In late May, the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale won the coveted Golden Lion. This internationally renowned prize was awarded to a haunted or possibly enchanted house designed by four young architects from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. The house provided visitors with a similar feeling to what Alice would have experienced down the rabbit hole: the sensation of being too big or too small in relation to ones surroundings. This discrepancy of scale effect was achieved in a succession of empty rooms, each featuring doors, windows and other fittings that were either dramatically oversized or astonishingly small.
Almost a quarter of a century ago, another artist, also Zurich-based, played this kind of illusionist trick on visitors to one of her installations. The work is called Das Zimmer and features a room furnished with an armchair, a sofa, a standard lamp and other typical furnishings, all of whose supersized formats have the effect of making average-sized humans seem like Lilliputians. Only the television appears disproportionately small when juxtaposed with these giant pieces of furniture. Yet the television, it turns out, is the only object of current manufacture and therefore real in size. On its screen, visitors can flip between a dozen short videos created since 1986: an anthology of Pipilotti Rists first steps some rather unsteady into the world of art.
Pipilotti combined her childhood nickname, Lotti, with the first name of the Swedish childrens story character Pippi Longstocking to create her artistic moniker under which shes become renowned on the world art scene as the fairy godmother of video art. But her mischievous and playful artistic demeanour evokes the image of a mermaid or a water nymph more readily than that of a good fairy. Her works are in constant flux, borrowing a liquid form that renders them sparkling and elusive, dreamlike and mercurial. Indeed, Pipilotti Rist, whose very first films were influenced by Dada and Fluxus performers and pioneers of video art such as Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Yoko Ono and Nam June Paik, has since proven by example that video art is not necessarily an exercise in black and white cerebral asceticism. It can also exist in a sensual, warm and burlesque humorous light. With their pop soundtracks, psychedelic
colours, inquisitive and up-close camera work, Rists videos have enchanted diverse audiences around the world, making her a star revered far beyond the world of contemporary art.
Presented at Luma Arles
, her recent audio-visual installation Pixel Forest is an outstanding work. Visitors enter a large rectangular rough wooden box whose walls are the same blue as the special effects backgrounds of film sets. There is no screen, this having exploded into 3000 LEDs suspended from cables and enveloped in handmade transparent resin shells, each one slightly different from the others. Traversing the room gives the impression of navigating a path through a jungle of dangling vines, or seen from below, an ocean of giant sea grasses, their stems dotted with oxygen bubbles. The colour and light intensity of each diode is controlled individually, as if it were a specific pixel on a screen. And it is indeed a video projection lasting 30 minutes that we witness, but exploded in space to the point of becoming abstract. The music of Anders Guggisberg and Heinz Rohrer, broadcast via six speakers, creates a swathe of brightly pulsating hypnotic layers. Pixel Forest can be seen as a visually stunning poetic metaphor for the process that takes place in the brain when the synapses transmit light stimuli from cell to cell. To quote the artist herself, glorification of the wonder of evolution is at the very heart of Pipilotti Rists work.