Currently on view at Sprüth Magers’s London exhibition space, Should I paint a pirate ship on my car with an armed figure on it holding a decapitated head by the hair? marks the fifth exhibition by the pair of Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss at their London gallery. The exhibition presents a concise overview of the artists’ transformations of the commonplace in the form of three seminal works from throughout their collaborative career, a subtle investigation of their core themes in a minimal selection of pieces.
At the heart of the show is the large-format sculptural installation The Raft, a work is made entirely of polyurethane, yet made to resemble massive arrangements of other materials. Touching on concepts of reproductive labor and the tireless act of building materials for their pieces, The Raft is a chaotic and peculiar arrangement, a hulking mass of objects. A gloomy and mundane collection of objects, the work seems to reference a possible dystopian collapse relating to the context of the Cold War. Here, in a world marked by the increasing perils of climate change and the violence of increased mobility, the piece takes on new contexts and concepts quite effortlessly, its gloomy symbolism transforming into a more generalized picture of hope and destruction, both refuge over menacing waters and a space of danger and transition. In contrast to Théodore Géricault’s painting The Raft of the Medusa (1819), which might be considered a compositional model for the piece here, it isn’t human lives that the raft appears to be saving, but all sorts of ordinary, commonplace things. This merging of hopeful and apocalyptic imagery evokes the context of the time in which the work was created, whilst simultaneously lending Raft a very contemporary relevance. Then, as now, the materialism symbolized here described an odyssey through the world.
On view in the gallery’s lower level is Kanalvideo (1992), a soundless, 60-minute video of footage from a camera advancing through an empty sewer pipe. Though winding its way through the most trivial of our infrastructures, the route through which waste is disposed, the multi-coloured shots invoke something akin to a hallucinogenic state. The most humdrum aspects of everyday life are transformed into an abstract, contemplative snapshot – a stream of ever-new, mandala-like images with a maelstrom pull. Kanalvideo develops this balancing act, between unpretentious simplicity and complex effect, into a poetics of the ordinary.
This theme of overstatement of the everyday in all its facets takes bizarre, fantastic shape in the pair’s Fotografias (2005), a series of photographs shown as the third work in the exhibition. Exhibited on tables, the 10x15cm black-and-white photographs speak to the oversaturated image culture of our time. In the spirit of Fischli Weiss’ canonical work Visible World (1987–2000) and its depiction of the commonplace and omnipresent, Fotografias (2005) draws on the world of trash culture, quoting the aesthetics of amusement parks and their promotional signage or decorated carousels. The photographs obscure the often stridently colourful, large-format iconography from these amusement industry aesthetics; they employ close-cropped compositions translated into small-format, black-and-white prints in an alienating step that causes once exuberant, wild pictures – images that normally beckon towards enjoying a moment of imaginative fancy – to become mysteriously impenetrable.
Compiling unique views and visions of modernity, the show closes March 14th.
— D. Creahan
Fischli/Weiss [Exhibition Site]