Recently I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with a new project company in Liverpool called Art Shaped. The article below is a response to viewing The Right Way by Fischli and Weiss which was especially imported from a gallery in Switzerland. The project produced a zine which is where this article can be originally found and was given out at the screening. Along with other articles, the zine was full of frankly brilliant illustrations by artist Katie Craven. Her work can be found at here.
Thanks to everyone at Art Shaped and keep an eye out for more special events and screenings.
Herzog + Postgate = Fischli and Weiss
Ignoring the vague German connection between the artists and director Werner Herzog, there are a pleasing number of traits that both creatives happily share. Also ignoring the humours (intentional or otherwise) aspects of the film The Right Way, there’s a Herzogian feel to its bizarre non-reality that adds to a mix of distilled and oddly cathartic pleasure.
The two creatures go on a journey (which is the complete opposite to the right way of which the film’s title speaks of) with a typical panache and hands on approach akin to the director. Whether it’s traversing along mountain sides a la Aguirre: Wrath Of God or mucking around in underground caverns and lakes as in Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, The Right Way has a geography not unlike that found in Herzog’s canon. Whether the film can be seen as a piss take version of some of Herzog’s genuinely alarming adventures remains in the heart of the viewer, yet the oddness of the two characters that we follow lends a weirdly surreal context to the work.
Herzog would put himself through the grinder to achieve his films, and our artists appear to have attempted doing the same. Wading through an underground lake in a panda suit is surely one of the most Herzogian concepts ever conceived?
The other half of our equation refers to the maverick filmmaker and underrated artist of our time, Oliver Postgate. Famous for the likes of Clangers, Bagpuss and the frankly terrifying Pogle’s Wood, a number of aspects connect his work to the film. The most obvious is the rat character that bares more than a passing resemblance to a slightly demented Clanger. The ending in particular showcases what seems to be a Clangers tribute with the sounds creating being almost libel in their likeness to the little creatures’ calls as they wait for some soup from the Soup Dragon. This aside though, is there anything else? Thematically, The Right Way shares a heartful of whimsy with the Postgate universe. Whismy these days seems to be that awful word which bloggers assign themselves when defining their personality by saying they drink tea. Here though whimsy means exactly what is shown; a carefree land of fantasy and the whimsical with little consequence to action and a natural leaning to a fluffy version of the Kantian sublime.
The Panda also seems of a Postgate universe. Bunking off from his duties after eating a Fly Agaric mushroom (which does result in a more adult scene of the Clanger/rat being sick) it’s something no more radical or artistic than a big pink and fluffy cat yawning its way through life. The Panda even shares some Professor Yaffle like attainings to pomposity but drawing out the comparisons between the works would take an eternity.
Putting it in context then, this is made in a post-Postgate universe but a pre-Telly Tubby/Tweenie one; a place where animation was still key to children’s television and before dressing up and acting like a moron was a byword for children’s entertainment. So with this in mind, where does this sit our Yaffle and Clanger lead drama, The Right Way? Its Herzogian quest distances itself from the more immature comparison with children’s television but is it really in the realms of fantasy that, without prior knowledge of the artists, this could really be a pilot for some surreal, European children’s program directed by Werner Herzog?
It’s a resounding maybe. Perhaps the more serious art critic and connoisseur will be scoffing into their Pinot Grigio and spilling it into their absurd choice of facial hair but instead of massaging the late Theodor Adorno’s still detectable ego with cries of “metaphorical, allegorical satire!”, a more whimsical approach to video art, whether making it or critiquing could make the world a better place and one full of Clangers, Pandas and Bagpuss seems far more bearable than a world full of overly serious critics and scholars. Well done Fischli and Weiss. Postgate would be proud.