Janus, Elizabeth, Artforum International
Growing up in a small Swiss town in the late '70s, Pipilotti Rist - a John Lennon fan and inveterate Yoko Ono groupie long before Ono's ascension to art-rock diva status - came to art by way of pop music. While studying video at Basel's Schule fur Gestaltung, Rist began designing sets for rock concerts and making videos for local bands; eventually she joined an all-female group now known as Les Reines Prochaines (The next queens).
Rist's video work takes us on a curious journey, via pop (she also composes and writes her own songs), into the furthest regions of the female psyche. One of her first tapes, I'm Not the Girl Who Misses Much, 1986, is part homage to Lennon, part manic self-parody. It takes its title from the opening line of Lennon's "Happiness is a Warm Gun," with a slight modification from third to first person. In this video, a recording of Rist repeatedly singing this lyric is sped up, mimicking the quality of her own blurry, distorted image, as, bare-breasted, she dances frenetically around the room. Then the music slows and Rist slides down the wall - almost disappearing from the frame - as if momentarily overcome by self-doubt before regaining control as sound and image return to their former, unnaturally accelerated level. Rist's humorous take on female angst sets the tone for her later work and allies her with singers like P. J. Harvey and artists from Sue Williams to Cheryl Donegan who have recently gained recognition for their irreverent visions of sex and gender.
Over the last decade her tapes and installations have unabashedly explored sexuality and the accoutrements that conjure "femininity," through a formal language that borrows heavily form MTV's esthetic: frequent jump cuts, overexposed colors, jittery images, and static interference. In her most notorious video, Pickelporno (Pimple porno, 1992) - which first brought her to the attention of the art world - Rist attempted to give visual form to the sensations experienced during sex. With a tiny surveillance camera attached to the end of a stick, she filmed, mostly in extreme close-up and slow motion, a man and a woman in a fluid embrace. The resulting sequence of exaggerated, often abstract images includes a brief journey into an unidentified orifice set to a repetitive backbeat that quickens at the moment of climax. The images of nature that are spliced in - fruit, flowers, cacti - read as metaphoric, sometimes absurdly funny, equivalents of the bodies in motion.
Most recently, Rist has concentrated on video installations that attempt to collapse the physical and psychological space between viewer and monitor, by hiding monitors inside objects or, eschewing them altogether in favor of images projected inside boxes dotted with peepholes. In Yoghurt on Skin, Velvet on TV, 1994, tiny monitors were fitted inside seashells or handbags which were placed on pedestals. …