Lili Fischer at Museum of Installation, London (2001)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in Sculpture magazine, 21(5), page 76 in 2002.

Lili Fischer at Museum of Installation, London

Usually a rat infestation in an arts space is not a call for celebration. However, such was the case in German artist Lili Fischer’s weird and wacky solo exhibition.

But the four-legged vermin weren’t the only strange occupants— there were also moths and spooky shadow-artworks. Lili Fischer’s installation, which spread throughout the Museum of Installation’s two-story interior, interpreted German Romanticism from a contemporary perspective and inspired fantasies. Curated by Sigrid Bertuleit, the show premiered in 2001 at the Museum Georg Schafer in Schweinfurt, near Frankfurt, Germany, a museum known for its collection of 19th-century Germanic art. For the work’s London viewing, Fischer prepared a smaller version.

Fantasy was visibly apparent throughout the exhibition. On the walls of the Museum of Installation’s front space, Lili Fischer installed Gallery of Moths I (2000), 13 one-meter-tall painted paper critters that recalled some sort of natural history collection. Not knowing what to expect, I felt a certain tension when I walked through, as if these mega-moths might soon take flight in some sort of Alice in Wonderland scenario. Fischer chose the nocturnal moth instead of the butterfly, perhaps as a way to illuminate and question its perceived lower status and its associated human equivalents.

In the Museum of Installation’s basement exhibition rooms, which are creepy to begin with, Lili Fischer exhibited Room of Animal Shadows (2000), with cutout farmyard shapes— including a pig, a donkey, cows, dogs, and rats. Made of polyester and graphite, the forms were attached to the wall and appeared to float, again manipulating scale and conjuring up childish dreams. In the adjacent Room of Rats (2000), fantasy and chaos resulted, as the room’s costumes were offered to gallery viewers as attire and “identities” to view the exhibition. For Fischer, the “Rats of the Museum” are “a genetic product modified from the lineage of the house rat.” With a rat-code manual nearby, Fischer advises, “Say hello to the animal shadows in the stable…pick up the scent… smell… taste… squeal… hiss…” Adopting the role “leads to constant renewal and surprising views of the collection.” In this way, Fischer intends to free viewers to behave as they please. According to Museum of Installation co-director Nicholas de Oliveira, “Several visitors in rat costumes took up residency in the park opposite our space, to the dismay of locals.” Considered both as participants and viewers of the exhibition, the rats are intended to offer a bridge between the real and imagined. Rather uniquely, there was no need to reconfigure the contemporary artwork via community outreach for this work to be accessible to children.

At the opening, Lili Fischer performed Caterpillar Meditations (2001), in which she delivered a 15-minute monologue on the lifecycle of the caterpillar and its rebirth as a moth— while several members of the audience were dressed in the basement’s furry attire. Her intention was to provide an atmosphere and lead the path of fantasy by example, while the next stage of the caterpillar’s metamorphosis surrounded viewers— the mega-moths.

Lili Fischer has participated in Documenta VIII and has exhibited her fantasy-inducing work in solo exhibitions and performances at several institutions including the Maison de la Culture in Montreal, the Museum der Bildenden Künste in Leipzig, and the Städtische Galerie in Bremen, Germany. She has been a professor at the Kunstakadamie Münster since 1994.