Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor
On ViewMuseum Of Contemporary Art, Geffen Contemporary
September 12, 2021 – June 6, 2022
Entering the Geffen Contemporary, the entryway lights are dimmed, eyes adjust to reveal a chandelier of white underwear, 29 Palms Chandelier (2019), flooding the room with a pink-hued light. Above the foyer to the main gallery Pipilotti Rist greets “guests” (as she refers to visitors) in the form of her infamous video Open My Glade (Flatten) (2000–17), squishing her face against a glass surface, the artist’s aim break through the video screen is forefronted as you enter into the main exhibition space. Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor is Rist’s first major survey on the West Coast, spanning works from the last 40 years. The exhibition is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art’s curator Anna Katz who describes Rist’s work as a “tonic” for the times. The exhibition is invigorating indeed, the entirety of the Geffen’s warehouse exhibition space is transformed into a sprawling installation that directs the viewer through decades of the artist’s work via twisting, curtained passageways and playful vinyl spots on the floor encouraging visitors to engage with the works; one reads “Please do not touch/THINK LOUDER.”
Rist’s work is always best experienced in this form: an engrossing, expansive installation that expands the architectural environment of the museum into an amorphous form lit up and bathed in sound. The survey at the Geffen features a new three-channel audio-video installation made specifically for MoCA: Neighbors Without Fences (2021), filmed in Zurich with music by Tom Huber. Through multiple projections, the new video creates a mesmerizing and enveloping environment, the walls of the museum galleries are activated with Rist’s video featuring close-ups of eyes, aged skin, and a flower field vibrating with hallucinogenic light. The artist’s signature meandering camera-work creates the sensation of the walls actually moving, as if in a warm breeze or a gentle wave. Among the exhibition entrance’s installation are picnic tables, lawn chairs, and other such lawn paraphernalia dappled with light from the video, imbuing the objects with a sense of wonder and levity.
There is no one way to proceed through the exhibition; the vinyl floor guides also have arrows pointing in both directions throughout. However, the entrance to what looks like the siding of a house leads into a large installation referred to as The Apartment (2006–19). Inside is a bed, a table setting, couches, chairs, a mantel, a bar, all illuminated with projections or embedded video elements. The installation is comprised of these individual works, some of which are interactive—you can lay on the bed if you take off your shoes, have a seat at the dining table, get comfortable and get lost in the images projected onto the furniture that transform the objects into enchanting and emotive experiential vessels. Towards the back of the apartment is a section with classic Rist corner projections playing three different videos on loop: Worry Will Vanish Relief (from the Worry Work Family) (2014); Mercy Garden (from the Mercy Work Family) (2014); Another Body (from the Lobe of the Lung family) (2008/2015); and several bean bag cushions to lay on while watching. Rist’s notion of the museum as a shared apartment or living room is literalized, as is her emphasis on centralizing the viewer in the form and experience of the work.
Through the Pixel Forest Transformer (2016) installation are two rooms dedicated to Rist’s arguably most iconic corner projection video installations: Ever Is Over All (1997) and Sip My Ocean (1996). The chance to experience these works in their originally conceived forms only reestablishes their significance in Rist’s trajectory. The themes in both videos echo throughout Rist’s newer works, creating a thread-like trail throughout the exhibition. Both installations provide carpet and floor pillows for the viewers to relax and watch the video on loop and both are shorter than 10 minutes, a digestible and far from intimidating length.
Rist has for over 20 years focused on simulating domestic layouts for her exhibitions, the domestic environment being a nod to a legacy of feminist art and another layer of her critical engagement with the medium, undoing established hierarchies and customs of viewership. Her emphasis on the viewer’s relationship to the work relates to tenets of the Fluxus movement. Randy Kennedy has described her influence from Nam June Paik and Yoko Ono: “Through them she came early on to the Fluxus movement’s anti-elitist emphasis on involving the viewer in the artwork and eroding boundaries between art and everyday life.”1 But Rist’s work is often described as being in a camp of its own. Though unique in her trademark aesthetics of pleasure and play, there is an undercurrent of criticality to the medium, which is warmer in its approach than the coldness of other, more quintessentially conceptual video art approaches such as the work of Bill Viola or Joan Jonas.
Humor and the absurd are tools Rist uses to engage in her investigation of the medium, especially in the fourth installation room, Das Zimmer (The Room) (1994). A living room with an armchair, standing lamp, couch, and remote control are all strangely oversized, except for the TV monitor situated on the floor. The giant furniture dwarfs visitors, and is also quite comfortable, turning an otherwise seemingly-benign viewing environment into the uncanny. The blown-up furniture, reminiscent of something out of Disneyland, creates a child-like sense of the world, and on view on the monitor are10 of Rist’s earlier video works. Highlights include I’m Not the Girl Who Misses Much (1986), Pickelporno (1992), and Sexy Sad I (1987).
Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor, delayed for over a year, displays Rist’s work at its best. Throughout the exhibition were couples canoodling, children rolling around on the floor, giggles, and kisses. With Rist’s ability to transform the museum space into one in which the pleasure of viewing in is central is her artistic genius, one leaves in a daydream-like state and without “museum legs” or any sort of fatigue. For Rist, video is a way to engage physically, rather than a tool for observation or monitoring, and the bodily experience of inhabiting her installations is one of pure joy awash with color, light, and sound, like a big hug.
- Kennedy, Randy. “The World's Most Colorful Video Artist.” The New York Times, November 11, 2009. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/magazine/15rist-t.html?smid=url-share.