Pipilotti Rist

Hauser & Wirth London | Piccadilly

Leo Steinberg’s idea of the flatbed picture plane is well-known, but recently there have been so many exhibitions inviting viewers to lie down (in London, projects by Rirkrit Tiravanija, Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, and Olafur Eliasson have all evidenced the trend) that a new twist in the concept may be necessary: the flatbed audience.

Like her installation at San Stae in Venice as part of the 2005 Biennale, Pipilotti Rist’s new work is a ceiling projection, and was best viewed from the daybeds installed in the space (shoes off, please!) rather than by standing and straining one’s neck. But whereas the earlier work, Homo sapiens sapiens, 2005, envisioned an all-female prelapsarian paradise, its sequel, Eine Freiheitstatue für Löndön (A Liberty Statue for Löndön), 2005, presents an ethereal-looking red-headed woman’s journey out of Eden through a long graffiti-ridden corridor or tunnel—a sort of artificial birth canal—into a present-day European city. Strangely, this change of state does not appear to be a Fall. Instead of being either co-opted into her new surroundings or going mad from the shocking suddenness of the change, the woman simply bears delirious witness to it. Perhaps this acceptance is what makes her, as Rist puts it, “a symbol for the philosophical human being.”

But however philosophically Rist’s carrot-topped protagonist may view the twist of fate that led her out of Eden, the trip might easily sweep viewers off their feet. For one thing, Rist’s swirling, swerving, corkscrew camera movements are dizzying in the most exhilarating way: It’s as if Tinker Bell were the artist’s camera operator. As it turns out, seeing things from the viewpoint of a small, fast, mercurial creature is even more jarring when you’re lying flat on your back (and just try taking notes that way). The disorientation is heightened by druggily saturated, overheated color and fish-eye anamorphoses that bring close closer and push distance farther away. Everything is visually and sonically stylized and heightened—even the cricket and bird songs on the sound track seem as synthetic as the electronic chords mixed in with them.

Rist’s skeletal narrative is conveyed by an image within an image—a roundel of clear, intense focus surrounded by a square frame of blurry, colored movement. The viewer’s recumbence suggests a similar kind of choice: Either look carefully, as art usually asks us to do, noticing all the brilliant little details and the flourish with which they have been orchestrated, or just let your thoughts drift lazily out of focus and allow Rist’s projections to become a visual equivalent of Brian Eno’s ambient music. In fact, the two experiences are equally necessary for proper appreciation of the piece: One must both see and not see.

The inclusion of Ever Is Over All, 1997, also a two-channel projection juxtaposing visually clear narrative—a dreamlike vision of joyous and elegant vandalism—with more indistinct and lyrical nonnarrative imagery, showed just how far Rist has developed technically even as her extravagant, funny, poetic, and rather hippie-ish vision of what Herbert Marcuse once called “liberation from the affluent society” has remained admirably consistent.

Barry Schwabsky