PIPILOTTI RIST’S HYPER-KINETIC, DREAMLIKE AESTHETIC
Video art is the creation and reproduction of moving images and it uses video equipment for very precise communicative purposes, challenging the spectator’s perception of reality and going beyond mere documentation. One of the most interesting exponents of this art form is Pipilotti Rist, a Swiss artist who has become an icon of pop culture, inventing a new style all of her own and a world which lies on the border between dreams and reality, a world of floating visions, vibrant, psychedelic colours, hypnotic soundtracks. Rist has taken the legacy of Nam June Paik, considered a pioneer of this art, and has given it her own personal reinterpretation, exploring the themes of female sexuality and media culture with unrivalled purity and freedom. In an attempt to bring art and life closer together, without ever being elitist. “I have always considered video to be the most wonderful repository for my fears, my desires, my subconscious, the picture in my head.” “When I close my eyes, my imagination roams free. In the same way I want to create spaces for video art that rethink the very nature of the medium itself, I want to discover new ways of configuring the world, both the world outside and the world within.” Fantasy is at the heart of her work, which transports spectators to unexpected worlds of sensuality and lightness, involving them in an immersive, completely absorbing experience for the eyes and body. Her installations are explorations of the senses, where the physical and psychological distance from the public is abolished in spaces with topsy-turvy proportions, and giant images take them on a journey into the subconscious, a meditative experience to discover what is “behind their eyelids”.
Elisabeth Charlotte Rist was born in Grabs in 1962, in the Swiss countryside near the Austrian border. As a child, she decided to call herself Pipilotti as a tribute to the extraordinary character by Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking, whom she felt a particularly strong affinity with. After studying photography in Vienna and audio-visual communication at the School of Design in Basel, she embarked on her artistic career in 1988 as a musician in the group Les Reines Prochaines, an all-female post-punk band, while filming her first videos in Super 8. In 1986 she released her first video “I’m not the girl who misses much”, a quote from the John Lennon song “Happiness is a warm gun” (1968), where she changes her voice and distorts her image while dancing animatedly with her breasts exposed: it was the first rejection of the female image portrayed in music videos and is considered her most significant video by her exegetes. It is important to remember the close relationship between music and video following the introduction of MTV in 1981, the US music video channel, and its effects on art. In the ’90s Pipilotti interest broadened to include all forms of electronic media production which were well-suited for this new evolving art form. In 1992 she made another video, “Pickel Porno”, a work about the female body and sexual excitation, where the video camera takes on the role of the partner and she uses small objects, clothes and gaudy shades to conjure up a symbolic, metaphoric universe of the erotic consciousness, evoking a sense of beauty which is light years away from the ideal proposed by traditional media. “The accepted definition of female and femininity is too narrow: in my work I am consciously trying to conjure up the positive sides of mad or hysteric gestures – but it is more than fun. It’s a survival tactic to let female characteristics shine in the sun …”. Despite this, her art is for everyone, including men. “After all, we have a 50% probability of being born male”. With considerably irony and insatiable curiosity, Rist uses video as an artistic medium, communicating with her public in an innovative, strong and striking manner. Like in another of her best-known and representative videos, which Beyoncé based one of her video clips on: “Ever is Over All”, 1997. In this mixture of joy and hysteria, child’s play and vandalism, melodic sensuality and aggression, a girl walks along a street without a care in the world, smashing the windows of parked cars with a flower-hammer, with a policewoman looking on conspiratorially.
Over the next few years, Pipilotti Rist’s video installations, which combine elements of performance, poetry, music and sculpture, took on a more spatial awareness: using a combination of criticism of pop culture, irony and reinterpretation of feminist issues, the images stretch into the space around the observer, going beyond him and overflowing into the dimension of emotional experience.
The artist is one of the most highly respected, unconventional voices in art today and has had solo shows in the world’s best-known museums including MoMA in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Biennials of Venice, Berlin, Sydney and Lyon. She has won numerous awards, including the Joan Miró Prize (2009), and has obtained just as many acknowledgements, including a nomination for the Hugo Boss Prize coordinated by the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Last year in the Big Apple, the New Museum hosted the most complete presentation of the work of this extraordinary “daughter of television”, including the unpublished work “Pixel Forest”: an artificial forest of three thousand handmade plastic elements, each containing a single pixel of the video. Rist’s experimentation also includes a single feature-length film, “Pepperminta” (2009), her first foray into the world of direction, which she presented at the Venice Film Festival: “the most difficult format, where everyone has to look in the same direction for eighty minutes”. The plot of “Pepperminta” is undefined and elusive, it is a delirious crescendo, endorsing the fact that art is the only way to free man from his tensions. It does not take much to break the mould, to knock down the thousands of barriers we build for ourselves every day: an apple floating in the water, a strawberry on the pavement, even just wearing a jumper of an unusual colour. Pipilotti Rist salvages the surrealistic dimension of avant-garde artistic film and mixes it with the most original forms of contemporary art, creating an almost abstract film but one that is packed with ideas and emotions, focusing on one value above all the others: the freedom to be yourself. Another example of how Rist wants, and manages, to dismantle the conventions of modern society.
Cover. Worry Will Vanish Horizon, 2014. Hauser & Wirth, London 2014. Photo Alex Delfanne.