Embarrassing art confession #3: I don’t really ‘get’ video art.
Art cinema? Fine. Even if the message gets lost you’re generally looking at a beautifully shot piece of work. The vast majority of video art that I’ve seen has been far more focused on message than aesthetics. Which is not to say this is necessarily a bad thing. In fact I’d even argue that having something important/interesting to say is one of the best reasons to make art in the first place. But if the message is abstract or metaphorical or just plain obscure, then it really needs something else to hold the attention.
There are generally three reasons I engage with a piece of art.
- It’s got something interesting/important to say (whether personal or political)
- it’s beautiful/skilfully crafted or
- it’s fun. (I will forgive a lot of other failings in a piece of art if it’s mischievous art.)
The Way Things Go/Der Lauf Der Dinge (1987) falls firmly into the latter category. As a piece of video art it is essentially a record of what looks to have been a cross between a giant game of Mousetrap made of household objects and a giant Chemistry experiment gone utterly, horribly, gleefully out of control.
Prior to making the piece, the artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss had made a piece called Equilibres (1984) which consisted of 80 still life photographs of household objects in precarious positions, always just on the cusp of falling over. Whereas in the video, they explore what happens when the equilibrium is broken. Objects are arranged in a precarious, almost cartoon-like assault course, like one of those mazes where a ball progresses along chutes and through loops, counterweights swinging and bridges revolving. Movement as inevitable and as precarious as a domino chain once its been set in motion. Here bags swing into tyre, containers propel themselves by emptying into other things, tubes roll into other tubes, chemicals pour into other liquids, mixing with messy or explosive results. Ropes burned through, things exploded and a flat iron made a rocket powered bid for freedom.
All the sound in the piece comes from the objects in motion yet there was something playful about them. I regularly feel at odds with the rest of the audience when watching video art, though for once it was because I was suppressing involuntary noises of glee every time something exploded in a particularly well-choreographed fashioned or made a notably silly noise while the rest of the audience sat po-faced.
The Way Things Go is presented in Gallery 2 at the GOMA until June 2013, as part of the Tales of the City series of exhibitions, which focus on Scottish artists and artists who have made Scotland their professional home and placing them within a wider context of international contemporary art. I may be rather missing the point to have fixated on two Swiss artists, but should you find yourself in Queen Street station having missed your train, The Way Things Go is an excellent way to waste half an hour until the next train arrives.