BY Maurius Babias in Reviews | 03 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 27

Pipilotti Rist

BY Maurius Babias in Reviews | 03 SEP 96

We see a performer dancing in front of a wall and hear her singing John Lennon's Happiness is a Warm Gun over and over again. The film sequence speeds up and the sound changes. The dance develops into a frenzied scramble. The faster the image sequence, the more the dancer appears to become a mere reflex of the medium. Her female attributes - garish red painted lips and bare breasts - separate themselves from her grotesquely distorted body, fluttering through the film like a ghostly apparition. This dissolution of self becomes more emphatic through the varying speed of the sound. The voice shrieks and passes over into shrill incomprehensibility. What started as an ambient music clip ends as a wild cacophony of images, backed up by sheer noise. 'She's not a girl who misses much' - the lines of the song mutate into a monotonous cry for help. The language of the video does not serve to ensure our sense of continued survival.

Pipilotti Rist, now 33, became internationally known through poppy videos, such as She's not a Girl... Before she began to exhibit her work in art galleries, Rist produced cartoons and worked in stage design for music groups. This experience decidedly influenced the 'clip' aesthetic of her videos: their staging, edit sequences and psychedelic palette. First shown at experimental film festivals, her videos have gradually become further removed from an art context.

Now, with declining commissions, Rist produces, directs, films and acts herself. She seems to regret having reached the realm of video-making-as-art and to having to maintain the distinction between film, video and art. The paradox in reaching only a minority audience through mass media is apparently reconciled in the showing spaces of the art world. Her videos are mostly only a few minutes in length, yet they successfully investigate the relationship between image and text, anarchy and order, eroticism and technique: existentialist dichotomies which can lead to psychological and social break-down. As seen from her videos, Rist's credo is the conviction that images influence us more than words. In this, she refers back to film theorist Vilem Flusser who, regarding the computer revolution, sees the alphabetical principle fall victim to thinking in terms of images.

Rist illustrates this process of visual alphabetisation. She moves into the linguistically knotted sphere of emotion and puts forward basic ideas, such as love, heartache and jealousy. Her ideas are meant to act like drug-related experiences in which one breaks free from the prison of language on a high and finds temporary release in images. This is reflected in Rist's installations: the spectator is meant to live the event in a physical way, which is why the videos are shown in structures that allow only four people to view them at any one time. We are not just confronted with the film itself, but also with the other viewers and, most of all, with the individual event of watching.

In her videos, Rist denies a socio-political construction of the sexes, instead enjoying the prosaic application of women's culture: make up, decoration, veiling. Her initiative brings with it personality appeal and the notion of the clone: 'everyone can be a star' - a naive idea that exerts great temptation in our media-dominated society. In this, Rist's work also raises the question of the entertainment value of art by borrowing so heavily from Pop culture.