Destruction, Decay and a House Made of Bread: The Wacky and Wonderful Works of Urs Fischer

Urs Fischer, Untitled (Bread House), 2004-2005, bread, bread crumbs, wood, polyurethane foam, silicone, acrylic paint, spray enamel, screws, tape, rugs, theater spotlights, 406 x 372 x 421 cm. Installation view: “ERROR,” The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, Connecticut, 2019. © Urs Fischer. Photo: Stefan Altenburger. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.
Portrait of Urs Fischer by Chad Moore. Image courtesy of the artist.
Urs Fischer, Untitled (Bread House), 2004-2005, bread, bread crumbs, wood, polyurethane foam, silicone, acrylic paint, spray enamel, screws, tape, rugs, theater spotlights, 406 x 372 x 421 cm. Installation view: “ERROR,” The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, Connecticut, 2019. © Urs Fischer. Photo: Stefan Altenburger. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.
Urs Fischer, Faules Fundament (Rotten Foundation), 1998, bricks, mortar, fruits, vegetables, dimensions variable. Installation view: “Faules Fundament (Rotten Foundation)!” Karma, New York, 2017. Photo: Mats Nordman. © Urs Fischer. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.
Urs Fischer, Faules Fundament (Rotten Foundation), 1998, bricks, mortar, fruits, vegetables, dimensions variable. Installation view: “Faules Fundament (Rotten Foundation)!” Karma, New York, 2017. Photo: Mats Nordman. © Urs Fischer. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.
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Urs Fischer is an artist that takes unconventional materials and molds and manipulates them to create works that are curious, surreal and exciting. We speak with the artist, discussing his take on the absurd, his inspirations and his favourite medium—life.

TEXT: Carina Fischer
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

 

Urs Fischer, Untitled (Bread House), 2004-2005, bread, bread crumbs, wood, polyurethane foam, silicone, acrylic paint, spray enamel, screws, tape, rugs, theater spotlights, 406 x 372 x 421 cm. Installation view: “ERROR,” The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, Connecticut, 2019. © Urs Fischer. Photo: Stefan Altenburger. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

 

Urs Fischer gives life to the materials that he uses, whether it be bread, dirt, clay, paint or otherwise, employing elements of humour, surrealism, decay and absence to create the bizarre yet wonderful works that Fischer is known for.

Fischer began as a photographer, having studied it at the Schule für Gestaltung in Zurich, before dropping out and moving to Amsterdam in 1993. In a conversation with Interview Magazine, Fischer confessed to having only recently studied “art art” (referring to art history), declaring that he had learnt about art “everywhere.” While photography may have been Fischer’s first love, his work now crosses a multitude of mediums, and he is frequently lauded as an artist for his unique ability to extract and distil the potential of materials in his works. Fischer is known for taking found objects and raw materials such as clay, paint, dirt and food produce, and creating life from it—through surreal pieces of work that slow a viewer’s comprehension as they grapple to make sense of what lies before them.

 

Portrait of Urs Fischer by Chad Moore. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

The huge variety of Fischer’s creations can be seen across his most notable works. Although the foundations of his work are rooted in painting and sculpture, the manner in which he engages with his pieces remove the typical traditional nature of such mediums. For example, his use of food and produce can be seen across Rotten Foundation (1998), a structure built on a foundation of rotting produce and Untitled (Bread House) (2004–05), an alpine chalet comprised entirely of loaves of sourdough bread that was eventually left to the parakeets. His works are in a constant state of flux as they slowly decay, subject to time and their surrounding environments. In 2007, Fischer made a work out of the gallery space at Gavin Brown Enterprise in New York, digging up the floor to create You, a 2.5 metre deep crater that was 11 metres by 9 metres wide, that costed the gallery US$250,000.

Fischer has exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2003, 2005 and 2007, as well as holding solo shows at Centre Pompidou, in Paris, France (2004) and Kunsthaus in Zürich, Switzerland (2004). More recent major exhibitions include a solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2013, and an exhibition in Gagosian Beverly Hills in 2012 and Gagosian Hong Kong in 2017, the latter marking the artist’s first solo show in Asia.

We spoke to the artist about his inspiration, the decisions that go into his choice of materials and where he sets his boundaries in his artmaking process.

