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>> Interview: Jeff Wall
>> Pipilotti Rist
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The Lady is a Hooligan
Pipilotti Rist at the Hara Museum in Tokyo

Disguised as a female worm, Pipilotti Rist scorches herself in Purgatory in her video installations – or shatters car windows dressed as a musical showgirl. Now, the Swiss artist’s work is on show in a Deutsche Bank-sponsored exhibition in Tokyo. Brigitte Werneburg on Rist’s post-feminist digital cosmos.

Pipilotti Rist, Selbstlos im Lavabad
(Selfless In The Bath Of Lava), 1994,
audio video installation (video still)
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

The Biennale was still in the process of being installed. In the Shanghai Art Museum, through the half-opened door to a room, I glimpsed an endless row of plush armchairs lined up against the windows. Attracted by the prospect of a short break, I snuck into the large hall. It seemed to have been forgotten by the Biennale activities – a strangely magical wonder lounge in which video beamers projected indefinable spirals of colored light onto the walls, making the room revolve in a poetic blue glow. As it turns out, the hall was the meeting room of the museum’s director. The young woman balancing on a high ladder, attaching thin branches, all kinds of mirrors, glittering CDs, and assorted translucent plastic objects onto the ceiling with transparent thread could only be Pipilotti Rist.

Pipilotti Rist, Unschuldig-es (in) Shanghai
(Innocent (In) Shanghai ), 2002,
installation view at Shanghai Art Museum Biennale,
Photo Ritsu Yoshino
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

Presently, Pipilotti Rist is once again busily installing her works in a Far Eastern city, this time preparing her first one-woman exhibition in Japan at the Hara Museum in Tokyo. The audience in the Japanese capital probably won’t be any less enthusiastic about the show than visitors to Innocent (In) Shanghai, who willingly let themselves be lured into the installation’s glittering trance, its floating psychedelic dream images, shining revolving objects, and hypnotic accompanying sounds. Rist’s work makes the branches appear like a nature morte – with stark shadows that both underscore the installation’s construction and anchor the various levels of montaged image, object, and sound.

Pipilotti Rist, Apfelbaum unschuldig auf dem Diamantenhügel
(Apple Tree Innocent On Diamond Hill), 2003,
installation view at Postbahnhof, Berlin,
Photo Arja Hyytiainen
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

The scene from 2002 described at the beginning of this essay possessed a truly emblematic character; it was an image that seemed to entirely embody Pipilotti Rist’s artistic approach. The professionalism in her response to the invitation was remarkable: although her work made a huge exhibition hall come to life, she’d succeeded in transporting the required materials to China in her hand luggage. Added to this was her gracious behavior – after all, wasn’t it one big, infinitely polite gesture towards her Chinese hosts, whose organizational powers she clearly did not want to test, but on the contrary alleviate? This was crowned by a modesty in behavior that was actually more cunning than timid. For, in the final analysis, it was she who profited the most from the fact that her installation’s ambitious results were not endangered by any unnecessary effort.

Pipilotti Rist,
I Couldn't Agree With You More, 1999, audio video-installation (video still)
Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

Pipilotti Rist, born 1962 in Grabs in the canton of St. Gallen, arrived at art via pop music. In the late ’80s, while she was still studying at the Schule für Gestaltung in Basel, she created stage designs for rock concerts and produced music videos for local bands. In 1988 she joined the women’s band Les Reines Prochaines and recorded several fairly shrill records with them, including hellgrüne Lyrik (light-green poetry) in 1992 and Lob Ehre Ruhm Dank (praise honor fame thanks) in 1993/94, until leaving the "Next Queens" in 1994.

Pipilotti Rist, Das Zimmer (The Room), 1994/2000,
installation view at Kunstmuseum St. Gallen,
Photo Stefan Rohner
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

This background might explain why Pipilotti Rist so easily appropriates elements from pop culture, such as the idea of the star cult, to emphasize the entertainment aspect of her art. It also explains her affinity to the sweeping gesture, the digital pogo of a popular clip aesthetic, to intense colors and a relaxed and joyful sensuousness. And this is conveyed in her videos not only visually and acoustically, but also through her treatment of the exhibition space, such as with the mattress camp she installed in the baroque church nave of San Stae for the Venice Biennale of 2005.

Pipilotti Rist, Deine Raumkapsel (Your Space-Capsule), 2006,
audio video installation,
Photo Barbara Gerny
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

Rist’s approach is implicitly political. But she is also conscious of the contradictions inherent in the art establishment’s aesthetic reception, as became clear in her extended conversation with the head curator of the Stockholm Konsthall Magasin 3, Richard Julin, who already presented a one-person show of the artist’s works from February to June of this year. "I’m interested in art’s democratic aspects," says Rist, "but I thrive on fetishism." It’s also possible that her approach is more accessible in Japan than in Europe. The extremely refined traditional Japanese high culture also bears a strong tendency towards fetishism, which is clear in modern Japan’s no less sophisticated everyday and consumerist culture, beginning with fashion and carrying to music, comics, computer games, and even to pornography.

This is why it’s so important that the installation The Room from 1995 is included in the Hara Museum exhibition in Tokyo. With this work, Pipilotti Rist, whose bizarre first name is a remix of Pippi Longstocking and her Christian name Charlotte, sends visitors on the trail of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver, as it were, on a satirical journey to the land of the giants, which is today the land of the entertainment industry and its producers. The real joke of the installation is the gigantic remote that is nearly impossible to use. In contrast with the image of a careless channel zapper, this monstrous device imparts a feeling of sheer helplessness. Yet when visitors have finally climbed up onto the larger-than-life sofa next to the huge standing lamp or the no less colossal armchair, they finally feel – shrunken down to child size – quite comfortable in their voyeuristic regression. This ambivalence between criticism and reconciliation is what characterizes the work of Pipilotti Rist.

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