years in the German town of Kassel, and quickly became a huge popular success.

Since then, it has been included in countless group exhibitions and shows – I recently introduced a screening where it was projected on to the exterior back wall of shops in Margate – and was shown on television (under the title Chain Reaction). Unusually for an artists' film, it even became available to buy, on VHS and then DVD, in gallery shops and art bookstores. It even provided the "inspiration" for numerous advertisements, most notably, and to the artists' annoyance, for the Honda Accord. More recent tributes have been less cynical, with people now posting their own table-top attempts on YouTube. Twenty five years after it was first exhibited, The Way Things Go seems as popular as ever.
It was in Zurich in 1977 that David Weiss met Peter Fischli, who was six years his junior and working as part of the small underground art and music scene in the city. They began collaborating two years later, and their first work possesses all the captivating qualities of what was to come.
In The Sausage Photographs, the artists wilfully ignored the exhortation made by parents to their children: "Don't play with your food". In one of the 10 pictures, called At the Carpet Shop, a family of gherkins inspects piles of carpets and rugs made out of cooked meat, helped by a tip of white radish that can only be the sales assistant. One of the gherkins seems to be bending over to inspect one particular slice of processed meat while a smaller gherkin, presumably a child, stands by, apparently bored. A single round slice of mortadella, broad and fat-flecked, sits richly in the centre of the shop; dog-biscuit cushions are scattered throughout.
Soon after completing this work, Weiss moved briefly to Los Angeles – he had hung out with the hippies in San Francisco back in '67 – and Fischli visited him, during which time they worked on their second collaborative project, The Point of Least Resistance (1981), a Super-8 film in which the artists, dressed in ill-fitting animal suits, play the characters of Rat and Bear.

While their relationship in the film was one of foul-mouthed irritability – with Rat elaborating his aesthetic theories, or Bear his existential despair – Fischli and Weiss's own working relationship was far more productive. As they planned the film, the artists created small clay figures of the central characters and, Weiss recalled, "the experience of working with this good-natured, sluggish and somewhat taboo material" led to their next major work.

Suddenly This Overview (1981) is a collection of around 200 small, unfired clay sculptures, the uniformity of material, scale, and somewhat awkward handling of which provides a unity for an extraordinary broad range of subjects, from everyday objects to historical events. In one piece, a life-size loaf of bread sits plain and crusty upon a plinth, while another in which two figures walk along a street, one with a guitar case under his arm, is called Mick Jagger and Brian Jones going home satisfied after composing "I Can't Get No Satisfaction".
If the sculptures were rather clumsily modelled, then the artists' handling of both the banal and the grand was becoming increasingly sophisticated, and was soon to find its greatest expression in The Way Things Go. The film developed from a series of photographs made by the duo. Entitled, variously, Equilibres, or Quiet Afternoon, the photographs show teetering accumulations of household objects and studio debris. As Weiss described it: "We were sitting in a bar somewhere and playing around with the things on the table, and we thought to ourselves, this energy of never-ending collapse – because our construction stood for a moment and then collapsed before we built it up again – should be harnessed and channelled in a particular direction."
Many of the objects – or rather, the types of objects – featured in the film are familiar from the photographs, although the medium of film has allowed the artists to use movement and its effects. And so, rather than trying to show a unified presence to the camera as they did in the photographs – as if they were standing still, holding their breath, trying not to blink – the objects are now able to follow their own inclinations, reacting to the situations in which they find themselves. Each is held in anticipation, waiting its turn, and then they go, one after the other: bags spin, tyres roll, ladders stagger, carpet rolls, chairs fall, fuses catch, fireworks blow, froth bubbles and bubbles froth. Everywhere things are transformed into actions, and nouns become verbs: things spark, things flame, things balloon, and things roll.
In his important, yet seldom funny, essay "Laughter" (1900), the French philosopher Henri Bergson remarked: "We laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing," and the same might also be said of its converse. In The Way Things Go there are moments when, instead of acting automatically and with immediacy, the objects seem to hesitate, as if reflecting on what it is they are about to do: the tyre resting among the burning newspapers before moving on; the can being filled with water before sliding down the orange slope; the lazy unfolding of the inflatable bed, like an arm stretching during a yawn.
The humour occurs, then, when we fail to see these as nothing more than the playing out of physical forces – the overcoming of inertia, for example – and instead attribute human characteristics to them. Although this might seem little more than simple anthropomorphism, by sensing even a degree of self-awareness from within the debris of objects, we become aware of an incongruity, and in that moment, it makes us laugh. The objects possess timing.
Indeed, if The Way Things Go could be considered a compendium of comic techniques – anticipation, timing, slapstick, punchline – then it is of a particularly dark humour. For much as we might laugh when lofty significance stumbles and is brought low, we seek out meaning where we can. We might never have thought to find it among bin-bags and old shoes, but there it is, revealed in quick catastrophes and slow dissolves. A short film of things becomes a film about everything, how things come into being, and how, at a dim point somewhere between light and dark, they stop being that, too. And in the laughter that follows is a hollow where there comes to rest the recognition that we are one of these things also.
Was a spilled bucket ever this articulate? Was a toppled chair? With a certain calm insistence, Fischli and Weiss have, over the space of 30 years, activated the shushed magic of the everyday, and everywhere it is found changed. The world looks the same after considering their work, but in a different way, which is the simple test of great art.

See also

Paradise Reframed Dandelion Room: a small path leading through a garden of sun-bathed flowers and into the calm shade of the woods Thomas Struth Photography

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