It’s not often that a video artist revered by the art world breaks into the pop culture mainstream. But that’s exactly what happened to renowned Pipilotti Rist when Beyoncé released her visual album Lemonade in April of this year. The video for “Hold Up,” a song about a cheating lover, bore a striking resemblance to “Ever Is Over All,” a project by Rist from 1997. In both, Rist and Beyoncé are casually strolling down a street in bright, colorful dresses until, every so often, they stop to smash a car window. Although Beyoncé never openly cited Rist as an inspiration, the similarity was undeniable. Critics around the world picked up on it, and Rist reached a new level of superstardom.
“Ever Is Over All” is on display at “Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest”—an exhibition on view at the New Museum through January 15, 2017—in addition to 23 other works made over the course of the artist’s career. Walking through it, one gets the sense that they are in another person’s dream—a person with a singular taste in music and a predilection for mind-altering substances. Beds and comfy cushions are placed throughout the floors of the gallery, inviting visitors to surrender to the experience of the presentation. Screens get a bad rep in our culture for consuming so much of our time wastefully; but Rist makes an argument that immersing oneself in the technological can be sublime, if only you’re looking at the right content.
Arranged chronologically on the three main floors of the museum, the exhibition begins with Rist’s single-channel videos made in the 1980s. In the 1986 video “I’m Not The Girl Who Misses Much,” which is the first work she ever exhibited, it shows the artist singing the title phrase that happens to be a verse in the 1968 Beatles song “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” As she begins to repeat the lyrics, she dances around; the video distorts her movement so that she looks like a very sexy apparition. It’s delirious and addictive. Created while Rist was a student at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland, the video shows a woman with a good sense of humor looking to break out of a society that takes itself too seriously.
Born in 1962 in Grabs, Switzerland, Rist fell into the art world by way of music. She first began creating videos as backdrops for bands performing in Vienna. With the success of “I’m Not The Girl Who Misses Much,” her work increasingly appeared in exhibitions. Her earlier work seems to have anticipated the Internet. Videos such as “You Called Me Jacky” (1990), in which Rist playfully lip syncs along to Kevin Coyne’s 1973 song “Jackie and Edna,” just as much resembles a live stream on a personal YouTube channel as it does a piece of art. Music continued to set the mood in later works such as “Sip My Ocean,” a two-channel video installation made in 1996. It is a groovy and kaleidoscopic vision set to a cover of Chris Isaak’s 1989 classic “Wicked Game.” If you allow your imagination to take you there, the video can easily transport you to the bliss you felt after your first kiss.
Bliss is also present in “Mercy Garden,” a 2014 video created from footage the artist shot while living in Somerset, England. Set to banjo folk music by Heinz Rohrer, the video shows fields of blossoming flowers, lips pressed against the surface of water, and the sun shining through leaves. It seems to make the argument that even if nature is destroyed by the irresponsibility of human actions, then at least we have videos like this, which can immerse us into the glory of it all even if that glory no longer exists. “Pixel Forest,” an eponymously titled work that consists of 3,000 hanging plastic handmade globes that each contain a single pixel from the video, does something similar. It suggests a new sort of wonder, dependent on technology and man-made materials, that might never replace the glory of a meadow on a summer night, but can come pretty damn close if you allow it.