Peter Fischli and David Weiss

Parts of a Film with Rat and Bear

Teatro Arsenale, Milan
16 – 22 February 2009


Parts of a Film with Rat and Bear (2008) is the third chapter of a saga in which Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss dress up as a giant rat and bear, two oversized creatures with anthropomorphic behavior and feelings. In their first adventure, The Least Resistance (1981), the two animal philosophers sought the key to the rules of civilization in a journey that led them through the streets of Los Angeles, trying to sum up the laws of the universe in Order and Cleanliness (1981), a pamphlet that laid out their theory of the path to success in an absurd set of tables and diagrams. In the second chapter, The Right Way (1983), the pair posed questions about the mysterious laws of nature, lost amid the fairy-tale landscapes of the Swiss Alps.

Twenty-five years after their last full-length film, the two characters dreamed up by Fischli and Weiss are back with their existential doubts and esoteric revelations. In this brand-new episode, made in the winter of 2008 during the Fischli and Weiss retrospective Altri fiori e altre domande, the rat and bear wander through the stuccoed, mirrored halls of Palazzo Litta. Through constant flashbacks and shifts in time, the pair live out different stages in their existence, encounter their future selves in old age, and play with their own alter-egos in youth. In the guise of rat and bear, Peter Fischli and David Weiss become visitors to their own exhibition: they roam among their sculptures in the Milanese palazzo, lie down on its marquetry floors, slip into a viewing of Kanalvideo (1992) as if diving into their subconscious, and float among crystal chandeliers and surreal black monoliths, in a constant reversal of roles that seems inspired as much by 2001: A Space Odyssey as by the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales. The film is a surreal little twist on a Disney cartoon, celebrating the magical absurdity of life.

Parts of a Film with Rat and Bear is presented for the first time, simultaneously projected on three screens, in San Simone e Giuda, an ancient church converted into the famous Teatro Arsenale in the 1970s. The theater still preserves the classic architectural features of a religious edifice, such as its monumental rose-window facade on Via Cesare Correnti. Built in 1272 and annexed to the Convento degli Umiliati, during the Inquisition the church was also the site of trials like those against heretics Maifreda da Pirovano and Guglielmina la Boema.

After the order was suppressed, in the second half of the 16th century the building was turned into the church of Collegio dei Taeggi e dei Calchi, a school for young noblemen from families fallen on hard times. In the 17th century, the church and monastery became the home of the “Incerti” literary academy, founded by Giuseppe Osio. In 1810, under Napoleon, the church was deconsecrated and converted into Teatro di San Simone, later Teatro Frattini, where puppet shows were held, and then came to house Gustavo Modena’s dramatic society. Over the 19th century it served first as a rag warehouse, and then, from the turn of the century until 1975, as the home of an evangelical community. Since 1978, it has housed Compagnia Teatro Arsenale and its acting school.

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