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Ocula Conversation

Pipilotti Rist in Conversation

Natalie King Sydney 8 January 2018

Pipilotti Rist. Photo: Daniel Boud.

Pipilotti Rist configures sensory and colour-saturated universes that transport the viewer into hyper-visual sequences of moving image, film and objects. The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney presents Rist's major new exhibition Sip My Ocean (1 November 2017–18 February 2018), expertly curated by Senior Curator Natasha Bullock who declares that Rist 'brings ideas and feelings together, and does so through the prism of video'. Accompanied by a sumptuous catalogue, the exhibition highlights the spectrum of Rist's practice from her early forays into single-channel videos of the 1980s to large-scale immersive environments, culminating in Your Room Opposite the Opera (2017): a room resplendent with projections and furnishings as well as a tempting bed. In October 2016, the New Museum in New York mounted an epic exhibition curated by Massimiliano Gioni entitled Pixel Forest, accompanied by screenings in Times Square. Previously, Australian audiences were captivated by Rist's work in the 19th Biennale of Sydney (21 March–9 June 2014), for which Rist presented Mercy Garden Retour Skin (2014), a six-channel video installation of mesmerising imagery inspired by alpine and village life. In 2017, Rist presented Worry will vanish revelation, her most recent large-scale moving image work, at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra (11 March–20 August 2017): a visceral installation of internal and external images of the human body shown against a soundscape composed by Anders Guggisberg.

Pipilotti Rist, 4th Floor to Mildness from the Mildness Family (2016). Exhibition view: Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest, New Museum, New York (26 October 2016–15 January 2017). Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine. © Pipilotti Rist. Photo: EPW Studio.

Born in 1962 in Grabs, a small Swiss village on the edge of the Rhine Valley, Rist is the second of five children, with the given name Elisabeth Charlotte Rist. When she left home at 19, she began introducing herself as Pipilotti: an amalgamation of her childhood nickname 'Lotti', and 'Pippi' after the children's book character Pippi Longstocking, known for her quirky character. In the early 1980s, Rist studied commercial art, illustration and photography at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and she was a member of the music band Les Reines Prochaines from 1988 to 1994. Sip My Ocean includes Rist's pioneering and signature video Ever is Over All (1997) where she nonchalantly walks up a city sidewalk in a blue dress and sparkly red shoes casually smashing car windows with a red hot flower poker, rejoicing with glee. Partnered with lush footage of a field of red hot pokers, Ever is Over All was awarded the Premio 2000 for outstanding achievement by a young artist at the 1997 Venice Biennale.

Pipilotti Rist, Ever is Over All (1997) (still). Single projectors, players, sound system, paint, carpet. Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine. © Pipilotti Rist.

In 2005, I vividly recall being mesmerised by Rist's lush and Edenic video Homo sapiens sapiens (2005) projected on the baroque cupola of San Stae Church as part of the 51st Venice Biennale. Lying down to view Rist's paradise, I was offered respite from the glaring and unremitting heat of Venice and seduced by comfortable lounges and sensual imagery: 'exploding into pieces of pleasure'. In this conversation, Rist—who uses hysteria and extreme feelings as a survival tactic and whose favourite number is 54—talks about love, music and lusciousness.

Your new exhibition Sip My Ocean is a rapturous and hallucinatory, colour-saturated universe drenched in ideas and feelings. Given that we live in times of seismic upheaval and turbulence, what is the role of seduction and euphoria in your work?

I am not sure if I precisely understand what you mean by the word 'seduction' as it holds a corrupt and untrustworthy flavour to me. If you mean the ability to transport a visitor to a calmer moment where one feels connected with others and the unbelievable evolution of the universe, then I can agree on this expression.

Pipilotti Rist, Pixelwald Motherboard (Pixelforest Mutterplatte) (2016). Exhibition view: Pipilotti Rist: Sip My Ocean, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (1 November 2017–18 February 2018). Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine. © Pipilotti Rist. Photo: Daniel Boud.

In a time with endless electrical humming of refrigerators, air conditioners and all the other electrical devices around us, my work is a search to bring a poetic, emotional and philosophical sense of logic back to the electronic, with the knowledge that our brain processes impressions with low voltage signals between the synapses. That we react stronger to negative signs of our times, as you say 'seismic upheaval and turbulence', is a psychological fact, as our brain is evolutionarily wired that way.

We have become much faster and accustomed to ignoring our achievements and positive outcomes. There are many strong works which focus on the negative by artists and writers, which I appreciate a lot but there are also works which rather peel out the overlooked signs and their potential.

Some new works manipulate scale in a Lilliputian way, such as the miniature world in Your Room Opposite the Opera (2017), with its tiny domestic objects and projections assembled in a crate positioned near to Cape Cod Chandelier (2011), a Hills Hoist, an adujstable rotary clothing line, with underwear draped over it. How do you configure scale? In particular when thinking about the exponential shift from single-channel to multi-screen?

