Picnic at hanging rock

 Fischei Weiss, Rock on Top of Another Rock, London 2013

 Fischei Weiss, Rock on Top of Another Rock, Serpentine Gallery, London 2013

I’ve written about Rock on Top of Another Rock before but at the time I entirely failed to get round to the follow-up post about its London incarnation so I’m quite pleased to find myself back with it now by a somewhat circuitous route. A recent visit – on a rainy winter afternoon – reminded me quite how much I like the way this work pairs a simple idea with a complex and audacious challenge in terms of sourcing the materials and installing the work. The Ronseal nature of the title imparts a sense of playfulness to what is also in some ways quite a scary piece of sculpture. It’s all a matter of balance.

Fischli/Weiss Installation view, Rock on Top of Another Rock 2013 Serpentine Gallery, London (7 March 2013 - 6 March 2014) © Peter Fischli David Weiss Photograph: 2013 Morley von Sternberg

From some angles it becomes apparent quite how small a base the bottom rock actually provides. What keeps the woe from toppling and crushing those brave enough to picnic in its shadow is the sheer weight of the top rock and the downward pressure to exerts. Probably. (I have a degree in Physics and my belief in its safety feels more like an act of faith than a considered position based on an understanding of the science.)

While the first version of the work, on a mountain road in Norway, might easily have been made by nature, rocks of this size are an imported rarity in Kensington Gardens. But then this is a park; to an extent the landscape seems natural but it’s controlled nature, a pretence. And while the reference point of nature making sights like this in rockfalls is lost to us here, the reference point of carefully balanced standing stones is clear. As Peter Fischli says:

‘In Norway and here, to put one rock on top of another rock in the wilderness is the first thing you do if you want to make a mark. When you walk and you want to find your way back… you make this mark. It is a very archaic, simple thing, but it is referencing the [Robert] Venturi duck. We wanted to make something that forces you to stop your car and get out to take a photograph.’

With suitable local stones unavailable, to make Rock on Top of Another Rock in London it was necessary to bring the stones in from elsewhere. Here again there is a tradition to be followed. Like the stones that make up Stonehenge, the rocks for Rock on Top of Another Rock were brought in from Wales. One assumes the journey was rather easier this time.

Fischli Weiss Rock London 2013 - closeup

Rock on Top of Another Rock will be outside the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens until 6 March 2014. The weather may limit picnicking options but even on the greyest of days it’s a pretty amazing sight.

Fischli Weiss Rock - clay multiple 2012-13

Neatly linking this post with the previous one, there is of course a distinctly less scary clay version.

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