Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Equilibres by Peter Fischli and David Weiss

I discovered the work of Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss at a gallery in 1993 when I proceeded to watch their half hour video Der Lauf Der Dinge (The Way Things Go) three times in a row. A woman seated behind a desk at the gallery entrance smugly asked me if I “liked it” on my way out.

In this video, they construct a huge Rube Goldberg machine that “runs” continuously for the full half hour of the video. What is common is for the viewer of these types of “machines” to be amazed at the complexity of the apparatus constructed in order to achieve a simple result. In the hands of Fischli and Weiss, we are treated to creativity multiplied to the tenth degree. They utilize everyday household materials along with elements of fire, ice, steam, and chemical reactions to keep the energy moving forward. For anyone who has not seen this video, I highly doubt there is a person alive that would not be moved to giddiness by this Fischli and Weiss creation.

They describe their creation as a conflict between “Good” and “Evil.” The individual objects are “good” in fulfilling their tasks but also “bad” in that they destroy the machine as it passes its energy along to the next object.

Here’s a short clip:


In their new book Equilibres, published by Walther Konig, Fischli and Weiss are in their studio experimenting with notions of balance by documenting constructed attempts to defy gravity.

In Equilibres we are treated to photographs of jury-rigged yet complex constructions that belie common visual sense in regard to basic physics. Using material that is as practical as it is absurd, they create “living beings” that are so fascinating that we care for their “survival.”

Because you are aware of how delicate the balance is, it makes you think of lengths of time. In turn, a perception of “life” makes its way into the mix. Now you are hoping that it “lives” as long as possible, and you in essence, root for its survival. You may find yourself “feeling” on a basic emotional level for a fork, a cheese grater, two carrots, a chair, a piece of wood, a tire, a cork, a rake, a bottle, a hammer or a laundry basket.

The objects often take on comic personalities. A carrot is lifted into the air by a cheese grater and a fork. In “The Fart” two chairs balance upon the nozzle of a spray can, triggering it to “fart” its pressurized contents.

These assemblages tend to remind me of the work of Zeke Berman as he also used household items in his sculptures, but generally the association ends there. Kenneth Snelson may also come to mind, but his engineered and mathematically formulated kinetic sculptures are up-tight and boring compared to Fischli and Weiss’s pantry improvisations.

Often they seem to have been photographed within the moment just before these objects fall back into their normal state of existence. After the fall, we may be disappointed that it is just a cheese grater again. We will only remain happy with these objects if they hold together in their new form. I imagine that if I saw these works in a gallery I would tread around them lightly.

The photographs in the book are pedestrian records of the “moment of life” much in the way a parent photographs a child. Sometimes the titles provide added comic relief and at other times they confuse you into searching for deeper meaning.

The book has no text other than the titles of the pieces below each photograph. It is very cleanly designed, after the endpaper, there is a title page and then right into140 continuous, facing-page images. The reproductions are as good as the originals allow.

The last three images were a mystery to me for the first hour after looking through the book. They are images of rocks and a brick. I then realized the effect those “grounded” images have on your mind after 137 images of precarious weightlessness. Fischli and Weiss have put us back on the ground where we belong but I found myself wanting to be weightless again. To be grounded again is so horribly disappointing.

Luckily, due to this book, we can turn back to page one…

Book Available Here (Equilibres)

DVD Available Here (The Way Things Go)

Book Available Here (The Way Things Go)