Near the entrance to “Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor”, recently opened in the Little Tokyo warehouse space of the Museum of Contemporary Art, a multitude of screened videos accomplish something rare. The digital ephemeral becomes physical, gaining material weight, more like a solid sculpture than the usually vaporous video art.
Rist built the back facade of a two-story clapboard house on a large, dimly-lit gallery wall, with picnic tables scattered around as if they were in a large courtyard. Brightly colored video projections swirl across the floor, while others glow in the house’s five windows.
To get to the shuttered windows to see what was going on, I found myself walking cautiously through the indoor / outdoor room. It was as if I could trip and trip over the flickering light of an image projected on the ground.
Which is crazy, I know. There is only colored light.
But this disconcerting experience, felt unconsciously in the body, is at the heart of the eccentric work of the Swiss artist, which unfolds in an enchanting investigation into his video, sculpture and installation art drawn from the past 35 years. The show, postponed for more than a year by the pandemic, was worth the wait.
Before video art existed, painter Ad Reinhardt once said sculpture is something you come across when you step back to look at a painting. Here, video imagery is something you come across when trying to figure out where you are when you get home. Given the pervasiveness of such ever-insignificant but sometimes imposing images that scroll across countless screens – phone, TV, desktop monitor, laptop, tablet – this is no small feat.
This ethos started To emerge powerfully in the two-channel video shown at the Venice Biennale in 1997 that made the then 34-year-old Rist an international sensation. The video, “Ever Is Over All”, is projected in a corner, covering two large adjacent walls.
The image on one side is a skewed view of nature – a field or garden full of red-hot poker plants, their thorny purple and yellow blossoms shown in close-up on a human scale, pressed against the plane of the picture. On the other, a bubbly young woman in a flowing blue evening gown and ruby red slippers – Dorothy Gale as a glossy model – idles the sidewalk of an urban Oz.
Grabbing a metal version of the red-hot poker flower, she happily lifts it above her head, swings and smashes the side windows of cars parked along the street. Crash! (To laugh.) Smash! (Whoop.) A passing female cop gives the casual vandal an equally cheerful smile, and even a nod.
The installation has long been admired for its jubilant and feminist challenge to institutionalized norms. (Almost 20 years later, Beyoncé covered this in her 2016 music video for “Hold Up.”) It is only in a choreographed work of art that such destructive freewheeling fun could exist as a constructive hymn.
In the context of the exhibition, however, what is emphasized is its one-step quality reversal of the experience of digital images, trapped behind glass. Are you used to sitting in a car as a passenger looking out the window at the world, experiencing life through a screen? Crash! Smash!
Rist also tackles the corporate monotony and bland commercial manipulation of most digital images, primarily by putting privacy and intimacy on a public pedestal inside a museum. In the first gallery, the vivid videos played in the windows of her house – so close together as to make them abstractions in blazing colors – draw you in to see what is going on. A spectator is discreetly seduced to become what amounts to a voyeur, peering through the windows of a stranger.
Nearby, in a dark and veiled hallway, a women’s swimsuit in sunny yellow hangs from the ceiling. Inside is a spherical TV screen roughly the size of a basketball. The swollen female form suggests pregnancy in a womb, video technology portrayed as a mysterious and growing creative force.
A sticker on the floor urges, “Think harder. “
So, it could refer to a medical camera probe in the body – quite a common practice these days. To distinguish the flickering image shown on the curved screen of the monitor, which might have a response, it is necessary to come close and look through the holes in the legs of the swimsuit. Performing an intrusive inspection of a crotch is disturbing, funny, and confusing in its effortless dissection of the seductive power of video.
These themes and related themes recur throughout the show. One room has pillows stretched out on the floor, a place to relax and admire the gigantic and dizzying video projections on the adjacent walls. Sensual touch is repeatedly depicted – fingers playing with leaves, giant squirming toes, naked bodies rolling in the grass, apples thrown to the ground and grabbed by a sniffing pig – woozy images reminiscent of vaguely the fall from grace in the Garden of Eden, here compared to the avalanche of knowledge that digital images have provided.
The “Pixel Forest Transformer,” a room filled with voluminous, flickering LED fairy lights suspended from the dark ceiling, evokes neurons animated by electrical impulses flickering in the brain. (A hidden media player changes the colors of the LEDs.) Walking among them is like being inside a video screen surrounded by digital pixels. Some turn out to have long, wavy tails – sperm, perhaps, that resonate against the labial shape Rist designed for lights.
Above the museum reception, the nine floors of a large globe-shaped chandelier are lined with hanging underpants. It’s like unmentionables used in laundry hanging to dry. The layered globe nods at a famous Modernist object – Danish designer Poul Henningsen’s ‘artichoke’ pendant light from 1958 – then undermines its dignified public aura with a fun and entertaining dose of home privacy.
References to another art are common in Rist’s work, where the art comes from another art. The “Pixel Forest Transformer”, for example, recalls the boxed mirror environments of American artist Lucas Samaras and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
“The Innocent Collection”, a white wall covered with white plastic objects, paper and plastic foam – plates, packing materials, coffee cups, tubes of toilet paper, apron, etc., all donated by MOCA employees – crosses two predecessors. “Suprematist Composition: White on White” by Kazimir Malevich, a spiritually radical abstract painting from the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917, anything is possible. on the beach.
Sometimes references overwhelm Rist’s work. “The Innocent Collection” seems slim, adding little to the sources.
For “Das Zimmer (The Room),” an extremely oversized living room set invites visitors to climb onto a huge sofa or accent chair and snuggle up to watch his videos on an insanely small TV screen. Making Lily Tomlin Edith Ann all of us is just plain fun; the imaginative wonder of the child provided by a work such as the giant sculpture of a table and chairs by Robert Therrien, made the same year (1994), casts a wider shadow.
Appropriation, whether from popular culture or artistic culture, can be difficult to execute convincingly. More often than not, Rist’s cross-references make for a trippy success story.
MOCA curator Anna Katz and curatorial assistant Karlyn Olvido worked with the artist to transform the sprawling space inside Geffen Contemporary into Pipilotti’s Playhouse. (Surely Pee-wee Herman would be proud.) The show’s expected duration, nearly nine months (closing June 6), is far too long; But, the emergence of a cloistered pandemic, where life on screen has been further exaggerated, couldn’t be better improved. The only thing missing from this generous psychedelic excursion through the digital mirror is a selection of cannabis edibles in the museum shop.
Forget those frankly absurd Van Gogh or Monet “immersive” business events that recently took place in empty storefronts across the country. They exploit rather than illuminate the contemporary digital situation. A bunch of high-resolution slides of famous century-old paintings projected onto surrounding walls for an entry fee of $ 55 just isn’t enough to lounge on a cushion of ground to be greeted in Rist’s stunning video garden. . Eden. The real art of a gifted artist is better than the art reproductions sold by a company on any day, especially at one-third the price.
“Pipilotti Rist: big heart, be my neighbor”
Or: Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., Little Tokyo, LA
When: From Thursday to Sunday, until June 6
Admission: $ 10 to $ 18; children under 12 are free
Info: (213) 626-6222 oo www.moca.org