Redesign with a difference – Episode II
von Thomas Wagner | Aug 29, 2008

Nobody knows what the impetus was, what actually set the ball rolling. It started rolling. So things are moving forward, in a single move, from one to the other: A tire rolls, a chair falls over, a fuse ignites, a spark flies and burns a bucket. And suddenly the ladder falls, the bottle fills, the plain tilts, the cylinder rolls, the rocket hisses – so that a car moves, a board tips, materials blend and bubble – so that everything flows and the impetus is reproduced from thing to thing. That is what the progress of self-actuating production must look like. And nothing and no one appears to have any enthusiasm for any of the results. Only the action and the response count. The burnt out and consumed, the dead and exhausted, it is simply left behind. What becomes of it is not evident. Unconcerned, everything hastens on and stumbles forward. It is great fun, but also chaotic ongoing impact through expenditure and breakdown, burning up and submerging, together with gurgling and hissing, clattering and whistling.

What we observe if we follow “The Way Things Go”, which the two Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss – in 1987 their video made them the darlings of documenta 8 – have unleashed, is a system that becomes stabilized because its elements continually collapse. A celebration of entropy. But even if the system is fun to watch it is nonetheless an enforced system, a chain of nothing other than standard obligation, which is why the observer son waits, as if spellbound, for something to go wrong, for the chain to be finally broken, for it to stop – at last. Was it not Walter Benjamin who once said that the disaster was not that something changed, but that it continued as it was? Here things just carry on, in this chain of disasters. Only sometimes the events slow down, mist shrouds the unstoppable, a steel sheet fills with steaming foam. Then the action and view are still for a moment, and the endless chain, the never ending impetus, which is continually handed on, dissolves in a foam carpet, occasioning a short pause – before the action gears itself up again and the things begin jolting forward again according to the laws of physical and chemical reactions.

All this comes across as carefree and improvised, handmade and prone to disturbance. It immediately gains our sympathy, because the way things go, despite the inescapability, with which the events unfold, appears playful and fragile, and every condition unstable. Things are quite different in advertising, where the course of things surfaces almost twenty years late. One can let the fact that an ad for the Honda Accord produced in 2003 by the British agency “Wieden & Kennedy” and directed by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet unashamedly jumps on the art bandwagon generously pass as an homage, and be amused that it was not shot in a single go but is made up of some 600 takes and allegedly cost US$ six million to produce. One does not, however, forgive the fact that at end of the day one cannot tell that the two-minute film was not computer-generated, and that the passing on of an impetus takes the form of the purely clinical unreeling of a principle. Of course it nevertheless won numerous prizes.

By way of comparison it also becomes clear that stealing ideas and transferring them to a different content is no help whatever; it comes nowhere close to the playfulness and improvisation of the artistic original. The automobile parts which, as if driven by magic, strive towards the finished vehicle, which ultimately, like one of its parts, rolls from a ramp, seem smooth and cold, everything seems controllable and appears to need no effort whatever to be produced. So it also not worth any effort. Why, then, should one buy a vehicle where no effort is required to become its owner? The most exciting discovery is that in one particular place the tires roll up a ramp because on their inside there is a weight concealed which, having received an impetus, moves downward and as a consequence the tire too. It has nothing to with magic, however; it is sheer effect.

So all this kleptomanic form of redesign does is administer its own lack of originality. And the only amazement the ad produces is on the assumption that the person who sees it is not familiar with the original. However, when redesign is nothing more than the exploitation of what remain unnamed sources it resembles birds engaged in courtship display decorating themselves with other birds’ feathers to hide their own plainness.

Better to turn to Fischli and Weiss again. And another, no less apt and entertaining film, in which the following dialog occurs: “Isn’t everything really so simple”, the bear mutters. To which the rat replies: “Not everyone’s opinion.” And the bear says: “The poor confused have no idea!” – “Nor the rich”, the rat responds. Or, as the end of the ad goes: “Isn’t it nice, when things just work?”

The Way Things Go by Peter Fischli und David Weiss
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