San Francisco

Pipilotti Rist

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

For her West Coast solo museum debut, Swiss video and installation artist Pipilotti Rist showed three works, including a brand-new one cocommissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Luxembourg’s Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean. Together they reveal not only the artist’s masterful visual sense and emphasis on female-centric images with a spiritual bent but also a recurrent theme of Christian ritual that never detracts from a notorious sense of serious play.

Each of the three video installations seduces with its own version of Pop religiosity. Positioned in the lobby leading into the media galleries (where the large new piece is sequestered) is Hallo, guten Tag (Kussmund) (Hello, Good Morning [Kissing Mouth]), 1995, a sleek, domestic-size (icon-size?) mirror with a tiny monitor embedded at its bottom half on which a pair of female lips in pink lipstick repeatedly puckers for the camera in a gesture that flirts with futility. The second work is smaller in size, if not in reputation. Selbstlos im Lavabad (Selfless in the Bath of Lava), 1994, is a minuscule hole in the floor through which can be seen the tiny naked form of the bleach-blond artist reaching and screaming for help against a fiery backdrop of multicolored molten lava. “I am a worm and you are a flower!” she yells. This comic vision of hell is a crowd pleaser, packing big presence into compact space.

Rist’s new work, Stir Heart, Rinse Heart, 2004, is far grander, unfolding in two adjacent darkened rooms. The first houses a group of various transparent plastic objects intended to hold liquid—clear tubes, bottles, a breast pump, vacuform packaging—that make up part of the artist’s ongoing Innocent Collection, 1988–. These form the ground for projections of waves crashing on a coast and visions of what seems to be hypermagnified blood, both in heightened color. The active, repetitive video images evoke cellular activity as they light up and transform the transparent objects; meanwhile, oranges scattered on the floor could be sacred fruit dropped from a grocery bag.

The citrus also figures prominently in the second room’s much larger overlapping double projection, as do the alternat- ing landscapes of the body and the land. On the left, images of the body’s interior float above bucolic landscapes, while on the right a tale of a contemporary female deity unfolds. The latter, like Rist’s smashing-car-windows fantasy Ever Is Over All, 1997, features a woman walking gleefully down a European street in a bright dress and ruby red slippers. In the new video, a menstruation stain dots the woman’s dress, prompting unexpected acts of homage (like kneeling in adoration) from male pedestrians. Our heroine is also seen entering a private dining room where an orange accompanies each table setting. She digs into a fruit, tearing it apart so that it resembles the slowly unfolding viscera on the abutting screen. (In conjunction with the exhibition, Rist screened Czech director Vera Chytilová’s 1966 film Sedmikrasky [Daisies], a fascinating avant-garde vision of class and gender that offered keys to the installation’s symbolism.) With her use of body-hugging camera work, which captures an uncommon sensuousness, and an exquisite use of acidy video color, Rist imbues Stir Heart, Rinse Heart with a mysterious type of appeal. It makes a kind of intuitive sense, as it touches on a fundamental belief that the body is a temple—and a rather stylish one at that.

Glen Helfand