PiPiTV by Antonia Hirsch
During the past decade Pipilotti Rist has produced more than 60 video installations, 16mm films and videotapes. She was one of this year's finalists for the Hugo Boss Prize at the SoHo Guggenheim Museum in New York. In March, the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin's contemporary branch of the Nationalgalerie, presented Remake of the Weekend, a survey exhibition of Rist's work, which is currently showing at the Kunsthalle in Vienna. In 1997, My Boy, My Horse, My Dog premiered at the Istanbul Biennale, while she also exhibited works in both the Venice and Lyon Biennales. She has recently been named artistic director of Expo 2001 in Neuchatel, S w i t z e r l a n d. "
Saturday afternoon. You rise late. Outside, the weather is happening. Sleep gradually drains away from your body; dreams twitch like dying fish; shopping does not appeal. You listen to your own breathing, focus on your straying gaze, and hum a song that swells into an avalanche of sound. In its wake, a trail of jetsam of psychosocial life, is whirled aloft and settles decoratively, into a perceptual mosaic. From moments of self-definition like this, when the consciousness, having been briefly obliterated, is reactivated by minute stimuli and restored to full control, Pipilotti Rist distills a cinematic model..." (Babias 104)
Rist's work is striking and, at times, alarmingly beautiful. It disarms the viewer by insinuating itself through the senses rather than through a cerebral process of perception. The work creates an insidious sense of corruption; the suspicion of having been seduced is hard to shake. Rist's work has been critcised for being akin to MTV in its aesthetic, whereas the artist has proclaimed her respect for pop videos. For six years she played flute, percussion and bass in the all-women band Les Reines Prochaines; during the early eighties, she did, among other things, produce sets for music videos, and the installation showing at the Western Front this Fall does in fact incorporate a music video of a kind.
Titled My Boy, My Horse, My Dog (1997), it was developed from a complex work-in-progress video installation entitled Shooting Divas that took place at the Centre d'Art Contemporain in Geneva in 1996. In Shooting Divas, twelve women singers interpreted songs that had been collaboratively composed by Pipilotti Rist and Anders Guggisberg. The installation My Boy, My Horse, My Dog presents the singer Saadet Türköz performing a Turkish version of the song that lends the work its name. The installation interlaces the video of Türköz' haunting interpretation and still-projections of Shooting Divas as a work-in-progress.
Music video is presumably considered inadmissible to the high art canon since its purpose is to sell and promote an, albeit cultural, product. Music videos exist to support the music and to enhance its atmosphere. Their purpose is to focus the listeners' minds by engaging the sense most frequently addressed by commercial advertising, vision. The genre's aim is to transport the viewer into an enticingly artificial, removed world. In contrast, the experience of Rist's work is as personally relevant and as present for the viewer as dreaming.
While appearing decidedly pop, Rist's work has nothing of Pop Art's historic irony, and stands in stark opposition to the sarcasm of many "hip" young artists. In their practice, the quote, the frame, and the reference comprise the entire self-conscious content. Rist's body of work, by comparison, appears naïve and unaware of its art historical framing. Wide-eyed wonder and unfettered enjoyment being primary elements of her work, it allows the viewer to experience a sense of awe and engaged imagination at a time when the "authentic" experience is regarded with profound suspicion.
Common to Rist and the "cynics" is their rejection of a meta-narrative. Paolo Colombo writes: "[Rist's] focus [is] on the experience of women and their ability to interpret and transform the world, rather than on the use of ideology as an instrument of criticism" (Colombo 112). In My Boy, My Horse, My Dog this focus is expressed through a woman's interpretation of the song and by a deliberate exposing of the working process. Projected onto various packing materials in a studio setting, the work shows a mostly female production team involved in the creation of Shooting Divas. Rist's role as a producer at times seems to have been obscured by her presence as a performer in her own work. In My Boy, My Horse, My Dog however, she exhibits two sites of agency with regard to representation: that of its construction from behind the camera and that of its performance in front of the camera. The ostensible product of the team's work, Türkoz's performance is screened as just one element among many in the exhibition.
The title Shooting Divas also describes the premise of My Boy, My Horse, My Dog ; it does not specify whether it is the divas who do the shooting, or whether they are being shot; nor does it specify exactly what is meant by shootingı: beyond the obvious references to a discharge of bullets or recording to video, the term can also refer to a debunking of the Diva-concept. Instead of a performer with an inappropriately large ego, the Diva may be seen as an artist with unique talents, fearlessly breaking taboos. By framing her in a pop context, the notion of the traditional operatic Diva is expanded to a more contemporary and inclusive concept.
Rist has explored the Music Video genre before: In I'm Not the Girl Who Misses Much (1986), she appears, barely discernible, through what looks like a pane of frosted glass. Reduced to a two-dimensional image, she can be seen wearing a tight dark dress with cleavage so deep that as she starts bouncing absurdly around the frame the dress begins to reveal her breasts. Singing "I'm not the girl who misses much" (an adaptation of the Beatle's Happiness is a Warm Gun), shown through rapid cuts, dynamic tracking, and an audio track that alternately speeds up and slows down, she portrays a madwoman strangely trapped by the confines of the television. The women seems to have been beset by madness and hysteria, mental disorders most stereotypically ascribed to the female, and also associated with the Diva.
The diagnosis of these disorders has been used as a tool to disenfanchise women and to deny them responsibility for their actions*. In I'm Not the Girl Who Misses Much, Rist exposes this "irresponsibility" as freedomlocated beyond the realm of rules and constraints. Ulf Erdmann Ziegler sums up this work by stating that it "devises ... emblems of femininity in which clichés of freedom and subjugation are curiously, yet seamlessly joined" (Ziegler 80).
Rist uses one set of clichés to undermine another. One set of clichés constructs femininity as being childlike, naïve, and intuitive. But she reveals this image of the irrational to hold a potential for strength, energy, and independence. Using other attributes, also ascribed to the feminine, such as a sense of beauty, and by using a sumptuous palette of colors, she imbues these constructs with a new value. She aligns them with a sense of wonder and freedom of the imagination. It is this surprising bridging of what liberates and what confines that make Rist's work so compelling.