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PETER FISCHLI and DAVID WEISS. ALTRI FIORI E ALTRE DOMANDE
Palazzo Litta, Milan
Produced by Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Altri fiori e altre domande is the first major exhibition in Italy by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The exhibition is a unique occasion to enter the surreal worlds invented by these Swiss artists.
Specifically conceived for the seventeenth century rooms of Palazzo Litta, the exhibition - like the complete oeuvre of Fischli & Weiss - blurs the border between the normal and the exceptional.
Among the brocade tapestries, fragile chinoiserie and baroque mirrors of Palazzo Litta, which thanks to the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi opens its doors to contemporary art for the first time, Altri fiori e altre domande collects new works and a selection of more than forty historical pieces by Fischli and Weiss, offering a compelling view of their nearly thirty year long career. Fischli and Weiss’ mysterious objects and miniature crises turn the building into an absurd dollhouse.
Fischli and Weiss have been working together since 1979, and have since imposed themselves as the prophets of an art of childish amazement, ferocious skepticism and primal stupor. In their photos, sculptures, films and installations, the Swiss duo casts an enchanted look upon the world, revealing its banal beauty and astonishing dullness.
In the first room of the exhibition Fischli and Weiss’ works are camouflaged behind the original décor. The photographs in the series AIRPORTS (1987-ongoing) are coupled with old furniture as in a hotel lobby.
Fischli and Weiss betray an obsession for cataloguing reality according to unusual principles that can transform the most insignificant material into a magical substance, as in the hypnotic images of FLOWERS (1997-98). Cast in rubber and perfectly monochromatic, the BLACK SCULPTURES (1986-88) deprive reality of any weight, reducing it to pure hallucination. A kind of mirage is conjured in KANALVIDEO (1992), which appears as a descent to the depths of our unconscious, but is in fact nothing more than a film of the Zürich sewer system.
The imperceptible distance between reality and fiction is one of the central themes in Fischli and Weiss’ work. In one of their most famous series, the artists meticulously reproduced a myriad of objects by sculpting them in polyurethane, an extremely light and delicate material, which captures all of life’s fragility. UNTITLED (PALLETS) (2001-04) opens the door to what normally remains hidden in an art show: realized with maniacal precision, Fischli and Weiss’ common objects are carefully staged to suggest a state of permanent disorder, as though the viewers were for once allowed to take a peek behind the curtains of an exhibition. THE RAFT (1982) – the piece that inaugurated Fischli and Weiss’ fascination with polyurethane – is an unusual anthology of cartoon characters and infantile still lives that seem to have emerged from a fairy tale abyss.
In the astounding, hyper-realistic UNTITLED (ROTTERDAM) (2000-04), one of the final rooms of Altri fiori e altre domande is turned into a janitor’s closet in which each object has been perfectly sculpted and painted by hand.
Fischli and Weiss look at the world as if it were a daydream, one that is often shaded with dark, dramatic nuances. The installation QUESTIONS (1980-2003) is pervaded by existential doubts and anxious uncertainties, fears and dreams we all experience at night before falling asleep – but are they cheap philosophical thoughts or esoteric epiphanies? In their legendary film THE WAY THINGS GO (1986-87) everyday objects come alive and chase each other in an exhilarating sequence of chain reactions, a domino effect in which chaos and order endlessly vie for supremacy. This primordial feeling of alarm and astonishment returns in the film THE RIGHT WAY (1983), in which the artists explore the Swiss mountains dressed as a giant rat and a bear, contemplating the world as strange Walt Disney characters with intellectual ambitions. Preserved under glass, the costumes in the room appear as perfect as minimal sculptures and as pompous as some effigy in an old wax museum.
In all its playful complexity, the work of Fischli and Weiss is animated by small miracles and moments of do-it-yourself happiness. The exhibition in Palazzo Litta can, in fact, be described as a labyrinth of possible worlds, a trip through micro-universes and lilliputian landscapes: AN UNSETTLED WORK (2000-06) is a journey around the world through hundreds of images that fade one into the other, blurring scales and perspectives, and revealing the dark side of the everyday. Cataloguing rules and exceptions, the artists’ work flows like a wild encyclopaedia, an explosion of forms and colours, illuminations and obscurities. In the series THE SAUSAGE PHOTOGRAPHS (1979), which mark the beginning of Fischli and Weiss’ collaboration, romantic landscapes made of sausages appear inside the refrigerator or on the sitting room floor, revealing a beauty that mixes the sublime and the kitschy. In the series EQUILIBRES – QUIET AFTERNOON (1984) carefully balanced objects challenge the laws of gravity and give birth to new, hybrid creatures. In Fischli and Weiss’ photographs even boredom becomes spectacular, as banality is declined in infinite variations of marvellous multiplicity.
Even the history of humanity can be processed through the kaleidoscopic gaze of Fischli and Weiss. In the ambitious series SUDDENLY THIS OVERVIEW (1981), the Swiss duo tells a bizarre story of the world through a sequence of more than ninety small clay sculptures which are here presented in Italy for the first time. Somewhere between comical sketches and philosophical illuminations from a miniature world, Fischli and Weiss’ sculptures are a collection of hilarious episodes and marginal events that re-write history from a minor perspective.
In the final rooms of the exhibition, a giant cat sips milk from a dish while the sounds of a radio hovers in the air. As in many other Fischli and Weiss’ works RADIO (2008) hides a mysterious surprise: it broadcasts straight from the past, summoning songs and news bulletins from a few months ago.
The exhibition Altri fiori e altre domande brings to Milan the hallucinatory visions of Fischli and Weiss in a unique combination of new and historical works that become all the more visionary in the baroque rooms of Palazzo Litta.