COPY FOR: RealTime
The Color of Your Socks: A Year with Pipilotti Rist
by Michael Hegglin, Director
Prod. Catpics Coproductions Ltd, Zurich, 2009
Distrib. Microcinema International Inc. San Francisco, CA
DVD, 53 mins., Sub-titles: English, French
Sales: Individual, $US25.00; educational, $149.00
Distributor’s website: http://www.microcinemadvd.com/.
Reviewed by Mike Leggett
University of Wollongong, School of Creative Arts
The Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist was honoured with a commission to re-open the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in NYC during 2004. A large scale video installation, Pour Your Body Out, requires visitors to lie on specially prepared carpets and gaze at the projections on the surrounding walls and ceiling. “What should we do if people don't want to take their shoes off?” asks one of the museum docents. Use some humour suggests Rist; “Tell them I'd like to see the colour of your socks”.
Colour and movement is the theme throughout this observational video of the preparation of the commissioned work. Rist is the colourfully dressed CEO of her art production company, darting from one meeting to the next with her collaborators, sponsors, assistants and technicians. Sketches, maquettes, then scaled-up models move inexorably toward the day of the opening, (interrupted by other more minor projects), each stage announced on screen with titles, the what and the where for to of the contemporary art scene: a “chic” Monument to Emilie Kempin-Spyri, the first Swiss woman “to attain” a doctorate in law at the end of the 19th Century; a Liberty Statue for Löndön, in Basle; the shooting of her first feature film, Pepperminta – 'so many more people will see a film than will see an installation', she observes.
For the film and video shoots her crew uses the new technology of high resolution micro-cameras mounted on the end of a boom pole. The camera operator has power and screen strapped to his body leaving his arms free to move the wide-angle, deep focus camera around, above, below and close into Rist's performers, both clothed and unclothed, ensembles and individuals. “Naked people?” says the visiting MoMA Swiss curator. Could this be a challenge to New Yorkers one wonders? Surely not.....? Shoes off in public? Now that could be an issue.
There is little else left with which to engage in this DVD. It is an electronic catalogue entry, providing some background to the central character and her work. “Am I an Artist, a Video Artist or a Fine Artist” she discusses with another assistant at one point. “An Artist” she decides. There is no interpretation of the work as would occur in a print catalogue, no probing of the concepts behind the movement and colour. “I wish for a more colourful life” says someone at a pre-view of the film; it's also about “overcoming barriers” and providing “exercise for back and hips” encourages the artist. Her onscreen subjects demonstrate the precept as they entwine, entangle, and cavort through green fields, red apples, the 'fires of hell' and supergreen tree tops; Caribbean seas too – “Maybe too cute?” queries Pipilotti.
Large scale video installations as semi-immersive, cinema-like environments have become de rigeur on the international art circuit of biennales, exhibitions, and festivals. The affordances of computer-based video and sound technology have made this possible not only in the gathering and ordering of sound and image but more essentially in its presentation across multiple screens and sound sources, maintaining perfect operatic-like synchronisation for hours and weeks, sometimes months on end. Contemporary art on a grand scale requires a production effort and organisation akin to the 19th Century monumental sculptors, the Renaissance religious image industry, and Hollywood itself.
At an early stage of this disappointing DVD, we are reminded of the vagueries of the fine art scene, populated as it is by bright and optimistic people like Pipilotti. Rist inspects the photograph of a work by the celebrity queen of contemporary art, Yoko Ono. It is an installation of a step ladder with a piece of paper stuck on the ceiling above it. Visitors climb the ladder with magnifying glass to read the tiny word 'Yes'. “This work cost $32million, and $100 to produce”, she pauses to muse – before darting off to another meeting about her installations and projections onto the walls and ceilings of MoMA.