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“Near-Scientific Experiments with Humorous Side Effects”

Roman Signer, "With the Boss" (2009)

Sometime last winter, when the days were at their shortest and the collective spirit seemed to be at its annual low, a friend gave me a DVD copy of Signer’s Suitcase on the Road with Roman Signer (1996). The DVD came with the personal message, “Watch this and your winter blues will be gone…” Needless to say, I returned home, watched the DVD, and have been hooked on Roman Signer ever since.

Roman Signer, "Water Boots" (1986)

The film, directed by Peter Liechti follows the Swiss action artist, Roman Signer, to a number of locations including the Swiss Alps, Poland, Stromboli, and Iceland. In each location, Signer performs an action, best described by curator Gianni Jetzer as, “near scientific experiments with humorous side effects.”

Most of the experiments are constructed in a rugged but thoughtful fashion with everyday, found, or natural materials. Signer has the amazing ability to make the viewer rethink the possibilities of normally mundane objects. A chair or a pair of boots can be reinvented, combining a basic knowledge of physics with the playful imagination of a child.

About a month ago, I found out the Roman Signer was having a solo exhibition in New York at the Swiss Institute. After weeks of trying to see the show (before it closes on November 12), I made it to the Swiss Institute and satiated my severe case of Roman-Signer-Addiction. The show devotes four rooms to Signer’s various contraptions and provides multiple video screenings.


While I enjoyed seeing the exhibition, I think Signer is an artist who does not need to rely on an exhibition space to show his work. Because most of his actions take place in remote locations, or involve time-based media, they need to be filmed. Many of his experiments can be found on YouTube, making his work easy to share and re-experience.

The fact that Signer’s work lends itself so well to the YouTube/Vimeo medium may have come as a surprise being that the artist has been working for over thirty years. Needless to say there is something eccentric and endearing about Signer’s experiments that makes watching them in the comfort of your home that much more appealing.

While he will be the first to say that he is not a scientist, his method is inventive and will without a doubt cause humorous side effects.

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