A young woman in a blue dress and shiny red shoes sashays along a sidewalk, smashing car windows with a metal wand painted to look like a long-stemmed flower. The smashing is joyful, not angry, a skip step followed by a full-body swing in slow motion. (This is a video.) The red-and-yellow blossom strikes a side window, shattering it with a loud, satisfying crash, and the woman moves on, smiling ecstatically. Behind her, a block away, a uniformed policewoman turns the corner, and a young man in a striped T-shirt crosses the road. While the flower wielder assaults three more parked cars, a small boy on a bicycle rides by her in the opposite direction, followed by a middle-aged woman in a red coat. They pay no attention to the smasher, but the policewoman, who has gradually overtaken her, smiles and salutes as she passes. One more jubilant demolition brings the video to a close. Shown publicly for the first time at the 1997 Venice Biennale, the eight-minute work, called “Ever Is Over All,” won the Premio 2000 award for emerging talents, and made Pipilotti Rist, a thirty-five-year-old Swiss artist, an international star. The Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto acquired copies. (Rist’s video installations come in editions of three, with one artist’s proof.) It is one of those rare works whose elements—hilarity, suspense, timing, comic violence, anarchy, and a lovely musical score—fit together with irresistible perfection.
Now fifty-eight, Rist has the energy and curiosity of an ageless child. “She’s individual and unforgettable,” the critic Jacqueline Burckhardt, one of Rist’s close friends, told me. “And she has developed a completely new video language that warms this cool medium up.” Burckhardt and her business partner, Bice Curiger, documented Rist’s career in the international art magazine Parkett, which they co-founded with others in Zurich in 1984. From the single-channel videos that Rist started making in the eighties, when she was still in college, to the immersive, multichannel installations that she creates today, she has done more to expand the video medium than any artist since the Korean-born visionary Nam June Paik. Rist once wrote that she wanted her video work to be like women’s handbags, with “room in them for everything: painting, technology, language, music, lousy flowing pictures, poetry, commotion, premonitions of death, sex, and friendliness.” If Paik is the founding father of video as an art form, Rist is the disciple who has done the most to bring it into the mainstream of contemporary art.
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