Pipilotti Rist

It’s surprising that with all the attention Pipilotti Rist has received in the last few years this exhibition was the artist’s first major solo show in her hometown. Happily, Rist didn’t disappoint, presenting five new works created for the show and one big installation, Himalaya Goldsteins Stube (Remake of the Weekend), 1998–99, which had already shown in Berlin and Vienna but was here expanded and reworked. Aptly organized around a partly autobiographical, partly fictional idea of “home,” the Kunsthalle was divided into seven spaces, like different areas of a house. In the entryway (which Rist named the Hausumschwung, or yard) was the kind of makeshift tent—old blankets, bits of found fabric—that a child might set up for a backyard sleepover. Here Rist showed slides of friends and family engaged in an array of ordinary activities. Her lighthearted tone was carried into the “garage,” where one could see Rist’s prize-winning 1997 video, Ever Is Over All, in which a young woman joyfully smashes the windows of cars parked on a city street.

The main gallery, or “living room,” displayed the new version of Remake, a huge accumulation of flea-market furniture and other domestic paraphernalia onto which a selection of video images was projected. These ranged from the banal (a martini shaker on the bar showed a TV clip of a soccer match) to the enigmatic (a stack of books bore a long shot of an empty highway, on which a naked man suddenly appeared walking determinedly toward the camera). Clearly intended as the exhibition’s centerpiece, the work is a cozy rendering of the “ideal” family room, full of personal touches and references to the pleasures of communal living.

In other rooms, this mood of carefree exultation was mixed with one of bittersweet self-reflection, perhaps most evident in the “kitchen,” a darkened room featuring a sink, stove, and countertop beneath a set of white cabinets. The cabinets nearly covered the wall, and against them was projected Regenfrau (I Am Called a Plant) (Rain woman [I am called a plant]), 1998, a video that shows a naked Rist, sporting bright pink hair, curled up on the ground in drizzling rain, with the sound of raindrops amplified to fill the room. As the camera moves back and forth across her body in extreme close-up, it pauses briefly on the gooseflesh on her skin and later on a slight trembling of her lips: the only two signs that she is still alive. A beautifully stark image, it not only plays on the mythical woman/nature relationship but seems to lay bare the artist’s own fear of mortality.

This more sober reflection on the fleeting nature of life is carried into the last room, the Schlafzimmer (bedroom), where one finds a three-wall video projection titled Extremitäten (weich, weich) (Extremities [gentle, gentle]), 1999, which consists of starlike flecks of light punctuated by images of body parts—foot, ear, breast, penis—floating across the walls. Both eerie and magical, the video is accompanied by Rist’s voice softly reciting a series of phrases—such as “Ich bin ein Säugetier” (I am a mammal); “Ich bin nix” (I am nothing); and “Ich bin der König” (I am the king)—that fluctuate among the mundane, the absurd, and the unsettling. As a whole, Extremitäten reflects Rist’s technical and formal precision as well as her willingness to treat such essentially human emotions as pain and uncertainty on a monumental scale but without the heavy-handed expressionism one might expect such subjects to elicit.

Elizabeth Janus