Biographies Russian Artists 21st Century 2000s Rossica Peter Fischli & David Weiss

Peter Fischli & David Weiss

Born: 1952 & 1946, Zurich

Peter Fischli and David Weiss are two Swiss artists who collaborated from 1979 until Weiss’s death in 2012. They have worked in diverse media – photography, installations and video. All of their creations have a common existentialist humour. In terms of historical classifications, their works are probably closest of all to still-lifes – still-lifes that mock modern life or evoke reflections on the eternal.

In the Wurstserie or “Sausage Series” from the late 1970s, Fischli and Weiss photographed tiny theatrical scenes from the life of modern man. Only instead of people, they star the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. Fluid sports cars (salami on wheels made from sliced sausage) are parked outside little houses (cardboard boxes with slits for windows). In Photo Model Show and Vainly Packaged, sausages adorned with various shiny trash, like tinfoil, stand in front of a bathroom mirror. They admire their own reflections, not realising how silly they look. On the one hand, all the fetishes of our society are, on the face of it, trivial; on the other, this is the childish ability, lost in adulthood, to create a whole world out of any old materials.

In the 1980s, Fischli and Weiss created series of pseudo-readymades. A readymade presupposes that the artist has found the object in reality and, without changing it, transfers it to an exhibition space, where it becomes a work of art. Fischli and Weiss made exact copies of real things from polyurethane, breaking a whole series of rules and traditions. The viewer cannot touch the exhibits – the piety that turns a readymade into a work of art. As a result, we cannot check whether their object is real or not, introducing notes of uncertainty. The artists rewrite the rules, reversing the attempts of manufacturers to make factory-made objects similar to works of handmade labour. Here, the artists try to create the illusion of serial production. This is the artistic “economy of waste,” contradicting the capitalist attempts to spend as little time and receive as much profit as possible.

The Way Things Go is the artists’ most famous video work. Various household objects are arranged in a chain reaction – they roll, fall, burn and dissolve, each transferring the energy of movement onto the next object. This is a form of alchemy based on the aforementioned “economy of waste”: the elements are not combined with the aim of extracting gold from lead or profiting in any other way.

The result of the chain reaction is a fascinating picture of existence. The question of how the world first arose is reflected in the invisibility of the one who set the first object in motion. There must be some creator, who arranged everything so that the falling door pushes the wheel, making the fuse send a spark flying onto the distant pool of petrol. Nevertheless, all these attempts to assure us that everything is controlled by a higher intelligence do not save us from our own fears and concerns – we still breathlessly watch the screen, wondering whether there is enough water in the teapot or whether the mug will miss its target.

Everything in life has its own predestination, yet the general meaning of life slips away. The final object creates a chemical reaction and everything vanishes in a puff of smoke. There is meaning – it is just unknown to us.

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