Andreas Fischer Machines with the Human Touch

Andreas Fischer, My Time is my Rolex, exhibition view, 2013
Andreas Fischer, My Time is my Rolex, exhibition view, 2013 | Photo (detail): © Südpol-Redaktionsbüro/T. Köster

The 40-year-old artist, Andreas Fischer, transforms tools and everyday objects into sculptures that move and speak. The “Machines –Your Time Is My Rolex” exhibition at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne will be paying tribute to his work.

A flag made of frayed cloth erratically flutters to and fro on an incredibly long wire in the basement of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne – it is powered by a motor activated by electric impulses which is suspended on rods and restricted in its movement.

This somewhat unprepossessing work that has a title that speaks – Flagge, die versucht eine 8 zu winken/ Flag attempting to wave a figure eight (2004) – reveals the essential criteria of the sculptures of the Düsseldorf artist, Andreas Fischer, both from the point of view of form as well as content. It has the usual jumble of motors that is so typical Fischer’s work: sensors, microprocessors and servo drives, along with lots of cables; auxiliary constructions consisting of frames, pallets, lamp stands and wheels are also essential parts of his sculpture.

Maybe sculpture is the wrong word in this case – for instead of creating solid bodies, Fischer constructs multi-element structures and test assemblies.

Weird sculptural originals

Andreas Fischer, Liaison Lackmus. 2011; Andreas Fischer, Liaison Lackmus. 2011; | © Südpol-Redaktionsbüro/T. Köster Fischer invents constructions in which the technology is on an equal footing with the everyday objects; in which, so to speak, the constituting appliances merge with the deliberately ugly objects to become one. With a certain expertise the artist fiddles about with any material available and any used objects and produces weird sculptural originals that can be set in motion or made to speak.

The hopelessly shaky gesture with which the flag in the Cologne exhibition tries to wave a horizontal figure eight has an emotional effect on people – making them want to intervene and put a happy end to it all.

This is the way that all of Fischer’s works communicate directly with all the senses of the viewer. Sensual perception and emotional experience are addressed in such an intense way that the question of formal design recedes into the background. The objects actually touch on the realm of performance. The sculpture becomes the performer, the viewer the receiver. He receives messages that arouse his curiosity and pose a challenge to him.

Surrendering to infinity

The helpless little flag is of course white – it “surrenders”, it gives in to its own inadequacy at ever finishing the drawing of a vague figure eight. As is the case with the Flag attempting to wave a figure eight all of Fischer’s sculptures deal with the tricky relationship between man and his inventions. In various words and gestures they demonstrate that the rapport between man and machine, subject and object, has been knocked off balance by the ongoing technological evolution.

Andreas Fischer, Your Time is My Rolex, exhibition view, 2013; Andreas Fischer, Your Time is My Rolex, exhibition view, 2013; | © Südpol-Redaktionsbüro/T. Köster When walking through the exhibition at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the visitor gets the feeling he is on an amusing, multi-faceted circuit, on which the works on display appear to the visitor as very different individuals. One of the exhibits, for example, is fitted with a motion sensor that, when approached by a visitor, makes a whole array of mini- motors hanging on cables from eight metal shelves start their clattering, flitting dance, as if a swarm of screaming children were tugging at their mother’s apron strings – hence the name of the work Mutter/Mother.

In general Fischer’s works create expectations – expectations that they then however deliberately do not fulfil – as part of the game. For example, Vögelhaus /The Bird House from the year 2007 that has a coat hanger screwed to it at one corner consoles the viewer with the words “ The bird will be here soon” – a promise that is then never kept. Then there is the hammer – not one banging against a wall, but one that is hanging horizontally in the room from two wires and can only turn to an angle of 90 degrees when people walk past it. In this way this Werkzeug für die Weltherrschaft/ Tool for Ruling the World (2006) draws attention to the way it has been used throughout the ages as the extended arm of man – a tool that has consolidated his power and helped him not only to build things, but also to destroy things. In the case of Fischer it has been rendered inoperative.

Is all the effort worth it?

Lapidary works like these are interspersed at the show in Cologne with more extensive sculptures and even some large three-dimensional installations. In Rollen und Gieren/Rolling and Swerving (2012) Fischer turned a kitchen sideboard into a kind of helicopter on wheels: with propellers on the top, doors banging on the undercarriage and a video display on the back. Every now and then a TV screen shows scenes from the final phases of the Vietnam War.

The effect does not always come over, however. In the elaborate installation entitled Das gute, alte L-Thema/ The Good, Old Topic of L the constant repetition of the words “Sprechfehler, Körperfunktionsfehler, Gedankenfehler” (speech defect, bodily function defect, thought defect) flashing visually across a display unit naturally gives the viewer food for thought. The question is whether an effort of this dimension, connecting objects to form an absurd, loose figure, is really necessary to convey the works’ dimension of content, i.e. the message that Fischer wants to get across.

Senseless shooting

The fact that Fischer can get his basic message across using a minimum of materials is also reinforced when we take a look at many of his other works. In his work Wirds bald / Get a Move-On (2011) a gun is regularly loaded with bullets in a playfully easy way, but the penetratingly repeated sentence “It won’t get better” counteracts the statement made by the title of the work and declares that shooting is never crowned with success.
Andreas Fischer, Your Time is My Rolex, exhibition view, 2013; Andreas Fischer, Your Time is My Rolex, exhibition view, 2013; | © Südpol-Redaktionsbüro/T. Köster This is what makes the viewer smirk when he sees a simple cardboard tube, from which he hears Fischer’s voice reiterating the sentence “Der Rabe raucht die ganze Nacht/The raven smokes all night”; the pleasure he gets from such lightly packed, yet enigmatic fare fades very quickly the moment he is frightened to death by a gaudily flowered, clattering armchair suspended above his head.

This can be clearly seen at the exhibition in Cologne where the machines with a human touch tell stories about failed intentions, unachieved goals, utopias that lead nowhere. At the same time the facile message of the failure of technology with its rotating movements and insistent verbal messages reveals at second glance that what we are actually dealing with is human failure.
Andreas Fischer, Your Time is My Rolex, exhibition view, 2013; Andreas Fischer, Your Time is My Rolex, exhibition view, 2013; | © Südpol-Redaktionsbüro/T. Köster

Andreas Fischer: Machines. Your Time Is My Rolex
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
1 December 2012 – 17 March 2013