Lauded for their unmistakable wit and elevation of quotidian subjects, Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss have collaborated since 1979 in an exploration of the poetics of banalitythe actions and objects of everyday life. The pair has worked in a range of mediaincluding photography, video art, slide projection, film, books, sculptures, and mixedmedia installationsand in 2006 received one of Europes most coveted art awards, the Roswitha Haftmann Prize. The Art Institute of Chicago
has now organized the first presentation of Fischli and Weisss works in Chicago in more than two decades by bringing together three key pieces from the duos extensive portfolio: the 15-channel slide installation, Questions (1981/200203), and two photography series, The Sausage Photographs (1979) and A Quiet Afternoon (198486), totaling 92 images. On view in the Modern Wings Bucksbaum Gallery (G188) and Stone Gallery (G186) from February 3 to April 17, 2011, these three works represent early iconic investigations that encompass the major themeshumor, playfulness, and an interest in language and everyday objectsthat have come to define Fischli and Weisss career.
Influenced by Dada, Surrealism, Pop, and Conceptual art, Fischli and Weisss prolific production defies easy categorization. Though their art often involves a dialogue between opposites, such as order and chaos, work and leisure, or the everyday and the sublime, a fresh, childlike spirit of discovery forms a common denominator to their work. Fischli and Weiss revel in transforming materials and leading audiences to new perspectives on familiar objects and surroundings. Working project by project, the two have broken with artistic convention, made use of commonplace materials, and created an extensive archive of popular images, all with characteristic humor and an active avoidance of pretentiousness and affectation.
The Art Institutes presentation of Fischli and Weisss works includes the 2003 Venice Biennale Golden Lion prize-winning Questionsan installation of more than 1,000 photographic slides of handwritten questions. Each set of projected questions slowly dissolves into the next, ranging from the profound to the trivial. "Can I restore my innocence? and "Why does the earth turn around once a day? mingle with "Does a hidden tunnel lead directly to the kitchen?" and "Does a ghost drive my car around at night?"reflecting and mimicking the wonder and banality of everyday thought processes.
Included in this exhibition are also two early photographic projects: The Sausage Photographs and A Quiet Afternoon. Fischli and Weisss first collaborative project, The Sausage Photographs from 1979 exemplifies their inventive and humorous use of everyday materials to create a compelling fictional world. Each photograph documents a dramatic scene composed using sausages, various cold meats, and common household goods. Reminiscent of a childrens game, with its unbounded capacity for make-believe, the artists transform crumpled bedding into an Alpine landscape and slices of luncheon meat into patterned carpets. In The Accident, two sausage cars have collided in a narrow street lined with cardboard buildings while gawkers, in the form of cigarette butts, stare at the wreckage. The scene is extremely convincing, despite being made from such bizarre materials.
The later series, A Quiet Afternoon, showcases precariously balanced sculptures at what appears to be the exact moment before their collapse. This larger body of work features everyday items such as vegetables, kitchen utensils, tires, chairs, and tools piled in elaborate configurations thatfor an instant, at leastappear stable. Some of these gravity-defying poses evoke amazement, while others provide a laugh. We discovered that we could leave all formal decisions to equilibrium itself, Fischli has said of these sculptures. There was apparently no way to do it better or worse, just correctly.