Pixel Forest
Pipilotti Rist at the New Museum

Welcome to the comfort zone: In the exhibitions of Pipilotti Rist you can delight in psychedelic realms on pillows or stroll through a colorful flashing forest consisting of thousands of LEDs. In 2008, the Swiss artist, who is represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection, realized the installation Pour Your Body Out at MoMa in New York, a riot of colors and sound that puts visitors in a euphoric mood. Now Pipilotti Rist has returned to New York with her compelling retrospective Pixel Forest spread out over three floors of the New Museum.

Museumgoers can also get comfortable at this show, curated by Massimiliano Gioni. The installation 4th Floor To Mildness, Rist’s most recent work, invites visitors to lie on one of more than a dozen beds. In this position, they can relax and immerse themselves in images shown on two amoeba-shaped canvases attached to the ceiling. To a hypnotic soundtrack, the camera moves between water lilies and people swimming through a river. The recordings were made on the Rhine on a summer day, near Garbs where the artist grew up. She views this work as an invitation to a “communal experience of daydreaming.” That some critics call works like this one escapist doesn’t bother her in the least. “Escapism is an opportunity,” says Pipilotti Rist. “An opportunity to close your eyes and dream. For me, it is just as important as reality.” 

The New Museum is also showing early works by the artist, including her first video I’m Not the Girl Who Misses Much from 1986. In it, she was already experimenting with the vibrant colors typical of her oeuvre. They stand in conscious contradiction to the rigid black-and-white aesthetics of the video art of the time, which was influenced by men such as Vito Acconci and Chris Burden. She made her international breakthrough in 1992 with a video whose title, Pickelporno (Pimple Porno), is more provocative than its content. In the work, the artist shows a couple making love. The camera often comes so close to the two actors that details of their bodies transform into strange structures. The coarse-grained, slightly blurred shots look almost tactile. Shells, flowers, or corals serve as erotic metaphors. Feelings are expressed in bright colors. Rist described this work as an attempt to capture a female-centric eroticism.

Another early work, which triggered debate again recently, is included in the show. Ever is Over All (1997) shows a young woman demolishing windshields of parked cars as she smiles merrily. The work won Rist the prize for young artists at the Venice Biennale and it was purchased by MoMA. Beyoncé was recently inspired by this video. In the clip to her song Hold Up, she used some motifs from the video. Is this an homage or thievery? Pipilotti Rist is very relaxed about Beyoncé’s appropriation of her work because her works also lie in pop culture. Before she embarked on a career as an artist, she designed slide projections and light shows for Swiss bands from the alternative scene.

Today Pipilotti Rist mainly realizes elaborate multimedia installations that dissolve the boundaries between perception and imagination. Her works revolve around the relationship between people, nature, and technology. In them, she creates visual worlds of stunning beauty, which are scarcely cold or perfect but very human. Her works invariably exude a gentle optimism. “I’m totally fine with being a hippie,” she said in an interview with Massimiliano Gioni. “And I’m not afraid of the idea that art can heal. That’s what I expect from art—both my own and work by other artists.”
A.D.

Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest
New Museum, New York
Until January 1, 2017