New York — ‹Pixel Forest› by Pipilotti Rist is a substantial project, which fills three floors of the New Museum in New York City. It spans 30 years of Rist’s career, and shows her best-known video pieces from the late 80's and early 90's up to recent video and light installations.
It is the most comprehensive presentation of Rist’s work in New York to date, and could easily be called a retrospective. The exhibition is like an excursion to the sensibility of the late 80's and early 90's, when video was seen as a groundbreaking medium, and when atmospheric video installations with «loungy» environments became Rist’s signature. It would not be an exaggeration to say that her most well-known work in New York was the smallest – and nevertheless impactful – ‹Selbstlos Im Lavabad›, installation at PS1 in 1994, comprised of a small video embedded in a hole on the floor, quite opposite in scale to the massive video and light work that dominates spaces at the ‹Pixel Forest›. Each floor of the New Museum project incorporates video, light, sound and different types of lounging arrangements. I can imagine that the new generation of artists might see her work as a retro experience, inspiring the club-like atmospheric performative pieces of today, perhaps just as independent film artists of the 60's and 70's inspired video artists of the late 80's and early 90's. Nevertheless, the context for reflection on her work is very different: today the world is packed with video imagery endlessly produced by anyone and everyone. Video now is pervasive, and the medium itself acts as a displaced notion of a mirror. The installation aspect of Rist’s work almost gives an impression of entering the collective brain of everyone. The space-expanding tactics of video installations became mainstream by being replicated in stage productions, performance art and club culture. The difference is that today atmospheres are usually a backdrop for some event or action — there is very little passive reflection in today’s cultural trends, and every member of public is regarded as a participant. In this context it is interesting to see Rist’s work as taking part in the growth of the spectacle of involvement.
The Rist show is beautifully displayed in the spaces of the New Museum, which are often a challenge for projects. Each floor opens with a new spectacular, dreamy, invitation to chill. The exhibition creates a seductive experience and, like most of Rist’s work, it provides a hypnotic meditation, which becomes a basis for sensual drifting. While reflecting on the show and going from one floor or to another, I realized that perhaps there is a longing for a pre-crisis, relatively uncomplicated 90’s experience in the air. Rist fills this niche pretty well by providing a full package for an escape – giving us experience and a place to forget current political turbulence, and removing us from the stresses of the now and the uncertain future – pure escapism into a seemingly more certain and easy place.
While Rist began her career quoting pop culture, in particular pop music hits from the 90’s, it is interesting to note that she herself has become a basis for pop culture quotes, quite unusually for the visual art world. Beyonce has reimagined Rist’s piece Ever is Over All in which, famously, violent acts of destruction are committed with un-arming air of innocence. Rist’s work has gone full circle. Perhaps appearing on the giving end of history is a sign of maturity.