Ryan Gander praises Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s ten-point manifesto How to work better
Taped to the wall of my studio is an A4 photocopy of a short ten-point manifesto by Fischli/Weiss entitled How to work better. I don’t know who put it there, but it has been in place for at least three years. It’s a tongue-in-cheek work using a motivational statement, which is a piece of found text they subsequently enlarged and had painted on the exterior of a building as part of a public commission. I sometimes show it to students at the beginning of slide lectures, and always point it out to assistants who come to the studio.
I like it quite simply because it acknowledges their awareness of the idea of practice rather than production, which indirectly points to the main aspect of what they do that I find really endearing. It’s relatively easy to stumble around making a successful work now and again, sandwiched between disasters that never leave the studio, but it’s hard to attain good practice. Their’s isn’t about making good artworks, but about how to mould the conditions for artworks to be made possible. Although I was asked to talk about a piece that I am interested in, it seems wrong to look at a singular thing when it is so apparent that their approach to working could be interpreted as a work unto itself.
The “Fischli/Weiss Practice” is a trajectory or a path that one could marvel at: swerving madly but not out of control, considered but swift, valiant and stealthy. The spectator can’t always easily follow this path, never quite being able to understand how one piece arrived directly after another. With the artists’ knowledge of how ideas evolve it would make sense, but for us the gaps are simply too great, filling each encounter with a new work with revelation. If I were to illustrate their diversity of practice and its consequence, among my examples would be Kitty2001, The Right Way 1983 and Untitled – Two Identical Groups 1996. Their steps forward are on their own terms – terms only they can understand. I wish I had their ability to turn my hand to anything, ideas in front of me and nothing but art history behind. I am a fan.
Back to the manifesto on my studio wall. I read it daily, but I have often forgotten that this photocopy is their work. It has sort of moved beyond being something that I can put their name to, and has gone full circle and come back to being just one of countless other amazing things that exist in the world. Similarly, although I’m a fan, I often confuse many of the works of Fischli/Weiss with those of other artists. Their lack of stylistic signature and their snaking objectives make their art kind of slippery and hard to get a hold of: a land mine for curators, a grenade about to go off. That really makes me smile, because when you think you have it in your clutches, they are off somewhere new to try something else.