Mick Jagger and Brian Jones going home satisfied after composing ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’) from Suddenly this Overview 1981-2006 by Fischli & Weiss
Today I saw the great Fischli & Weiss retrospective at Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris. Mixing casualness with genuine surprise, each of the thirteen rooms managed to evoke a feeling of childlike wonder. It was one of those rare exhibitions where you leave the museum feeling changed (not a bad experience to have on Easter). For a brief moment everything felt balanced – almost perfect. The street rubbish looked like flowers – and the blossoming flowers were awfully pretty too.
The show pulled together a number of things that have been on my mind lately. Recently writing about the eclectic photographs of Judy Linn, I asked how she managed to make such unrelated and unclassifiable images cohere. In response to this post, Tim Conner wrote something very interesting:
I’ve noticed that the only shows that don’t fit into a catchy concept (the faces of Iraq war veterans, hypnotized subjects, naked mothers & children in the wild, etc.) are by photographers who are at the end of their careers or dead, with names that are already an established brand. Only then, it seems, can imagery be allowed to stray off message or venture into more than one style.
This also related to something Christian Patterson wrote on his blog:
I admire photographers who incorporate a variety of subject matter and approach in their work, and I admire the projects, books and exhibitions that showcase this variety while somehow conveying a consistent, cohesive overall style and feeling.
I am most often disappointed and disinterested when I see a project, open a book, or visit an exhibition that features a group of photographs of the same subject matter, shot from the same vantage point, and lit in the same way. It is essentially the same idea and the same shot executed over and over.
The pleasure I took from the Fischli & Weiss retrospective confirmed my agreement with Christian. And I suspect that Tim’s argument is accurate too. If Fischli & Weiss were working in a strictly photographic context (rather than as interdisciplinary artists), I doubt they would get very far with their scattershot approach.
Surprise is so good. So pleasurable. In the current issue of Modern Painters, the poet Quinn Latimer wrote something fantastic about this pleasure. While introducing the work of Martin Soto Climent (who makes work reminiscent of Fischli & Weiss), Latimer wrote:
In a 1984 essay called “Images,” the Poet Robert Hass recalls a line from Checkov’s notebooks as he contemplates the discreet power and intense pleasure of an image that arises sans explanation or narrative explication. In one of a series of isolated entries, the doctor wrote, “They are mineral bottles with preserved cherries in them.” Hass notes how the lack of context intensifies the sentence. At the same time, and paradoxically, the exactness of Chekhov’s description, the concreteness of the objects and the relationship that he describes, seems to summon abstract, nearly philosophical concerns. Hass writes, “What we see clearly is not perhaps the heart of the reality toward which the image leaps, but the quiet attention that is the form of the impulse to leap.” The meaning of the image per se is less thee point than the focusing power of an image so well honed.