Coming full circle, the final room in this retrospective focuses on some of Fischli / Weiss’s earliest collaborations. The Rat and Bear costumes were worn by the artists in the early 1980s for the two films in which they play struggling characters who plot, daydream, squabble and yearn for worldly success.
The first Rat and Bear film, The Least Resistance 1981 was set in urban Los Angeles, where the artists were living. The Right Way 1982–3, which is shown here, was their second appearance and shows the two characters rambling through a mountainous landscape, of the kind that filled nineteenth-century artists with thoughts of the sublime. A book called Order and Cleanliness 1981, setting out the ideas of Rat and Bear, is crammed with charts and diagrams, each attempting to impose a crazed order on the world.
Many of Fischli / Weiss’s characteristic themes are present in these early works. The ponderings of Rat and Bear represent philosophical inquiry pushed to absurdity, while works such as the Questions series emerged from writing the dialogue for the two characters. Similarly, Rat and Bear’s doomed attempts to categorise the world in sprawling diagrams can be seen as a precursor of encyclopaedic projects such as the photographic series Visible World. And of course, there is the deadpan, ironic wit that underpins almost all of their work.