How we perceive scale is completely relative, not even considering that all blood vessels of a human stretched out would go around the world twice. In my work, I am referring to inner human worlds, often most active when you feel safe. When you are in a bed, or your home as a symbol of civilisation which is a protection from the natural extremes of temperature, wind, rain and snow.

When you are half awake an arm can seem like a continent and a cold hand like a grain of rice. The Cape Cod Chandelier (2011) you mention is trying to treat this tension of our most loaded and heavy body part in a way that it becomes a tool of 'light'. The contradictions of shame, love, pain, pleasure, stinking and transcendence become a lamp under which roundelays can occur. It is reminiscent of the origin from which we excitingly saw the light when we were first born.

Pipilotti Rist, Another Body from the Lobe of the Lung Family (2009). Exhibition view: Pipilotti Rist: Sip My Ocean, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (1 November 2017–18 February 2018). Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine. © Pipilotti Rist. Photo: Daniel Boud.

There is a distinctive focus on the role of children in your current exhibition, with a dedicated kid's vernissage, children's activities and a pop up café with candy-coloured decor. Why are children an important consideration in your work?

As adults, we waste so much time and energy analysing our behaviour, even when we just do something for fun. The piece I did with the oversized, red living room had visitors sinking back into something they weren't really aware of anymore; sitting in that huge armchair made you remember the time when everything used to be too big and too high, but it was also a time when you knew: it's all mine. For children, the whole world belongs to them. People acted as if the museum was an extended living room. I like that.

Pipilotti Rist, Das Zimmer (The Room) (2009). Exhibition view: Pipilotti Rist: Sip My Ocean, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (1 November 2017–18 February 2018). Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine. © Pipilotti Rist. Photo: Daniel Boud.

Can you elaborate on how some of the works in Sip My Ocean involve viewing in a state of repose—enabled by beds and comfortable cushions—in order to deepen the viewer's experience?

In times when humans think the world is at their fingertips and all their knowledge is caught behind screens, I treat collective rooms—such as museums—as a space to invite visitors' whole bodies; a space where groups of people who don't know each other can spend time in a common surrounding.

To only ask viewers to parade by works displayed horizontally seems to me a missed opportunity and contemptuous towards the other. Please don't get me wrong, there are great exhibitions such as these, but for my practice it makes no sense to ignore the three-dimensional space and limit the possible posture of just standing on two feet, as well as neglecting the possibilities of the ceiling.

Pipilotti Rist, Gnade Donau Gnade (Mercy Danube Mercy) (2014). Exhibition view: Komm Schatz, wir stellen die Medien um & fangen nochmals von vorne an, Kunsthalle Krems, Krems, Austria (22 March–28 June 2016). Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine. © Pipilotti Rist. Photo: Lisa Rastl.

I want to create spaces for video art that rethink the very nature of the medium itself. I want to discover new ways of configuring the world, both the world outside and the world within. I like installations that really get you involved, that make you part of them, or that even work like a lullaby. When I do projections, I want people to go inside them so that colours, movement and pictures are reflected on their bodies.

The colour red features as a dominant palette (the giant red couch; field of red hot pokers in Ever is Over All...), emblematic of passion. Can you discuss your painterly palette?

Colour is dangerous; you fall into it. And colour can swallow you, and like music it is super emotional and it is hard to stay distant.

Pipilotti Rist, Administrating Eternity (2011). Exhibition view: Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage, Hayward Gallery, London (28 September 2011–8 January 2012). Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine. © Pipilotti Rist. Photo: Linda Nylind.

Sip My Ocean is the name of the exhibition as well as an installation of underwater figures gliding through colours, fusing intimate bodies with nature and culminating with a voice that screams 'I don't want to fall in love'. What is the role of love in your work?

Love means the moment when you no longer feel isolated in your own skin, when you can no longer distinguish you from the other. It is not at all limited to romantic love, in fact romantic love is glorified and as a symbol misused and misguided. You can hear this in the screaming cover version of Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game' (1990). I am much more interested in the concept of love as compassion, respect, modesty, synchronicity and the overlapping of fantasies and ideas.

Pipilotti Rist, Sip My Ocean (1996). Exhibition view: Pipilotti Rist: Sip My Ocean, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (1 November 2017–18 February 2018). Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine. © Pipilotti Rist. Photo: Daniel Boud.

Can you describe your working methodologies and your studio format? What is a typical studio day for you?

My studio is a morphing system. I work alone or with the smallest team possible and there is no typical day.

Your early forays into moving image comprised stage effects for music bands and performing as a Swiss pop star. What music are you currently listening do?

I was a part-time musician from 1988 to 1994 for a music band. I listen to minimal techno, jazz, chamber, klezmer and birds in the trees.—[O]

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