Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist is a crowd pleaser. On our first visit several weeks ago to the New Museum where her show, Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest, is up until January 15, 2017, the attendance was modest. Last week on our second visit, the line outside went around the block. Word had spread. The mostly Millennial hordes crowded the three floors of the museum devoted to the show, iPhones at the ready, posing, snapping, reviewing, re-posing, snapping again.
A viewer could walk through suspended sheets of sheer fabric on to which Rist projected videos. Or one could stick one’s head into a box to view another. Or one could lie on mattresses or cushions on the floor and take in the videos on the walls and ceiling. In another section, you had to walk through a forest of 300 glass LED light ornaments hanging from the ceiling, spaced maybe a foot apart. The idea was to slow down, be in the ornaments, observe the colors and pixels on the ornaments, make out the patterns, navigate carefully, not to disturb the hanging pendants, or, worse, crash them together. The visitors, being blithe New Yorkers and high-spirited Europeans – I heard at least a half dozen languages – were routinely knocking the glass lights into each other. A security guard told me that four pendants had been shattered that day, and it was only 2 pm. He routinely radios the curatorial staff and they come armed with replacements, stepladders and, presumably, a broom and dust pan. All part of the intended experience, I imagine. Breakable, elusive art. The fragility of life.
The Rist videos projected on walls and ceiling continue the theme and confuse. Are you, the observer, inside the body or outside? Underwater scenes, filmed in the Rhine, are surreal, bubbles and particles – of what? – abound. You are taken down narrow passages – are we in an artery, is this human skin we see and feel? Are the amoeba in the river or in us? Rist calls her art “glorification of the wonder of evolution”.
The installation envelopes with its dual screens surrounding you. You lie there not wanting to leave, yet conscious there is a waiting line. The accompanying music completes the envelopment. The experience takes you outside yourself and inside at the same time.