The Zurich-based collaboration of Peter Fischli and David Weiss have brought their Fotografias to The Douglas Hyde, Dublin, for their first solo show in Ireland. The erudite duo’s stylish aesthetic has long commanded the respect of those in the know, and plaudits go to The Douglas Hyde for establishing a relationship with the two artists.
Previous works such as Visible World, 1987 – 2000, and Airports, 1987 – 2006, have seen the artists assume the role of amateur photographer, taking snaps of anything and everything, archiving the everyday in a manner that acquires it a certain stoicism. This archival practice has been carried on in Fotografias. The 375 diminutive images that make up the installation were taken in fairgrounds and amusement parks throughout Europe. Spectacle, adventure, excess and the absurd are all suffused in the carnival and the images act as tokens of revolutionary misbehaviour, the subaltern life peeping through the cracks. Both artists display a Barthian fascination with the everyday. In Fischli and Weiss’s world, everyday objects take on an unexpectedly portentous quality.
The carnival provides the perfect vehicle for the questioning of society; the inversion of the parade into the dynamic exchange of the carnival restores to the public some form of self-governance. Historically the carnival involved a dramatic inversion of hierarchy, oftentimes the town fool becoming King for a day and spewing forth vitriol at monarchy and state. This rearrangement of the public sphere allows for the vocalization of social discord through satire. The carnival lacks determinacy and forces an interaction that works on a conspiratorial falsity. We all want to be King for a day, we all want to rebel; it is in the carnival where we can do so without compunction.
Ideas of globalisation and the enfranchisement of a fully connected world are visible in each image: they are universally familiar. The artists have laid their images in glass-topped display cases throughout the main gallery, the effect being that the characters grin manically at you from below; a feeling of the underworld surfaces. The tables are perfunctory in form, suggesting the focus is on the image; however, when one looks at the stills one feels the functional significance of the display: the images’ being stacked together in this cornucopia makes one feel that we are examining a part of life that no longer exists for us – the images, once so vibrant, are now frozen, a relic for the museum. Each table is positioned at child-height, forcing the viewer to stoop to look into each vitrine; in doing so, we are made bodily aware that we are the adult, looking back into an image of childhood. Thus is the loss of child-self, an emotive subject, brought home in this exhibition. Fischli and Weiss are adept at accessing the adult psyche through whimsical means.
The decision of the artists to print the snaps at dime-store size adds to the pervasiveness of fair mentality. Once freed from these adult ties, in the fair, we assimilate into the pleasure of the sensory. What is striking about the images is how similar they all are; the artists tell us they did not allot themes to each table, yet you look at one and you see them all. The artwork encapsulated within each shot is of the kitsch variety: the vampires and hotties of the fair-rides, the spangly wonderment of a faux childhood exuberance, each painted by some unknown. The estrangement with which we initially view them is offset by the remove of the camera. We are protected somewhat by the shutter; at the same time one feels the shutter move inward. Though the artists deal with child-like imagery, one senses a stoic uneasiness about the images; they sit like morsels of a lost childhood. One senses an immersion in the carnival, and that always falls on the side of the unnatural.
Eighteen images have been placed at eye-level on the gallery walls, again establishing a bodily element to the work. They function in the capacity of the isolated memory, the remembrance of the fair we take with us when we leave. Those isolated moments, like the cheap plastic skeleton of the Ghost Train ride that we were frightened by initially but then embarassed at the crudeness of, remain within, and serve as a snapshot of our former self. We were innocent, we did enjoy the rush, and we were once amazed by the joy and terror of life.
Hilary Murray is a critic and an MA student at NCAD.