In the year 2001 I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see an exhibition called Art/Music: rock, pop, techno. This is where I first encountered the work of Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist. I remember walking into a dimly lit room, with projections around me. I was half-submerged in shallow sea water. Objects of domestic bliss were falling and sinking through the water, a red bikini clad woman frolicked in the shallows, with lots of kaleidoscope vagina imagery, while the artist herself was singing a, really bloody terrible, rendition of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. This was Sip My Ocean.
The artwork has film clip like attributes, similar to a techno clip from the early 1990’s played on rage in the early hours of the morning. Weird overlay imagery flying through the clouds. Somehow it really resonated with a teenage me. It got stuck in my head. I kept referencing it in essays, I bought a Chris Isaak CD, I contemplated what the imagery meant. A lot. This was the first artwork by Pipilotti that launched her as an ‘artist’, it was her first work bought by a public institution, the Swiss equivalent of the MCA. It is also the title work of her retrospective exhibition at the MCA in 2017/2018, Pipiloti Wrist: Sip My Ocean.
Rist creates immersive environments through technology. In the 1990s she used single channel video, which had a lot of music video feelings. In fact Beyonce, knowingly or not, referenced Rist’s work Ever is Over All (1997) in a music video for Hold Up (2016). Which makes a beautiful circle of influence, music to video to art to music to video, past to present to past to present. Pipilotti references popular culture, even taking her name from the children’s book character Pipi Longstockings. She is of her time, using the popular culture Zeitgeist for inspiration.
In the early days of video art, and art that used new technologies, usually it was the medium itself being referenced. Artworks tended to be experimentations and explorations of the medium. This is true of Pipilotti Rist, who explored the medium of video art through single channel videos in her early days studying at art college. Meshing music, imagery and popular culture. Fast forward to 2018 and Rist engulfs the viewer still in video and projection but also with rooms full of hanging jelly fish lights, huge beds to lay and watch underwater worlds floating above you, and a living room sprung from the artist’s mind on acid. These spaces are beautiful and immersive and the perfect background for social medium images, creating another beautiful circle of social media impacting life, or art imitating life. From art to photo to Instagram to influence to art, #pipilottirist #sipmyocean.
Right in the middle of all the immersive visuals and sounds and music and popular culture is a very overt feminist thought. The female body is everywhere. In Sip My Ocean the bikini clad woman kaleidoscope between two corner screens, constantly creating pink vagina like imagery with her body and breasts. She is unapologetic. As is the Dorothy like character in Ever is Over All who is happily smashing the windows of cars. later works reference nature more than the female body. But her feminist feel is mainly felt in her earlier works. As time shifts, so does Rists’ interests. Spaces of contemplation, with objects and less obvious visuals seems to be her thing. Environments, from her inner conscious, for everyone to visit and connect within, not just females.
This exhibition has some very engaging features. The jellyfish light room (Pixelwald, 2016, a collaboration with Kaori Kuwabara that features a forest of hanging lights which respond to music) is beautiful, and awe-inspiring. It calls out to you to float amongst it. (But you can’t! You are actually told off in nearly every room of the gallery for not engaging with the art correctly. I was actually yelled at by an invigilator who said I looked like I was going to touch an artwork. She aggressively yelled at me from across a room. Fun times at the MCA!) The domestic space on acid, (the site specific work for the MCA titled Your Room Opposite the Opera, 2017) has so much to inspire and reflect upon. Teenagers loved rolling around in the bed, young children wrote and drew in the visitors book, kids loved bouncing on the carpet watching the projections. There is a lot to engage students with this work.
Stage 5/Stage 6