This weekend is the last chance to see “Pour Your Body Out,” the new Pipilotti Rist video installation at MoMA.
It’s not perfect, it’s not even great but it is bold and it reaches even if it doesn’t grasp, and it’s provocative in a number of ways, and it’s worth seeing. Rist’s MoMA commissioned, site-specific installation doesn’t relate to the museum’s atrium space or set up a dialogue with it the way the recent Olafur Eliasson free-swinging by virtue of it’s own essence fan by did, but it certainly transforms the space. The artist has created a lush and warming colorful, almost baroque, womb at the heart of an ice-cold, white walled, grey steel and glass skinned modernist box which is something in and of itself.
And it’s big, 7,354 cubic meters, a panorama of moving imagery 25 feet high and 200 feet across in almost every direction. Big doesn’t necessarily mean better, but it does mean something. There is something to big; think of big deal, big idea, talk big, think big, make it big, go over big, in a big way. To stand or lay around in the big room on the big sofa on the big rug that’s part and parcel of “Pour Your Body Out”, while giant floating dripping bodies, or giant green strawberries, or giant bubbling pits of pinky liquid, or giant monstrous wild boars traverse the four walls two stories high is surely curious. The big scale dictated slowing the speed so nothing happens in real time. It’s not quite slo-mo, but slow enough that the lush organic forms creepily morph into close ups of facial pores in the dreamiest of ways.
Of course one of the problems with big is that there’s always bigger, and in fact I immediately wanted that. Why weren’t the walls of the uppermost floors were also covered with video images? Why not seventy-foot wild boars peeking through one hundred foot grasses, and eighty-foot high feets sloshing through muddy puddles the size of Rhode Island, and psychedelic flora and fauna the size of houses floating from two hundred foot heights?
No doubt the imagery was meant to provoke and it does. For me it most provoked thoughts of a slightly-almost R rated version of Bugdom, the third-person action platform computer game developed and published by Pangea Software. Like In Bugdom, there’s a mesmerizing sound track. The “Pour Your Body Out” sound piece composed by Anders Guggisberg loops at a slightly shorter time frame than the video so at no time does the image and sound match-up repeat. Bugdom doesn’t have that but it is also set in a garden or outdoor bug kingdom. There the goal is to help a pillbug named Rollie McFly defeat evil fire ants, free imprisoned ladybugs, and restore peace and tranquility to the wonderful world of Bugdom. In “Pour Your Body Out” unlike in Bugdom, it’s not obvious who the protagonist is, though you get the sense that there is a one; nor is the through line clear, but there is something Stanislavskian or at least psychophysical about the entire experience.
It’s also evocative of the Disney experience. I was reminded of someone’s explanation of why she and her husband continue to vacation at Disney World long after their kids were grown. And that is, for example, because they have this big theatre with a big screen (IMAX I’m guessing) and they show these cool movies, like the one of the rain forest, and you stand there inside this big room with big screens and you feel like you’re smack dab in the middle of the forest and then they have misters that all of a sudden spritz water and you really think for a second that you’re really in a forest in the rain.
This person as it turns out lives in the woods and when it was suggested that they might just take a walk in their back yard the next time it rains she further explained, in total exasperation, that it’s not that easy, not everyone can just go out in their backyard in the rain.
Which is all to say that despite the fabulousness of the experience - size, sound, color, and couch wise - something essential is missing, something like meaning. Unless of course the medium is the message, and unless this is what it looks like when you push up against a new art frontier, one that lies beyond the land of viewing art into a realm where we inhabit it.
Like that of other contemporary installation artists, for example Olafur Eliasson’s “The Weather Project” and Doug Aitken’s “Migration”) - both with recent major MoMA installations also curated by the razor smart, fearlessly grooving head of media, Klaus Biesenbach - Rist’s work seeks to take humanist thing further than it’s ever been. So there they are, re-visioning art in a world full of re-visioning, like a Renaissance Redux.
Go see it if only to see what you think and while you’re there check out the Viz Muniz curated show, “Artist’s Choice: Vik Muniz, Rebus.”