At first glance, this room appears to be a work in progress, littered with tools and the grubby detritus found in any construction site. It is, of course, an illusion, an accumulation of polyurethane sculptures carefully carved and painted to seem indistinguishable from the originals. This series of installations are like three-dimensional versions of a trompe-l’oeil still-life painting, designed to give the illusion of reality. Over the years, Fischli / Weiss have made a number of these works: Untitled (Tate) 1993–2006, which is included here, appeared in the opening displays at Tate Modern in 2000.
At the heart of these works is the artists’ love of paradox and mischief. The room demands a double-take. It looks like the chaos of an artist’s studio where their work might be made, yet of course, what we see is the actual artwork, every smear and grain of dust artfully placed. There is also a certain perversity in the artists’ decision to devote many hours and much skill to handcrafting imitations of mass-produced objects.
These detailed replicas bring to mind Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades’. Duchamp took pre-existing, mass-produced objects, such as a bicycle wheel and urinal, and presented them in a gallery context as works of art. However, while Duchamp’s objects were the real thing, that sense of authenticity is undermined in Fischli / Weiss’ sculpted simulations. Discussing the parallel, Fischli comments: ‘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.’