Peter Fischli/David Weiss

In 1997, for the Sculpture Project in Münster, artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss installed Garten, a real garden like millions seen throughout our hemisphere: a rectangular plot of land cultivated with common vegetables and flowers. And so these two artists’ garden in Münster was no different from those in a thousand other cities and stood as an emblematic image of reality at its most habitual, long a recurrent theme in their work Asked to conceive a functional sculpture for an urban public space which would deal with collective memory, it must have seemed natural for them simply to plant a garden that could be visited, like a mausoleum for daily life. Some of Fischli and Weiss’s recent shows can be seen as reflections on Garten, highlighting its “aesthetic” aspects. A garden not only feeds stomachs but also contains flowers, which nurture the eyes and spirit of the human masses, as Patrick Frey said (ironically?) in the Münster exhibition catalogue.

The recent show in Zurich presented a series of interventions that served to emphasize in classical terms of form and color the beauty inherent in flowers and vegetables. The tools to which the artists resorted for this process of emphasis were extremely simple and accessible: photographs and slide projections, traditional media made slightly more interesting here by the use of superimposed images.

One of the exhibition rooms featured an enormous quantity of photographs, all the same size, entirely covering three walls. Each photograph consisted of two images of flowers or vegetables, close-up shots superimposed in a manner that resulted in fanciful outlines that didn’t correspond to the shape of any real flora and yet left the original images easily legible. The photos’ gaudy colors turned these “gardens” into kitsch icons that were at the same time almost exotic. A similarly tamed exoticism, like that seen in posters at a travel agency, permeated the views of beaches and other such places, shown on TV monitors in the same room.

The most surprising installation in the show took place in another room, darkened for the occasion, where wall-size slide projections of more blossoms and vegetables were on view. Here, the semidarkness of the space and the slow, silent flow of the luminous images dissolving one into the other induced a kind of ecstasy. Looking at these images of nature, even in its unassuming aspects, the viewer was hypnotized by a beauty so supreme that (however ironic the staging) it seemed to argue for a pantheistic conception of nature.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.