| Interview |
A Liberty Statue for Löndön 2005
Pour Your Body Out (7,354 Cubic Metres) 2008
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You may not have wanted to ‘take over’ San Staë, but with this piece, which is uplifting with its Tiepolo-like colours so appropriate to Venice, the space will always be associated with your work. I am sure I am not alone in wishing that it could be a permanent installation. Actually the church was closed down after four of the six months. Although it is not used as a church, a priest collected signatures to send a petition to Rome, but in the end there were only 40 signatures. They hung a sign on the door: Closed for technical reasons. I wrote to them, ‘You should not lie!’ The people of the Portuguese pavilion next door collected more than 2,000 signatures to open it up again, but it didn’t help.
Another major work after the Venice piece was Pour Your Body Out (7,354 Cubic Metres), which you did for MoMA in New York in 2008. You created a similarly immersive environment in which people could lie back and ‘lose themselves’ in the work. In other works, however, like Open My Glade, 2000, for instance, in which the body is pressed against the glass, you deliberately remind the viewer of the limits of the medium – the fourth wall – creating the opposite effect, that of entrapment. Let me first say something about ‘immersive’. You are right, I try to work as immersively as possible because I think we always try to frame everything behind and within the square format and it affects us strongly. It is a kind of remedy to make the work as huge as possible – it becomes like our skin. In life you are often alone, but when you come together in imaginary rooms you become a common body.
But the problem with electronic media is that it is not like looking in a mirror because you can always decide, ‘Ah! It’s only pixels.’ You see all the mistakes, the shortcomings of video. When you think of old standarddefinition media, which we once regarded as so sharp – and now we are going over to high-definition media which maybe one day we will also not think so sharp – you realise that no media – whether photography, film or video – will ever be as sharp as real life. But our super brain compensates for all missing information as we take in only 10% of impressions and 90% is generated individually. So close your eyes and watch the afterburn.
So works like Open My Glade express a kind of frustration with the limits of the medium because the human eye will always be sharper than any camera? You would have to jump into the other’s eye, or live on the retina of the other.
I remember a lovely quote in which you said, ‘The eye is like a blood-driven camera.’ Yes. Video technique is just a poor copy of how our eye works.
Recently, and unusually for you, you made an outdoor installation in St Gallen, Switzerland, called Stadtlounge – also called Redbloodmonstersculpture – in which you covered every available surface, including furniture, a car and a fountain, with red tartan so that everyone could have the privilege of walking on a red carpet – it was like entering another world.
OCT 11 | ART MONTHLY | 350 This was a collaboration with the architect Carlos Martinez in a city close to where I grew up. The basic concept was to pretend that the outside space was an inside, private one.
It was a competition for a combination of landscape architecture and public art in 2005, and I didn’t really want to win it. They asked three artists to collaborate with architects, and architects with artists. We thought about what would we do if it was our space. The jury just said, ‘Let’s do it’, and in 18 months it was realised because everybody involved pulled together.
You certainly won the public’s prize. Yes, that was surprising – nice. It has become a widely accepted permanent work – it’s been there for six years now and was recently even enlarged. I think it became very popular because people felt welcomed by the soft material, making it like a collective playground, and because the colour in all of us is red. It was not more expensive than doing it with ordinary tarmac.
The awkwardness of the space in St Gallen takes me back to Pour Your Body Out (7,354 Cubic Metres), which was commissioned by MoMA for its vast atrium. It is a very difficult space, not as difficult as Tate’s Turbine Hall, perhaps, but 7,354 cubic metres is still a huge volume to tackle. Each room has its own condition, at MoMA the room was not supposed to be dark – I don’t like dark rooms anyway and I don’t ask for them. Of course they expected me to do something with moving image and sound, but when it is for a space where people meet like in an atrium, the content should not be authoritarian. Usually if you make a mistake, you do it better next time – but you can’t do that with architecture, you need to get it right.
There is a white column in the space but you managed to bend the video around it. I suppose after San Staë it was probably easy for you. Actually, this column takes up only a small area – the whole work combined consisted of seven projections.
And you modelled all this? Yes. For San Staë I had three models. Also for MoMA we worked on a model in the scale 1:3 in the studio beforehand.
In the centre of this experience – and people never say they have ‘seen’ a Pipilotti Rist work, they always say they have ‘experienced’ it – you created an ‘eye’ with a circular blue ‘iris’ where people sit and gaze at the floating projections. This suggests a kind of reciprocity between viewer and viewed, between the human eye and the mechanical eye of the projector. Yes, I couldn’t say it better, thanks. People took over the space, and even some yoga people came up with the idea themselves and used it on a couple of Sunday mornings for their sessions. I was very proud.
You have said that your work ‘caresses’ the museum, that you are not interested in attacking it, that you are not interested in institutional critique in the manner, for instance, of Andrea Fraser. I meant ‘caresses’ also in an architectural way. I could have decided to try to destroy the space, or to fight against it. I
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| Interview |
decided instead to caress Taniguchi’s space. It is a very elegant space, so, in a formal way, I tried to melt into it. And it was said that I have changed the gender of the MoMA. I am just doing a service to make the space as positive as possible so that through that relaxation deeper reflections can take place.
You referred earlier to the idea that we are marked by sin, a very Catholic view of the world. This darker aspect is more overt in your earlier work, especially in (Absolutions) Pipilotti’s Mistakes of 1988 – it is there in the title, and in the frighteningly ambiguous scene of the girl who is apparently being drowned in the swimming pool, or is she being baptised? In this work total immersion is the very opposite of the ‘blissed-out’ experience of, for instance, Sip My Ocean. It goes backwards and forwards, like life.
Yes. And the girl in the sinful red dress repeatedly falls over – literally, a fallen woman – but she gets up each time. I always try to accept mistakes as an offer of life.
It was filmed in Super-8? No, it was already a video but still analogue. With digital mistakes, if something fails, it fails much quicker. But in this work, I used 22 ways of analogue disturbances that shows us to be –
Human? Yes – the truth, where we should go and what we should decide in life. It is astonishing to me how much we get hurt in life, and by other people. But we always get up again and accept the hurt and turn the other cheek. It is about this energy, this exorcism. It is a kind of exorcism that raises us up, not down.
You dare to reference all those things that are associated with the feminine – nature, earth, water – particularly water. In fact, you celebrate them uninhibitedly. Yes, I understand what you mean in terms of feminism but for me my figures stand for the human, not only for women. It is a question of language: when there is a naked man – aha, it must be about the ‘human’. But when there is a naked woman, the assumption is that it is to do with sexuality. We came out of water – and maybe that is my superstition again – but I think we are still very much like fish. We have developed out of the water and later became mammals. When I use water, there is also the wish – for example, in Sip My Ocean – to float with the other, or to flow freely for a short while – and sometimes it happens.
Of course, music – singing – is a crucial part of your work, reflecting your background as a member of a band. Yes, it is the band’s 23rd anniversary. I first joined them only to work on the staging – the projections, the slides and the Super-8 films – then they took me into the band. After six years with them I was still very much afraid to go on stage. I prefer to work backstage, to work on the sound in the basement until it’s ready for the performance.
In the Venice Biennale of 1997 you were awarded the Premio 2000 for Ever Is Over All, one of your most popular works.
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