Fischli & Weiss, A Restless Universe, 2023 / Courtesy of the artists
Fischli & Weiss: A Restless Universe
Apr 16 – Sep 19, 2023
Bechtler Stiftung
Uster, Switzerland

The exhibition A Restless Universe (Ein Ruheloses Universum) by the artist duo Fischli & Weiss shows the two works Surrli (1989) and the original Rat and Bear costumes (2004). The two animal figures appear in Fischli & Weiss’ work in various roles, for example as protagonists in the film The Least Resistance (1980-81) or as “authors” of the artist book Order and Cleanliness (1981) – two works which will also be part of the exhibition at the Bechtler Stiftung.

The work Surrli is a series of abstract, multiform geometric light sculptures. Inspired by a yoyo-like toy with LEDs whirling out strips of coloured light, Fischli & Weiss developed a machine capable of producing similar effects. The hand-cranked apparatus has several rotating arms and plates and is equipped with multiple lights. The rotating light effects created with this device were then photographed with long exposure against a black background. The resulting light sculptures appear as colourful, elliptic patterns reminiscent of planetary orbits. By carefully manipulating the lighting conditions and exposure times, Fischli & Weiss managed to eliminate any trace of the low-tech devices behind these wondrous images. In the exhibition, a total of 162 slides are projected onto the walls of the darkened exhibition space by three projectors.

The figures Rat and Bear were created in the 1980s, at the very beginning of the collaboration between Peter Fischli and David Weiss. After their first appearance in the film The Least Resistance (1980/81), they appear again and again in various forms across the two artists’ oeuvre. In this “buddy movie” with a surreal twist, the artists travel through Los Angeles in search of quick money and dressed in their rat and bear costumes, pondering art, wealth, fame and fortune, reflecting on their existence after an existential crisis, and recording their thoughts in the form of diagrams and charts. These were then published under the title Order and Cleanliness on the occasion of the premiere of The Least Resistance. Critical but humorous, the graphics trace the artists’ attempt to understand the world and their own lives by means of typologies and categories of their own devising.

The two figures Rat and Bear can be read as the two artists’ alter egos, or at least as emblems of their longstanding collaboration based on the concept of dualistic thinking. Both temporally and conceptually, Rat and Bear embody the collaboration of Peter Fischli and David Weiss from their early days until Weiss’s death in 2012. The animal figures represent many approaches that are characteristic of their artistic practice: the ironic examination of artistic paradigms, the questioning of artistic identity, the reflection on everyday and philosophical issues alike, and the use of different, often extraordinary artistic media.

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