File Note 03: Urs Fischer - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Ugo Rondinone



Meet Me Here at Dawn Images References Quote Biography Credits

Meet Me Here at Dawn

‘Which situation should I declare real and which one a dream?’ This is the question that plagues the narrator of Kobo Abe’s Kangaroo Notebook. On a morning that should have turned out like any other, the first person narrator of Kangaroo Notebook awakens to find radish sprouts growing out of his shins. Although his doctor is repulsed, the narrator finds he now possesses the strange and unique ability to snack on … himself. An eerie adventure to rid himself of his malady takes the book’s protagonist into an increasingly hostile and mysterious world, one that in turn is surreal, playful and almost unassailably enigmatic. The plot is a weird and wild ride. Our slowly unravelling protagonist checks into a dermatology clinic and soon finds himself hurtling on a hospital bed to the very brink of hell.

As in Kangaroo Notebook, the work of Urs Fischer sends us on a journey into compelling, bizarre and resonant realms; we enter a sphere, wherein lies heaven, hell and everything in between. In a mixture of dream-world, fantasy and life’s labyrinths, Urs Fischer manages to be simultaneously fearful and jarringly funny. Labyrinths, doubles, dreams, mirrors and magic tricks: these are the tokens with which Urs Fischer plays his ontological games, as a most romantic observer and story teller. It is a gloomy psychological landscape that ranges from the plausible to implausible to simply impossible illusion. The work is in his flow a darkly surreal novel, at turns bizarre and ridiculous, then just as easily becomes normal and calm. Events that don’t seem to be going anywhere but suddenly illuminate at the end.

The work of Urs Fischer is not something to describe, summarise or paraphrase. It intrudes into the mind of the viewer, forcing him to begin to think and feel like Urs Fischer, in an infinite series of permutations. Therefore the analyst, whose stock in trade is his skill at putting his artist matter before his viewer in pithier or less redundant language, will find no purchase here. Form and content are not easily separated; each can and must be explained away in terms of the other, but the circularity of the argument will be closer to the free-play of endless investigation celebrated in the work, than to the ordinary world of logic and reason.

During a visit to an Urs Fischer exhibition you may undergo a profound change. Aided by logic, you attempt to understand everything, but you notice that you are unable to understand, much less describe, what is happening to you, and gradually you lose control of your language and your mind. What exactly you see, or look for, or find is not known. And what you do find you are unable to explain or understand, but you are just as unable to understand your own inability of understanding, so you are locked into a vicious circle, madly constructing useless explanations which you will discard once again, until gradually the very language will become a set of useless explanations, something to be disposed of: nothing with the clarity of something.
This does not seem to be a very promising start for a journey, and you will get up, and leave the scene, but later on, you will yield to the temptation of the ditch once again, though not because of laziness, but out of necessity. Your attitude resembles that of Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable, who utters the words at the end of the trilogy; ‘Where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on’.

When in the Three Dialogues Beckett talks about the painting of Pierre Tal Coat, he objects to the notion that Tal Coat or Henri Matisse should be called revolutionaries, because he feels that they only managed to disturb a certain order on the plane of the feasible. When he is asked to elaborate what other plane there should be, he answers that although logically there could be none, the true artist has no choice but to turn away from it all the same, being weary of its puny exploits, weary of pretending to be able, of being able, of doing a little better the same old thing, of going a little further along a dreary road. Asked what remains for such an artist, a despairing and proud Beckett asserted that ‘the expression that there is nothing to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express’. The different layers of narration and material in the work of Urs Fischer behave in a similarly transparent lucid manner, and the paradoxical nothing constituting the poetry of the work has a radiant power which shines through all the layers, and accordingly, each layer is influenced by the others. Urs Fischer’s work always maintains an element of lightness and is, in his bitter sweetness, sometimes outright funny.

Unable to understand or explain the work of Urs Fischer? I can accept that. Why? Because I’m done with all the circ’, circ’, circlin’ round. Because nothing is not something to be explained and understood. It is a negative, which cannot even be defined, as it negates understanding, and is incomprehensible. It should be dismissed. Urs Fischer’s work feels this need, and strives for the possibility, but the vision of nothing is visited on him, and he has no choice but to attempt to understand it. But understanding only works within the realm of logic, and Urs Fischer’s premises seem to transcend those boundaries. Maybe it shows a discovery of meaninglessness, or nothing. As if the complex nature of existence may turn impotence into omnipotence.


The Autobiography of a Super Tramp W H Davis Oxford Paperbacks (1980) ISBN 0192812939

Hadrian the VII Penguin Books (1982) ISBN 0140020314 and The Quest for Corvo NYRB (2001) ISBN 0940322617, both by Frederick Rolfe

Nightmare Abbey Thomas Love Peacock, Penguin Classics (1982) ISBN 0140430458 

Only two can play this game James Keys [pseudonym of George Spencer Brown], NY Bantam Books (1974)

The Poetics of Cinema Raul Ruiz, Editions Dis Voir (1995) ISBN 2906571385

Hans Henny Jahnn and other obscure and forgotten worlds, and stories by Pitigrilli, Philip K Dick, Ambrose Bierce, Richard Brautigen, Kurt Vonnegut, Alexander Grin, Majakovski’s poems and everything by Raymond Carver

Ripa Hits The Skids Aki Kaurismäki and Christian Lindblad (dir.) (1993)

The Big Red One Sam Fuller (dir.) 1980

Italian cinema from the 1950s to the 1970s; movies by Pedro Almodovar and Takeshi Kitano Zatôichi; and all epics, especially the failed ones

Kangaroo Notebook Kobo Abe, Vintage (1997) ISBN 0679746633

The Unnamable Samuel Beckett, (published in Three Novels) Grove Press (1995) ISBN 0802150918

Proust and the Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit Samuel Beckett Calder (1965) ASIN B0007KG1MO

Good Smell/Make-Up Tree Urs Fischer JRP/Ringier (2004) ISBN 2940271321

Kir Royal Urs Fischer, Kunsthaus Zurich (2004) ISBN 3906574245

‘Urs Fischer’, Alison M. Gingeras, Artforum, October 2004

‘Roll With It’, Tom Morton, Frieze, October 2004, issue 86

‘The Failure Man’, Pablo Lafuente, Art Review, December – January 2003

'Your thoughts determine the images, and it is the images, in turn, which determine your thoughts.’ Urs Fischer


Urs Fischer was born in Zurich, Switzerland, 1973 and initially studied photography at the Schule für Gestaltung, Zurich before spending time at ‘de ateliers’ in Amsterdam and having a residency at Delfina Studios, London in 2000.
Fischer has shown in public and commercial galleries throughout Europe and the USA. Most recently he has had solo exhibitions at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York; Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan, Italy in 2005; Sadie Coles HQ, London; Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland and the Pompidou Centre, Paris in 2004.
Others include the enigmatically titled What should an owl do with a fork at Santa Monica Museum of Art, USA, 2002; Capillon — Urs just does it for the girls (with Amy Adler) at Delfina Studios, London; Soups of the Day and Domestic Pairs Project (with Keith Tyson) at Kunsthaus Glarus, Switzerland; and Without a Fist — Like a Bird, Fischer’s first solo show in the UK at ICA, London, were all in 2000.
Fischer has participated in numerous group exhibitions including the Venice Biennial, 2003; Liverpool Biennial, 2002; Manifesta 3, Ljubljiana, 2000; and Karaoke 444&222 too, South London Gallery, London, 1995.


Ugo Rondinone is an artist and friend of Urs Fischer.

Supported by the Henry Moore Foundation and the Swiss Cultural Fund in Britain.