Visible World is a three-monitor video installation. Each wide-screen monitor displays a different two-hour video. The work consists of four videos in total, and they are screened in random sequence. The images on the three screens are not synchronised. The piece was produced in Switzerland in an edition of six and it was first shown in single-screen format during Documenta X in 1997, when it was screened on an eight-hour loop on the arts channel ARTE-TV.
The three monitors are positioned side by side on a gentle diagonal, stepping slightly forward from left to right. They show sequences of still photographs taken by the artists during their international travels. Each image slowly dissolves into the next, creating a contemplative, quiet effect which over time becomes strangely compelling. The clear colour images of tourist destinations, including mountain vistas, resort beaches and nocturnal cityscapes, are reminiscent of the pictures in travel brochures. Other images, of workers in southeast Asian rice paddies, for instance, or groups of fishing boats heading out to sea, look like high quality magazine prints. The pictures allude to the increase in global tourism at the end of the twentieth century. Images of tourist sites and areas of natural beauty have become devalued through constant reproduction. The artists, by visiting the sites themselves and taking photographs resembling the images in glossy travel magazines, re-invest the clichéd with a sense of wonder.
This strategy of re-appropriating and aestheticising the commonplace is central to the artists’ practice. Fischli and Weiss, who have worked together since 1979, are known for their sculptural installations, which meticulously reproduce everyday objects in polyurethane. These playful trompe-l’oeil configurations, which Boris Groys has called ‘simulated readymades’, (Groys, Parkett, p.33) make the viewer look afresh at the ordinary. They also raise questions about perception while retaining a light, comic touch. The artists have also produced videos in which the ordinary becomes extraordinary; in one of their most famous works, The Way Things Go (Der Lauf der Dinge), 1985-87 (Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris), everyday objects perform in an elaborately orchestrated scenario of cause and effect.
In Visible World, the artists’ playfulness is tempered by a sense of nostalgia. In addition to conjuring up the same fantasies of escapism as the holiday brochures they evoke, the pictures on the monitors recall a time when politicians talked about global villages. None of the images is contentious; there is, as Arthur C. Danto has pointed out, ‘an extraordinary purity in the banal scenes [Fischli and Weiss] favor in their depictions, which are untouched by squalor or obscenity’ (Danto, ‘Play/Things’, in Peter Fischli and David Weiss: In a Restless World, p.97).
The photographs in the videos have also been reproduced in a book and shown as transparencies in light boxes in a more recent installation with the same name (private collection).
Elizabeth Armstrong, Arthur C. Danto and Boris Groys, Peter Fischli and David Weiss: In a Restless World, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1996.
Boris Groys, ‘Simulated Readymades by Peter Fischli/David Weiss’, Parkett, no.40/41, 1994, pp.33-7.
Marjorie Jongbloed and Boris Groys, AC: Peter Fischli David Weiss: Fragen Projektion, exhibition catalogue, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2002.