Pixel Forest: Pipilotti Rist at the New Museum

Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist wants New Yorkers to relax. Her current solo exhibition Pixel Forest fills the cavernous space of the New Museum with beds, pillows, and soft carpets. Yet the exhibition is anything but sleepy. Rist exhilaratingly encourages museum-goers to fully immerse themselves in her hypnotic video projections.

Rist is heralded as an innovative pioneer of video art and multimedia installations and the New Museum’s survey – her first and most extensive in New York – proves this praise to be well-deserved. Beginning with her glitch-filled single-channel videos from the 1980s, Pixel Forest reveals how Rist’s artistic practice shifts, adapts, and evolves with each subsequent development in video. She continually reinvents herself and her work to stay on the cutting edge of technology, constructing all-encompassing sonic and visual landscapes.

Rist seamlessly combines her interest in technology with the New Museum’s architecture, projecting videos in corners, on fluttering gossamer curtains, on the floor, and on the ceiling. She even places an iPhone, playing a video of the artist surrounded by fire, precariously in a stairwell. This inventive installation style inspires a sense of childlike wonder, making you feel as if you have stumbled into Rist’s own dreamlike world inside the New Museum.

One of the most memorable works, which will undoubtedly become increasingly crowded as word spreads, is 4th Floor To Mildness. Rist created this absorbing installation specifically for the exhibition. Entering the fourth floor through a dark, heavy curtain, you’re plunged underwater – or at least, that’s how it looks, with two amorphous, amoeba-shaped video screens attached to the ceiling. The videos feature submerged footage of clouds of dirt and bursts of food coloring swirling around the screens. Occasionally, a hand emerges from the leaf-strewn water, shimmering in the sunlight. The sound alternates between a meditative liquid bubbling and experimental Austrian singer Soap&Skin’s nostalgic piano ballad “Spiracle.”

While the videos themselves might be enough to captivate viewers, Rist goes a step further by placing numerous single and double beds below the screens. The beds are as inviting as they are comfortable. Lying shoeless on the beds among countless other museum visitors, the experience is, at once, both intimate and communal.

The only part of the exhibition that may overshadow 4th Floor To Mildness is Pixelwald (Pixel Forest) on the museum’s third floor. This installation fractures a video into individual pixels, represented by 3000 hanging globe-like LED lights. Changing colors and flickering in unison, the installation, with numerous vines of light, feels like an enchanted media jungle.

Even with these monumental spectacles, Rist’s art still maintains a political and feminist edge in videos like Ever Is Over All. Projected in a corner of the second floor, the video is rumored to be the inspiration for Beyoncé’s revenge-driven “Hold Up” video from Lemonade. Rather than using a baseball bat like Beyoncé, the video depicts a woman who cheerfully skips down a city street and smashes in car windows with a long-stemmed flower made from metal. While one side of the screen projects the woman’s infectious and destructive glee, the adjacent screen portrays these beautiful tropical flowers calmly swaying the breeze. The video is a celebration of daring, rebellious women like Rist herself, as seen throughout Pixel Forest.

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