The Return of an Artist Who Seems to Swallow the World


From her giant chair that reduced us to Lilliputian size to the minuscule mouse-hole video (in the floor at P.S.1) to bewitched projections in which she takes a windshield-smashing stroll with a big metal flower or floats out to sea in an oceanic haze, Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist hasn’t made a false move. Her work offers pure, wondrous, dizzy pleasure. Its luscious combination of innocence, aggression, disorientation, polymorphic MTV imagery, trancey music, and primal orality is irresistible. Like Alice in Wonderland, her fluid space keeps shifting scale. Like Björk, she seems to swallow the whole world.

In Rist’s first New York show a couple of seasons ago, she furnished a comfortable interior with chairs, coffee tables, cupboards, knickknacks, and domestic objects capriciously animated by projected images. Her new video installation, Herbstzeitlose (Saffron Flower or Fall Time Less), does exactly the opposite, conjuring up not the details of an interior space but an enveloping array of exterior vistas. We exit into it through the back door of a partial rural facade—a stand-in for her childhood home in St. Gallen, where the footage was shot.

The only objects this time—transparent plastic lids, funnels, and containers dangling from a large branch—become optical devices, “instant crystals” casting shadowy reflections onto an oceanic wall projection. Like the other wall-size projections—nine-minute loops of forests, Swiss meadows, tongues, girls in traditional Swiss costumes gobbling toy cars—it can inexplicably rotate, as if with the curve of the earth, or liquefy, or go weightlessly light-headed to flip upside down. Sounds of birds, crickets, goat bells, a child’s laughter, and her own voice and music permeate the installation and add to the swoony vertigo. Even the backlit baseboard landscape cutout, as if in a valley far below, can’t bring us down to earth.