Pipilotti Rist

In the audio-video installation Cinquante Fifty (Installation for a Parking Lot), 2000, Pipilotti Rist dwells on an incongruous quotidian existence, dominated by disorienting, dreamlike qualities. As if it could fly, challenging every principle of gravity, the artist’s video camera investigates, from various angles, the gray facade of a condominium until it discovers two human presences. Looking out a window, in the typical activity of someone who is trying to escape boredom, the first figure is a middle-aged woman, apparently indifferent to the camera’s movements. In contrast, the second figure, portrayed by the artist herself, is drawn to the video camera’s lens. Like someone in a children’s game, she tries to capture its attention and presses her face against the window, distorting her features. Confined behind the glass, similar to a fish condemned to the isolation of an aquarium, the young woman seems incapable of leaving the boundaries of her apartment. Fleeting images of flowering trees fragment the sequence of the shots. The other protagonist of the installation is a man walking along the edge of a deserted highway. Perhaps heading toward a specific goal, he moves at a rapid pace. Totally engrossed, he seems to notice neither his own nakedness nor the fleeting presence of a car that contains the video camera that is filming him. Hypnotic music, based on the repetition of a few notes, completes the installation, enveloping the isolation of each of the two women and the solitude of the man pictured in the same atmosphere. Initially conceived for the spaces of an underground parking lot, the work was reconfigured by Rist for the setting of Castello di Rivoli, where it is projected directly on the walls and the ceiling, incorporating the architectural details and the original frescoes of the chosen room. In keeping with the artist’s practice of self-appropriation, some of the images that make up the installation also appear in other works, including Remake of the Weekend, 1998, loosely inspired by Godard’s film Weekend, 1967, and the series of installations known as Himalaya Goldstein Stube (Himalaya Goldstein’s Living Room), 1997–99, which revolve around Rist’s alter-ego, known as Himalaya Goldstein.

The creator of psychedelic, sensual, ironic and sometimes erotic universes, Rist utilizes video in a way that expressively heightens its pictorial qualities. As she has frequently stated, her intention is not to use electronic technology to record or imitate reality. Rather, she directs her explorations predominantly at the realms of the unconscious, both personal and technological and favors the use of acid colors and deliberate disturbances or errors in recording. In an open dialogue with both visual and musical popular culture, many of her works draw upon the domestic arena, presenting habitable environments, within which there is an interweaving of a female sensibility, playful elements, and self-reflective components.


Pipilotti Rist is the original inventor of a particular visual and sound universe within which the sensorial and emotive dimensions are the main protagonists. Her works, conceived as videos for monitors or complex multi-media installations, include elements of performance, poetry, music, and sculpture aimed at involving visitors in a total experience.
Rist’s complex evolution as an artist includes, in addition to video and animation studies, experience as a set designer for music groups and a long period spent as a musician with the band called Les Reines Prochaines. Her interest and participation in pop culture, especially in rock music, represents an important component of her oeuvre. This aspect goes hand in hand with a redefining of female sensibility.
From her debut with the single-channel video, such as I’m not the Girl who Misses Much (1986), the artist has in fact used the visual and sound language of music for an analysis of the behavioral codes systematized by mass media. Rist’s face and body are sometimes the protagonists of these works. However, rather than autobiography the artist is interested in defining a common sphere that can allow her to come into contact with the public. Above all, in the case of installations, this contact is achieved by literally immersing the audience in a setting that is mental, psychedelic, sensual, ironic, and erotic, all at one and the same time. As she has declared on various occasions, her intention is not to use video technology for recording or imitating reality. According to Rist this technology cannot compete with the complexity of reality. Rather, the artist explains her interest for video in that it is a malleable medium, endowed with pictorial qualities or belonging to a Westen concept of everyday life. In exasperating these effects, Rist experiments with the entire range of possible visual elaborations, conceiving new ones and elaborating a personal aesthetic made up of acid, saturated colors and images that are intentionally either disturbed or distorted. Pulsing and vital, the artist’s videos and installations transmit almost organic characteristics, as if they were a flow of thoughts and emotions made visible. In numerous interviews, Rist has expressed her interest in the unconscious, both personal and technological. [M.B.]

List of Works

I’m not the Girl who Misses Much, 1986
video, color, sound, 7 min. 46 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Rist screamingly sings the words that give the title to the work, inspired by John Lennon’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun“. The particular distortions of the sound, the images with their saturated colors, and the use of pop culture all establish the premises for successive video works. The artist is the energetic creative source of this particular, sensually feminine, and contagiously ironic universe.

Sexy Sad I, 1987
video, color, sound, 4 min. 36 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Inspired by music videos, although taken to amusing and entertaining excesses, this work is a close-up investigation of an anonymous male body. The careful scrutiny is rendered with extremely saturated colors, while the setting is a rural context. The title is inspired by the Beatles’ “Sexy Sadie“, whose melody is used as the soundtrack.

(Entlastungen) Pipilottis Fehler (Absolutions – Pipilotti’s Mistakes), 1988
video, color, sound, 11 min. 10 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The images of this video are characterized by experimental elaboration that enhances the pictorial nature and quality. Thus defects and imperfections become moments of pure poetry and transform the work into a study on the subconscious and the psychology of the camera.

You Called Me Jacky, 1990
video, color, sound, 4 min. 06 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Amusing and estranging, the video shows the artist impersonating the role of the rock star with explosive and overwhelming energy. Rist imitates Madonna, exaggerating the singer’s movements and gestures. In this way, she proclaims her dependence on pop culture together with her right to use it as a source of rebelled inspiration.

Als der Bruder meiner Mutter geboren wurde, duftete es nach wilden Birnenblüten vor dem braungebrannten Sims (When My Mother’s Brother Was Born It Smelled like Wild Pear Blossom in front of the Brown-Burnt Sill), 1992
video, color, sound, 3 min. 55 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The event of birth is represented in the peaceful context of the Swiss Alps. The video unites the artist’s private world as well as references to pop culture and mass culture. As in the case of other works, here as well the artist takes part in composing the soundtrack.

Pickelporno (Pimple Porno), 1992
video, color, sound, 12 min. 02 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The carnal meeting between a man and a woman is the subject of this video, filmed by applying a small surveillance video camera at the end of a pole. Subjective shots of the bodies, whose details are enlarged out of proportion, are alternated with delightful visions of flowers and fruit. The work can be interpreted both as a parody of a banal pornographic video and as the sensual interpretation of a genre that is traditionally lacking in artistic intentions.

Blutclip (Bloodclip), 1993
video, color, sound, 2 min. 40 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Structured as a music video that celebrates the female reproductive cycle, the work evidences the artist’s personal feminist vision and her ability to treat difficult topics with energetic fun. In this case, Rist films her own naked body in a forest. Images of her own menstrual blood are juxtaposed with animations of the moon and the planets.

I’m a Victim of this Song, 1995
video, color, sound, 5 min. 06 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The artist interprets the pop song “Wicked Game” by the singer Chris Isaak. The words are shouted, the gestures are comically disjointed, and the images are elaborated in such a way as to transmit the essence of Rist’s personal world, ironically superimposed over the sentimentalism and melancholy of the original interpreter.

Aujourd’hui (Today), 1999
video, color, sound, 10 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
This is a monitor version of the installation entitled I Couldn’t Agree with You More. The video camera is fixed on the artist’s face, characterized by a hypnotic stare. Similar to recurrent or fleeting thoughts, small images animate her face, hypothesizing the possibility of an almost telepathic contact with the observers.