From the Archives
This week, the New Museum opened a major exhibition of works by path-breaking multimedia and video artist Pipilotti Rist. As author Elspeth Walker observed in her 2015 review, Rist’s work confounds the divide between the human body, the natural world, and video technologies. Fielding otherworldly experiences made from footage of this world, Rist’s installation likely felt hypnotic to many viewers for a reason—she drew inspiration from early-20th-century psychiatric relaxation techniques. This article was originally published on January 8, 2015.
Worry Will Vanish and Stay Stamina Stay, parallel exhibitions by Pipilotti Rist at Hauser & Wirth in London and Somerset, respectively, feature footage generated during Rist’s recent residency at the gallery’s newest location in Somerset between summer 2012 and summer 2013. For material, Rist milks images from the plant life surrounding Durslade Farm, the historic Somerset compound that Hauser & Wirth has converted into gallery spaces, garden, farm, and café. Rist’s videos suggest the confluence of the micro- upon the macroscopic, like overlaid sheets of tracing paper revealing the similarities of the body, the natural world of plants, and the cosmos.
Both the works Worry Will Vanish Horizon (in London) and Mercy Garden (in Somerset) transform adjacent gallery walls into massive video theaters. In London, visitors remove their shoes before entering and are invited to lie down on soft white floor pillows while they take in the projections. In Somerset, the invitation for a seated vista is presented in the form of locally produced sheepskin rugs.
In London, Worry Will Vanish Horizon is focused on the somatic experience. The video traces a path through what appears to be the interior of a human body lined with blood veins that morph into the veins on the backs of leaves and mapped constellations in a black sky. The vantage point of lying down lulls the viewer into a hypnotic relationship with the body in the work. Rist is informed here by autogenic training, a psychiatric technique developed by Johannes Heinrich Schultz in 1932 in which the participant views a series of images from a particular physical position in order to induce relaxation. Though this manipulation of the viewer’s body in order to produce emotional response to video is novel, the orchestration of viewing a video about the body’s arrangement in space (referencing both outer space and one’s surroundings) results in an intersection of body, flora, and nebula that comes across as didactic as it is psychedelic. It feels like a throwback to a kind of New Age awareness of one’s place in the universe: an aesthetic that is beautiful but overused, enough to seem devoid—and, indeed, it is not of the void of which it hopes to speak. The work, in its seeming eagerness to relax the viewer, oversimplifies its own ideas.
The work’s counterpart in Somerset is a more eclectic and personal documentation of Rist’s experience there. With buried reproductive implications even in the exhibition title Stay Stamina Stay, the installation Mercy Garden is indeed more sexual. The artist’s engorged lips and tongue kiss and lick the screen, penetrating a layer of cool water as pink flowers bloom and close in erotic pulsations. In the second room of the gallery, the installation Sleeping Pollen articulates a darker sensation: Suspended chrome globes spin, reflecting projected images of herbs and flora, sparkling in the darkness.
The juxtaposition of Sleeping Pollen to the total sensory absorption of Mercy Garden highlights what is so delightful and innovative about Rist’s work: Her continual engagement in challenging the medium of video and its presentation. In the main vestibule at the London gallery, a small projected image onto a corner of the wall of a seashore overlaid with computer-generated flowers, along with the presence of a leafy potted plant, simultaneously articulates the plant’s dark, crisp shadow against the wall and transforms its surface into a vividly animated portal. Rist’s work invariably turns two dimensions into three, as she uses the placement of video to alter and remap the spatial constraints of our surroundings and the body’s perspective and relationship to its environs.
These exhibitions drip with the rich natural beauty of the English countryside, and technologically they are exceedingly deft. They give a viewer pause—to ponder the boundaries of human fantasy, the degree to which nature is pristine, or perhaps how both our language for and concepts of nature are transformed by an intricate and inevitable interweaving with human technology. The exhibitions Worry Will Vanish and Stay Stamina Stay are the best kind of crowd pleasers: those that both require and reward vulnerability on the part of the participant. The act of giving oneself over to simply watching allows a virtual full-body hypnosis into a sensational, technological confluence with Rist’s natural world.
Worry Will Vanish is on view at Hauser & Wirth London through January 10, 2015. Stay Stamina Stay is on view at Hauser & Wirth Somerset through February 22, 2015.