Wednesday, 26 January 2011


When I see the names Fischli and Weiss I think  'do not believe your eyes'.

At first glance it looks as though I’ve strayed behind the scenes at Tate Modern. All I can see is a room which looks like someone’s workshop, including the grubby workbench with discarded tools, dirty ashtrays, Styrofoam cups, assorted left overs, and paint bespattered boxes... Are they preparing for a new exhibition?  Perhaps I didn’t notice a barrier? Perhaps the workmen have just nipped out for a fag? 

But I’m wary. I know that these two Swiss artists, who’ve been working together since the late 1970s, delight in baffling us with everyday objects and activities. They describe their working method as ‘concentrated daydreaming’.  In fact it’s polyurethane sculptures I’m looking at, each meticulously hand-carved and painted until you can’t tell them from the ‘real’ cheap mass-produced thing. A huge amount of time and skill has been spent imitating banal objects from their studio. Why? 
What emerges is a back-to-front version of what Marcel Duchamp did when he presented to galleries ‘readymades’, i.e. everyday objects – most famously a men’s urinal – and insisted they were works of art. Now in this room the process is reversed – Fischli and Weiss have made ‘simulated readymades’, i.e. sculptures which pretend to be cheap everyday objects. It’s a bit like looking at a trompe l’oeil still life painting. Suddenly you see the ‘trickery’. Here it’s in three dimensions instead of two.

And that’s the snag. A still photo is little help. The best way to get a feel of their work is to watch their 16 minute film ‘Der Lauf der Dinge’ (The Way Things Go 1986-7). It’s pure slapstick: buckets, teapots, rubber tyres, balloons and shoes crash, fall, fly, tip, crawl across the studio in a chain reaction of explosions and collisions which is spellbinding.  Water, chemistry, fire and gravity determine where the things go next. To the viewer every moment is unpredictable. It’s a heady mix of painstaking mechanical skill and art; precision and what looks like abandon. The Guardian called it Post-Apocalyptic. I see it as an anthropology of everyday life, in which the familiar objects we barely notice suddenly become strange. They hint at possibilities we hadn’t dreamed of, just as artefacts from other cultures can sometimes jog us out of  staid and joyless banality.

Finally, to give a flavour of their moving work, here is Outlaws from another film Quiet Afternoon.. Fischli recounted that the chairs always collapsed after a few seconds , provoking the artists to question how they could harness the energy of these breakdowns. In The Way Things Go  chairs – and much more - appear as you have never seen then before.



  1. I saw the "workshop" by Fischli & Weiss at Tate Modern last year and was absolutely dumbstruck with awe. I didn't take any photos, but I found a scribbled note among my papers quoting one of the artists: "There’s certainly a subversive pleasure in occupying yourself with something for an unreasonable length of time.
    "Are you familiar with the work of Thomas Demand? Last year, the Boijmans-Beuningen here in Rotterdam showed his photos of reconstructions in cardboard of photos of very mundane objects (trees, empty offices, photocopiers, dead plants etc.) Absolutely whacky! Yet, fascinating.
    Great idea for a blog, by the way.

  2. I've just ssen your comment. Thanks for that. Yes, Demand created The Serpentine cafe here a few years ago. Unforgettable. Your quote reminds me of what Paul Valery said '...In the strange faculty of doing certain things irrelevant to life with as much care, passion & persistence as if one’s life depended on them..there we find what is called living'.
    Every good wish, Yvonne

  3. When I came across 'Untitled' at Tate Modern I thought, "Oh, that's a bit slapdash, tut tut, etc. etc.", but eventually I 'got it' and was immensely impressed, fascinated and so on. Yes, it was beautiful. And adding to the wonder of it all was the reaction of a 'gentleman' entering from another gallery who exclaimed: "This is outrageous!". Whether he was reacting as I had or simply thought the art was no good, I'm not certain, but his response still forms part of my experience of this strangely marvelous and witty work.

  4. That's really interesting. Sometimes I'd like to ask a viewer who makes a comment like that out loud what they mean, but I haven't the nerve!
    Strangely enough this is one of the most viewed blogs if statistics are anything to go by..