I Want My PipiTV: Hi Pipilotti Rist!

In part 1 of 2, MARTIN SPELLERBERG takes a look at the single channel and installation work of Pipilotti Rist, internationally acclaimed Video Art Super Star.
ART, 05/29/2K: BIOGRAPHY In 1962 Pipilotti was born in Reinthal, Switzerland. Of course, her name wasn’t Pipi then, it was Charlotte; it was only later that her family would adapt the nickname from Pipi Longstocking, and later still until it proved wholly appropriate. In the early 80s she studied Graphic Design and Photography at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna, then Video at the School for Design in Basel.

Her pathway into art was always through pop culture, especially music. In college she designed concert stages for local bands and directed their videos. She played in a band for eight years, finally dropping out when she figured she was perfectly capable of putting together the tunes for her videos on her own.

“I have the greatest respect for some MTV clips,” she’s said, “since they have a power of innovation and a spirit of discovery that really surpasses video art.”

Everybody and his brother has compared her work, especially “I’m Not The Girl Who Misses Much (1986)” to music videos. There’s debate on weather or not this is a good thing but the tape, with its “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” lyric and her dancing around bare-breasted in bright lipstick, introduced early many of the attitudes she would adopt in her practice over the next decade and a half.

She deals with femininity and its sexuality with a fast paced MTV aesthetic and while she draws on the female performance that has come before (Joan Jonas, Valie Export, Frederike Pezold) she’s more interested in celebrating the body and its senses than any critique of male vs. female power. Her work is very much about taking pleasure in the physical and a female body that is without boundaries.

In “Pickelporno, (1992)” she wanted to capture, visually, the sensations of sex, so attached a tiny surveillance camera to a stick and moved it across the landscapes created by the bodies of a couple making love.

She exaggerates role-playing, and the “applied femininity” of things like lipstick and dress-up, but hers is a woman with a grasp on her erotic sensibilities and control over her desire. She invades these private spaces in the “Yogurt On Skin, Velvet On TV (1994)” installation by placing tiny monitors, showing close-up bodies fragments such as eyes and mouths, inside seashells and handbags.

Her works aren’t information overkill and don’t necessarily celebrate technology’s role in creating a global communications society. Instead, her approach to the medium is like that of a child to whom the television is a magic box of promise. Far from an older generation’s use of static and the texture of video to critique mainstream media, she uses it, in grand modernist style, as if to push the medium to its greatest potential. In this way her work is related to the use of materials of the Expanded Cinema, the difference being that hers are fun to watch!

She’s drifted more and more towards installation work for its incorporation of physical elements, and the viewer’s mandatory presence. Her installations, when they make use of projection, often do so in large, environmental sizes, with immersive, atmospheric picture and sound. “I want people to go inside them,” she says, “ so that the colors, movement, and pictures are reflected on their bodies.” She prefers to base them on video loops “so that people don’t have to give a specific part of their lives to see a thing if they don’t want to.”

She used this technique for the “Sip My Ocean, (1996)” installation at the Louisana Museum, Denmark. Tranquil underwater footage; a fish eye view of household objects as they sink into the depths past seaweed and coral, was mirror-projected on adjoining walls, with her rendition of Chris Issac’s “Wicked Game” on the soundtrack.

She doesn’t find it interesting to deal with her role as an artist in her work because she doesn’t think it’s really of “general interest.” She does, however, say this, “In this era of the information society… artists deal with feelings and emotions, telling stories, and work with different levels of truth… all the contradictions of today.”

These attitudes of social and emotional awareness separate from artistic ego have lead to work such as her “Flying Room” in a Bank in Buchs, Switzerland. Trappings of a room - such as furniture, rugs, a painting, are all suspended high above the lobby, accompanied by a huge model heart (the bank’s soul?) and a monitor. Employees of the bank act out their work-place fantasies; one flies around the desks like a miniature superman, one leaps through a field of daisies, on display for the enjoyment of the customers as they wait in cue. In her usual fashion, she has forgone the usual seriousness of art objects for a more playful decoration.

She avoids the usual earnestness of “video art” without losing credibility. By not recognizing the line that usually seems to split the mass media product from the “art” no one sees, she has created a way to appeal to those not familiar (or too familiar!) with art video and make an international name for herself in the process. Without losing the fun of celebrity worship, she has somehow managed to be both her own fan and a bonafied video-art superstar.



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