It was Heraclitus who said that you never step in the same river twice: The world is fluid, and the only constant is change. The metaphor is a fitting one for the challenge of organizing an artist’s retrospective—especially if that artist is Pipilotti Rist, whose works submerge us in the aesthetics of the aqueous and the currents of technological advancement.
The earliest works in this show, which was organized by Massimiliano Gioni, Margot Norton, and Helga Christoffersen and remains on view until January 15, date to the mid-1980s, when the Swiss-born Rist was a musician and student, first of applied arts in Vienna and then of video in Basel. She began working with video as a means of making projections for live bands, and the close relationship between image and sound—which were conjoined in analog video, but are now indistinguishable in digital code—remains a major aspect of her work. Her breakthrough was the 1986 video I’m Not the Girl Who Misses Much, in which she sings the titular words, paraphrased from a Beatles song, while dancing with her dress pulled below her breasts. Rist made the tape in the spirit of deadpan ’70s performance video, then distorted its speed and color using of-the-moment editing techniques; the result is a bizarre warping of time, space, and language that feels like hysteria. The correlation of technology and altered states has been her theme ever since.
Like most of Rist’s early single-channel works, I’m Not the Girl Who Misses Much arguably belongs on a TV screen, given its obvious dialogue with representations of women in mainstream media. But these videos have also been shown as large projections, especially at museums and moving-image festivals (her work Open My Glade [Flatten], 2000, now displayed on the museum’s lobby window, was originally shown on a giant monitor in Times Square). Here, many of them are displayed on screens encased in hoodlike constructions that force us into a solitary and immobile confinement, replacing the social and embodied spectator with something more like the disembodied (and depoliticized) eye of Greenbergian modernism.
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