Nice: Peter Fischli and LiliPUT
After recent news of the passing of Swedish post-punk outfit LiliPUT's guitarist Marlene Marder in May, I thought I'd put together a short gallery post to showcase some of their quirky single sleeves for Rough Trade. Through some digging, I was happy to discover some unexpected details behind them - namely, that much of this fairly unknown band's artwork had been created by one-half of the most celebrated partnerships in the international art world.
For the uninitiated, Marder, along with Klaudia Schiff (bass), Regula Sing (vocals) and Lislot Ha (drums), formed the all-female group under the original moniker, Kleenex, in 1978. After receiving a warning from Kimberly-Clark, the band quickly changed its name to LiliPUT and went through number of line-up changes, save for core members Marder and Schiff. Like their contemporaries The Slits, The Raincoats, and Mo-dettes, LiliPUT enjoyed a resurgence of popularity due to their musical influence on the Riot grrrl movement in the early nineties.
LiliPUT's (then Kleenex) self-titled debut EP was released in 1978 in Sweden under the Sunrise label, followed later by a succession of singles and LPs between 1978 and 1983 for Rough Trade. Retrospectives were later issued by Off Course (1993), Kill Rock Stars (2001), and Mississippi Records (2011).
The band members maintained a variety of creative pursuits and considered music one component of a larger ongoing artistic project. Schiff, for instance, designed the covers for LiliPUT's self-titled and Some Songs LPs and is now a successful painter in Switzerland. For the bulk of their clever singles, graphic design duties fell to Swiss artist Peter Fischli, who they collaborated with in the mid-70's on early gig posters during an energetic and experimental period in the Zurich music and arts scene. Legend has it that Fischli's promotional ventures went beyond designing for the band. After the Sunrise EP was discovered and played by John Peel on his weekly BBC show, Fischli smuggled the bulk of the pressings into the U.K. and sold them to British punk fans, which created a further buzz that led to interest by Rough Trade.
It was also in 1979 that Fischli would begin his career as a fine artist via his partnership with the late David Weiss. Fischli/Weiss went on to become one of the most famous partnerships in the contemporary art world, drawing early comparisons to Marcel Duchamp due to their readymade-inspired sculptures of ordinary objects. The duo focused on exploring the “poetics of banality” producing series after series of photographs of everything from arrangements of cold cuts to planes sitting on airport tarmacs. The pair worked in a range of other media, including video art, slide projection, film, and mixed-media installations. Their most renowned work, a thirty minute film called The Way Things Go (1987), featured materials you'd mostly find in a garage: old tires, ladders and garbage bags - which were carefully assembled and set off into a Rube-Goldberg style chain reaction using pyrotechnics. OK Go used the same idea in one of their viral-pandering music videos, "This Too Shall Pass".
In a 2016 interview with Art In America, curator Bice Curigar notes, "Before Fischli/Weiss, artists had to emigrate in order to have an international career. In the 19th century they went to Munich or Paris, and after the war they went to New York. I think Fischli/Weiss are part of the first generation who didn’t have to leave." The duo eventually received Europe’s most coveted art award, the Roswitha Haftmann Prize, in 2006.
As for the Kleenex and LiliPUT singles, Fischli's work was anything but banal. For the first two releases on Sunrise and Rough Trade, both foldout covers feature variations of black and white portraits of the band by P. Mattioli filled in with Fischli's sparse, mostly pastel, retro graphics. The band's look paired with these design details could be considered a predecessor to the style the Go-Go's adopted after signing to a major label.
The most striking image (shot by Katja Becker and conceptualized by Fischli), appearing on 1981's "Eisiger Wind", captures Marder, Schiff and later vocalist, Chrigle Freund, posing in geometric costumes fashioned from corrugated cardboard - almost like a child's spin on the early Bauhaus costume designs. Another playful sleeve for "Die Matrosen" followed, featuring the band members leaping through a cloud-filled sky.
For 1979's "You", Fischli opted to design a simple proto Pac-Man graphic, which would become an unofficial logo for the band - appearing on buttons, promo photos and later in another form on the Mississippi Records 4-LP vinyl release. If you look closely at some of the creatures Fischli fashioned for the floral collage on 1983's "You Did It", you can see the open-mouthed motif again. Although the designs for each Fischli single were unique in approach, all reflect the exuberant spirit of LiliPUT's clamorous brand of punk.
The connection between the band and Fischli continued through their final compilation, as noted in an interview with Klaudia Schiff:
"Peter did all the designs for Kleenex – flyers, LPs, posters the later, I did some of the LiliPUT covers. Peter’s daughter actually worked with Marlene [Marder] and I to design the booklet for the 4xLP set. We did it all in one day, Marlene and I chose the images for the collage and she glued it all together and stuck a few of her own odds and ends in. It was great to have a young woman as part of the process."
For more on LiliPUT, check out Jenny Woolworth's interview on her Radical Repository blog and their video for "Nice".