Fischli & Weiss

Peter Fischli was born in 1952, in Zurich; David Weiss was born in 1946, also in Zurich. Fischli studied at the Academia dei Belle Arti in Urbino, Italy, in 1975 — 76 and at the Academy of Fine Arts, Bologna, in 1976 — 77. Weiss enrolled at the Academy of Arts and Crafts in Zurich in 1963 — 64 and, until 1965, studied sculpting at the Academy of Arts and Crafts in Basel. In 1979, Fischli and Weiss started their collaborative work. With film, photography, artist books, sculpture, objects made from different materials, and multimedia installations, Fischli/Weiss turned towards conceptual work. Conceptual as well as material starting points for their work were often objects of everyday life, assembled in surprising, ironical arrangements and captured through photography and film.

For their early collaborative Wurstserie (Sausage Series), a series of ten photographs, the artists arranged sausages and slices of sausage found in the refrigerator. The factory-made sausages in industrially standardized, geometrical shapes make up the material basis as well as the format for spatial and situational simulations: A carpet storage room made from sausages, a traffic accident, and a fashion fair or a burning house, also made from sausages (Der Brand von Uster (The Fire of Uster), 1979), reveal the absurdity of the Wurstserie with its combination of materials and its spatial arrangements. Whether little dill pickles, fork, knife, bottle or plate (An einem stillen Nachmittag (On a Quiet Afternoon), 1984) function as agents of installations and photo sequences, the surprising result is owed to the defamiliarized relation between the single parts. In the photographic representation of such »landscapes« or »events«, sausages may, through their pre-given or modeled shapes, simulate everyday objects like a fire truck, a pile of carpets, and smoke stacks. Even if cardboard constructions or wooden floors remain visible, a documentary perspective is created.

With their film Der Lauf der Dinge (The Course of Events, 1986/87, 16 mm/Video, 30 min.), shown at the Documenta 8, the two artists met with increasing international recognition. In a complex set-up, Fischli/Weiss demonstrate a meticulously arranged sequence of mechanical impulses and processual actions: The camera follows a rail vehicle propelled by firecrackers that causes a chain reaction. The car sets a barrel in motion which then causes a fire, and the fire sets a ball and then another barrel rolling, etc. Like other works by Fischli/Weiss, the seemingly banal consequence of mechanical events directs the gaze towards basic questions of reality and perception. Causality, modes of functioning, and the possibilities of a technological world are focused on. At the same time, the artists counter this world’s laws of cause and effect, its temporal dimension, its feasibility and success, and reshape them into aesthetic and moral principles. »This film is of course also about the problem of guilt and innocence. One object is guilty of causing a standstill, but it is also guilty of causing ongoing movement. There is a clear RIGHT in our experiments, and that is when everything works, for example, when this structure collapses. Then there is the BEAUTIFUL; which is above RIGHT, so to speak. And that is when things become tight or when this structure collapses the way we want it to, slowly and in complex ways. Then it has beautifully collapsed. Therefore, aesthetics is layered upon function like butter on a slice of bread, rather thin and evenly spread« (Fischli/Weiss, qtd. in: Medien Kunst Netz (2004).

Fischli/Weiss have turned towards everyday, sometimes absurd situations or object constellations in further film and photo projects. These projects emerged during numerous travels but also in the surroundings of Zurich, where the artists live. With pictures of the Swiss midlands juxtaposed to subtropical rainforest (Sichtbare Welt (Visible World), 1987 — 2000), with double exposures of flowers at different parts of the world (Untitled (Flowers), 1997/98), with photographs of everyday situations at airports or with collections of globally gathered murals (Fotografias, 2005), the artists have created picture constellations that are full of contrasts, absurd, and hybrid. They are inverse images that keep negotiating the boundaries of the real and the unreal, of being and appearance.

Aside from photography and film projects, from the many objects and sculptures (Mad Max, 1983; Kanalarbeiter (Ditch Digger), 1986; The Table (Der Tisch), 1992), from sculpture groups (Plötzlich diese Übersicht (Suddenly such an Overview), 1981), and from publications (Sichtbare Welt (Visible World) 2000; Findet mich das Glück? (Does Happiness Find Me?), 2003), multimedia installations have increasingly become part of Fischli/Weiss’ artistic spectrum. An example would be their contribution Kleine Fragen – große Fragen (Little Questions – Big Questions), a sequential projection of 405 slides with hand-written questions for the Venice Biennale 2003: »Why does nothing never happen?«, »Is a Bus Coming?«, »Was I Never Really Awake?«, »Do Opinions Arise by Themselves?«, or »Does the World Exist Without Me?«, »Is My Stupidity a Warm Coat?«

The works of Fischli/Weiss have been shown in solo and group exhibitions (for example, Kunsthalle Basel, 1985; National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Documenta X, Kassel 2005; »Jenseits von Arkadien – Natur und Landschaft in der zeitgenössischen Fotografie,« Pinakothek der Moderne, München, 2005; »artgames – Analogien zwischen Kunst und Spiel,« Ludwig Forum für internationale Kunst, Aachen 2006). Works by Fischli/Weiss are also part of numerous international museum holdings and exhibitions (for example: Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Kunsthaus Zurich; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt/Main; Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf).

David Weiss died on April the 27th 2012 in Zürich. Peter Fischli lives and works in Zurich.

Selected Literature

Curiger, Bice (Hg.): Peter Fischli, David Weiss, London 2006

Fleck, R.; Söntgen, B.; Danto, A.: Peter Fischli and David Weiss, New York / London 2005

Peter Fischli, David Weiss. Fragen, Projektion: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Ludwig, Köln 2002

Das Geheimnis der Arbeit, Texte zum Werk Peter Fischli & David Weiss, hg. v. Kunstverein München, München / Düsseldorf 1990


Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014 Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum

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