Magazine article Artforum International

Pipilotti Rist

Magazine article Artforum International

Pipilotti Rist

Article excerpt

LUHRING AUGUSTINE/PUBLIC ART FUND, TIMES SQUARE, NEW YORK

A whole new interior realm, both uncanny and funny, opened up to visitors of Pipilotti Rist's latest installations at Luhring Augustine. At first, the simulated domestic layout seemed ordinary enough: Viewers entered via a kitchen, proceeded through a living room, a bar, two other rooms, and finally on to a bathroom. Yet this was no simple house, but a fantasy site of visual and psychic projection, produced from a feminine point of view that was as intriguing as it was unexpected.

Woman in general--and Rist's own experience in particular--has always been at the core of the artist's work. From her underwater (auto)erotic fantasy Sip My Ocean, 1996, to her depiction of a woman joyfully smashing car windshields with an iron flower (Ever Is Over All, 1997), Rist's video-based productions have provided numerous examples of female insubordination. But the recent installations represented the Swiss artist's most consistent effort yet to develop an aesthetics of unfettered womanhood: The work expresses irreverence not just through pranks captured on tape but in its very form and execution, which generate a visual poetics of buoyant femininity profoundly unrelated (though not unfriendly) to masculinity--that is, released from the binary opposition of gender.

So what does femininity unbound look like? In the first installation, Regenfrau (I Am Called a Plant), 1998-99, a giant female nude was projected on a faux kitchen wall, the image hovering over sink and stove. Lying like a corpse at the water's edge, her pink-wigged head, magenta lipstick, and purple nails punctuating the soggy ground, the figure seemed at first less unbound than abandoned. Yet her body was shown in a way that subverted this sense of abjection; the moving camera, positioned up close, brushed gently against her as if it were an infant's mouth searching for its mother's nipple. In other words, in place of a controlling "male" gaze, Rist introduced the camera as a dependent, unseeing object with a groping touch. The oneiric sounds of a harmonica (all but two of the installations included their own sound track) enhanced the sight's mesmerizing peculiarity. And at a certain point in the projection, which ran in a continuous loop, the "abject" woman simply got up and left: It was time to move on t o the next room.

In Himalaya's Sister's Living Room, 2000, images beamed from hidden projectors surfaced like veils of daydreams in unexpected places: on a side table, the artist's face pressing against a windowpane; behind a plant, an ear illuminated by sunlight; on a lamp, a woman gesticulating atop a snowy mountain. These animated objects recalled speaking furniture in eighteenth-century libertine novels--a sofa, for example, narrating the amorous trysts that took place on its cushions--though the iconography here was not traditionally erotic. Yet there was a kind of love in the way Rist's camera embraced its objects, producing through its gently swooping or looping trajectories a subtle and often hilarious disequilibrium, as in the volleying takes of a female cyclist's legs from below. Although the overall effect was slightly chaotic, Rist succeeded in redefining the idea of a woman s interiority precisely by interrupting and reinscribing the physical boundaries of the room and swathing it in the envelope of her own quir ky imagination. …

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