Mixed Doubles presents works from Carnegie Museum of Art’s film and video collection alongside recent work by emerging international artists. On view in this gallery are two videos that harness the synergy of sculpture, performance, and moving image in amusing, even absurd parables on the simple subject of cause and effect. The creators—two pairs of collaborators—construct short experiments that transcend their overt function as demonstrations of scientific phenomena to explore the relationship of action and reaction, control and chance, and discovery and absurdity.
Peter Fischli/David Weiss’s film The Way Things Go (1987–1988) unfolds as a sequence of actions and reactions created by a massive Rube Goldberg-like “living sculpture” made from found objects. The pace of this chain reaction is deliberately slow, each chemical or physical reaction methodically activated by the breaking down or collapse of the previous scenario. In isolation, the events could appear accidental, but when shown in sequence, the viewer realizes each movement is meticulously choreographed. Fischli/Weiss worked for more than a year to make this film; its labor-intensiveness underscores the tension between the chaos of a thing continually falling apart and the planning and control required to make it happen.
John Wood/Paul Harrison’s Twenty Six (Drawing and Falling Things) (2002) presents performance vignettes in which the artists use their bodies and various props to realize pseudo-scientific demonstrations. They craft research experiments for themselves, testing specific aspects of endurance, physics, visual perception, and the limits of the body. Their deadpan demeanor dovetails with the absurdly logical or logically absurd nature of their actions. But the experimentation is not entirely serious, as both artists play straight man to the comedic overtones of the constructed situations. They may set these varied actions in motion, but in the end they are at the mercy of the forces they exploit.
Fischli/Weiss and Wood/Harrison are in control in the closed environment of a studio; but in the world, we are all subject to natural and physical forces—quite literally gravity and combustion, or more poetically mortality and entropy. In the end, both works speak to the duality of power and powerlessness inherent to the human condition. We may cause events that affect others, but at the same time we are often subject to forces beyond our control.