Review by Sarah Vanell
I recently went to the Hirshhorn Museum and sculpture garden. Of everything I saw there I was struck by a film exhibit on the 3rd floor called The Way Things Go by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The first thing you notice about this particular work is that there will be a large audience watching it. In the half hour that the film ran for from beginning to end, I never saw one person walk by the work without being sucked in to watching for at least 5 minutes, and most stayed for the entire period. The Way Things Go is an ingenious series of compiled chemical and physical chain reactions between objects without any human interaction and that are delightfully amusing to watch. When viewing the film we see everything from bottles rolling down a ramp to balloons popping to explosive fire spreading quickly down a path of fuel.
The film includes the use of objects that are also used in our own daily lives, thus stripping them of their normal functions and ultimately giving them new ones with a different way of being valued, even though the intrinsic properties of the object itself remain intact. For instance, a tire is hit by a spinning plank and rolls toward a two by four, bumping it and causing it to fall onto a ladder which then shuffles down a ramp continuing the chain of reactions. In our world a tire's function is to help move a larger vehicle that the tire is attached to. However in the world created by Fischli and Weiss, the tires function is to roll three feet and knock over the two by four. Even though the function has changed the tire retains its physical property value of being round and able to roll but now is used independently from the vehicle. Among all these reactions there is a created sense of a real world, a planned world, and a destructive one. The space is harsh and unwelcoming with its cold concrete floors and unfinished walls, but it also allows a peculiar curiosity that holds our attention.
After viewing the whole work and having sometime to think about it I realized how true to life the art was. It puts forward the powers of natural forces, such as gravity. A narrative begins to take place in this scientific approach to art. Like an action flick it bring in a dangerous element knowing how destructive the consequences of these reactions are, the explosions of fire, glass breaking, heavy objects falling, and the destruction of the objects function as well after it is completed. The Way Things Go also incorporates elements of suspense and doubt. Time becomes important in this sense; The audience will hang on the edge of their seats waiting for a slower reaction to take place and doubt sinks in whether or not the reaction will occur at all when it seems the period between reactions lasts for too long. Could the artists have planned it wrong? Sometimes this doubt can be so overwhelming it creates humor when the reaction finally does takes place and erases the doubtfulness in our own minds.