Research - Fischli and Weiss / by Ally McGinn

A collaborative practice of Swiss artists Peter Fischli (born: 1952) and David Weiss (born: 1946). Known for transforming the commonplace with a dose of wit and humor, the duo has been popular since the late 70’s. (Tate, 2006)

Working with a vast array of media, it seems that nothing is off limits in their quest for inclusion, their works cover installation, sculpture, film, and photography. (Matthew Marks Gallery, Undated) Their work has been so varied in medium and subject that a real exploration of their work would be far longer than this short introduction to the pair.

Their work seems to capture a childlike sense of discovery and the aim to pass this onto the viewer, encouraging them to take another look at their surroundings. Their work, while aesthetically chaotic, offers a meditation on daily life, in particular, our perceptions of it. By purposefully misusing objects and materials, they reference and reject the common usage and ask us to question it as well.

The duo is happier stepping back from the tricky issue of meaning, preferring to let the objects, and more importantly the relationships between them, to speak for them. (Guggenheim, 2016)

Working with the idea of duality (Guggenheim, 2016) (in more ways than the act of collaboration) their work invokes understood opposites found in modern culture – Labor and leisure, beauty and kitsch, the banal and the sublime, ad infinitum.

They challenge the divisions between these ‘opposites’ and uncover the falsity of our learned belief system.

Their work aims to confuse, question and identify. The objects collaborate with each other; the process is one of collaboration between the artists as well as an overlapping production of artworks that ‘collaborate’ (or at the very least inform) one another.  A practice of conversation.

In a video piece from 1987, ‘The way things go’, the audience watches a series of everyday objects clattering around a warehouse in Zurich in a seemingly continuous 30-minute piece. The work has been shown repeatedly (one of the beautiful things about the film) and has been included in many group shows, and is available for public purchase. (Matthew Marks Gallery, Undated)

For the opening of the Tate Modern in 2000, they produced near perfect copies of workshop debris, ‘Untitled’. (Tate, 2006) The work is composed of objects commonly found in artists studios, arranged in a way that resembles a workshop, yet each piece has been meticulously recreated. These illusionistic objects reference their subject but remain separate from it. The objects pretend to be their subject, and that realisation, on the part of the viewer, is an integral part of the work for me.

Fischli and Weiss (1993-2006)  Untitled (Tate).  Installation view. Acrylic paint on polyurethane foam and mixed media. Dimensions variable.

Fischli and Weiss (1993-2006) Untitled (Tate). Installation view. Acrylic paint on polyurethane foam and mixed media. Dimensions variable.

This piece was the last major polyurethane installations they made, concluding a 20-year exploration. (Tate, 2006) Seen against the white walls of the gallery these materials are presented to the viewer as art, and the representation is a complex one.

Speaking about the link to Duchamp's readymades, Fischli commented: “Duchamp’s objects could revert back to everyday life at any point in time. Our objects can’t do that; they’re only there to be contemplated. They’re all objects from the world of utility and function, but they’ve become utterly useless.” (Tate, 2006)

Their willingness to include any material shows a stance that appreciates the possibility of anything as art.

Fischli and Weiss (1987)  Sewer Workers.  Cast Rubber. 265 x 475 x 190 mm

Fischli and Weiss (1987) Sewer Workers. Cast Rubber. 265 x 475 x 190 mm

This appreciation of perspective can be seen in ‘Sewer Workers’ (1987) which highlights workmen doing a job often ignored or otherwise dismissed. (Tate, 2006) This piece, showing the processing of waste, can be described as a self-portrait, of sorts. Fischli and Weiss do just that, they process the waste of daily life, through the lens of an artist and the presentation of an artwork.

Using black rubber as a sculptural material for ‘Sewer Workers’ makes a scene that is familiar, although as stated often ignored, more jarring, the reality of the material, and its associatiobs, conflict with the banality of the subject.

Their lives have been described as a form of sketchbook when everything they did had the potential to be nominated as art - even documentation of an airport they passed through. (Milar, 2012)

Though their portfolio is extensive and eclectic (to say the least) their visual language is an intelligent and humorous commentary on life, art and almost anything in between. Their work challenges notions of the everyday and people's perceptions of the world around them, which I think is a simple test for great art.


Guggenheim (2016) Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better [Online] Available from: [Accessed 15.11.17].

Matthew Marks Gallery (Undated) Peter Fischli David Weiss [Online] Available from: [Accessed 15.11.17].

Millar, J. (2012) Fischli and Weiss: the art of humour [Online] The Guardian. Available from: ( [Accessed 16.11.17].

Tate (2006) Fischli and Weiss: exhibition room guide, room 10 [Online] Available from: [Accessed 15.11.17].

Tate (2006) Fischli and Weiss: exhibition room guide, room 1 [Online] Available from: [Accessed 15.11.17].

Tate (2006) Fischli and Weiss Flowers and Questions. A Retrospective [Online] Available from: [Accessed 15.11.17].