 

Urs Fischer, Untitled (Bread House), 2004-2005, bread, bread crumbs, wood, polyurethane foam, silicone, acrylic paint, spray enamel, screws, tape, rugs, theater spotlights, 406 x 372 x 421 cm. Installation view: “ERROR,” The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, Connecticut, 2019. © Urs Fischer. Photo: Stefan Altenburger. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

 

Your work often overlaps into the realm of the absurd, creating fantastical worlds within the art, some pieces taking over entire rooms. Do you ever try to contain or set boundaries to your artmaking practice?
Art is boundaries. The way to see it is that as an individual we are limited: in mind, spirit, our ability to understand, and the time we have. Collectively we retain and set up limits in our cultures; I keep wondering what our expectations are, what this journey is. And being on this journey, making art, what and why do I feel the need to share and communicate, and what can we really share and how. Those are boundaries enough for me.

A single artwork and an entire oeuvre have different qualities they share. I love the oeuvre as a communicator.

What is it that we expect from an artwork? Is this expectation not the first boundary we encounter?

 

Similarly, how much planning goes into each of your series of works? Do you often experiment on multiple mediums before making a decision or do you often go out on a limb?
Ideally I would like to leave space for each work to find its own form, following its inherent logic. The material body a work can take is manyfold, unless it comes out of a practice.

On an open day I understand my process more about guiding and following than controlling. On a closed day I try to force that. Laziness, impatience or whatever else leads to this. No idea. I guess it takes a balance of open and closed days for a work to become.

 

Urs Fischer, Faules Fundament (Rotten Foundation), 1998, bricks, mortar, fruits, vegetables, dimensions variable. Installation view: “Faules Fundament (Rotten Foundation)!” Karma, New York, 2017. Photo: Mats Nordman. © Urs Fischer. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.
Urs Fischer, Faules Fundament (Rotten Foundation), 1998, bricks, mortar, fruits, vegetables, dimensions variable. Installation view: “Faules Fundament (Rotten Foundation)!” Karma, New York, 2017. Photo: Mats Nordman. © Urs Fischer. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.

 

You work across a huge range of mediums and sizes. Do you have a favourite technique/form you like to play with, or does it depend on the specific concept and body of work?
My favorite mediums are my life, the world I experience, my mind and my hands. The human brain and the hands must develop simultaneously. I imagine that is where our singular focus comes from, the narrow way we see and understand things, the narrative.

 

Where do you draw inspiration? What was the starting point for your most recent body of work?
The older I get, the more I try to just look and listen, to observe. There are particular images that come to life through the process of creating. I’m curious about their nature. I never understand why some artworks are falling in place. It’s a mystery. More and more I feel profound humility— some of the pieces I work on at the moment are about what I see and feel and my attempt at bringing them to a form that seems to communicate that experience best.

 

You often work in large studio teams and with specialist fabricators. Have you ever completed a piece of work and felt as though it wasn’t quite what you had in mind, as it may have been constructed primarily by others?
My studio is mainly administrative at this point. Outside of that I work with individuals that can bring something particular. It’s about synergy.

Working with manufacturers, like foundries, which do labour intensive work, is joyous. They extend the possibilities and allow me to do things that I could not achieve alone. But if you think about it: computers and manufacturers of more traditional art materials, like oil paints, also extend our abilities but are so common that we are usually not aware of it anymore.

Working with others on an artwork is, at it’s best, like an orchestra. At its worst it sucks the life out of it.

 

Over the years, one could argue that the imagery within your work has grown a lot less visually chaotic and entropic and has become more simple in terms of the audience’s ability to comprehend it. Do you feel as though you have slowly, subconsciously conformed to make things more instantly accessible to your audience?
Everything I did in the past I already did. I see no reason to go back there. And I get very excited by new ways. What will open up only unfolds if I try. Sometimes that process leads me down erroneous paths.

There is no art, art always becomes. First and foremost in the eye of the beholder. In that way, an imaginary eye of a beholder could be a medium to work with.

But yes, simpler. I always enjoyed simple imagery but was hardly ever capable of making it. I dream of the type of imagery that leaves one the room to contemplate and have one’s own experience. Maybe that makes me conformist.

 

 

 
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