Pipilotti Rist is a refreshingly gregarious artist as comfortable in her own eccentricities as she is in dealing with museum curators and security personnel who anxiously wonder about the logistical challenges her video art installations impose.
However, the Swiss-born artist should not be underestimated because of her easy propensity for whimsy touches and occasional silliness. Her work, rich in vibrant and lush colors, resists the anti-chromatic impulses of several major postwar European art movements. Yet, it also resists the tendency of absolutism readily adopted by the ultra-serious individual artist who sees himself (or herself) as the rigid authority of aethesticisim.
In the latest installment of the Creativity in Focus series, sponsored by the Utah Film Center and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA), ‘The Color of Your Socks: A Year with Pipilotti Rist,’ directed by Michael Hegglin, is a thoroughly entertaining crisply-paced romp showing the artist’s preparation for a major installation at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City.
The film will be screened in a free, public program Friday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m. at the UMOCA’s auditorium.
The 52-minute documentary follows the preparations for ‘Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters)’ which opened in November of 2008 at MOMA. Viewers catch the significance of the film’s title at the 48-minute mark when MOMA’s security guards ask the artist how they should handle any visitors who resist the polite instructions to remove their shoes so they can enter on the white-carpet section of the installation. In her characteristic good-natured tone, Rist says they should say something like being curious about the ‘color of your socks.’
The documentary underscores Rist’s capacity for the type of engagement that resounds consistently throughout her work. She eagerly invites the cameras to chronicle the problem-solving details that go into her widely praised video installations. There are a few moments, too, where viewers see how the artist works around the various limitations and logistical issues posed by the host museum.
The MOMA video exhibit, which took the museum’s conservation department 93 hours to copy, included a 16-minute video loop with images rising 25 feet and a carpeted sculpture in the form of a sitting island. However, viewers familiar with Rist’s work go well beyond the most obvious signs of pleasure and whimsical décor to see how the artist cleverly transforms the museum’s space where spectators literally can pour their body out in how they see the exhibit not only within their own intimate boundaries but also in the way they potentially interact with others. As Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine’s senior art critic, wrote at the time of the exhibit:
‘Shoes and coats are everywhere. People lie around, lean on walls, sleep and sprawl in groups on the floor and couch. On one of my visits, the well-known painter Gary Stephan drifted by and said, “I wish I had some ganja.” This is museum as hallucination, opium den, Lotus Land, cubbyhole and pleasure dome. Call it Trance Central station.’
Perhaps the most meaningful take-away from Rist’s work is that artists – and literally each of us – should never hesitate to liberate ourselves from unnecessary fears, even if the results turn out to be a mixed bag of successes and failures. That theme is most prominent in ‘Pepperminta,’ Rist’s first full-length feature film about a young woman, played by the same actress who appears in the video installation portrayed in the documentary.
The film follows Pepperminta, bedecked in a motley-colored drum major’s uniform, who gathers up a colorful troupe of apostles as they mischievously upend the gray, grim sensibilities of authority figures in a European city. Unashamedly silly, the film nevertheless reinforces precisely the artistic statement that is so evident in ‘The Color of Your Socks’ documentary.
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