No offence to Ms. Rist, her recent 30-year survey at the New Museum Pixel Forrest is highly deserving of all the praise and accolades. Amidst the post-election mayhem, nearly every artist I know made a pilgrimage to see the show. It was like that song you knew because it rang out at varying intervals all day long in the streets from the vehicles of real New Yorkers. Even my baby’s daddy, who had lived practically down the street since the museum was founded in 1977, stepped foot inside for the very first time to traverse the now legendary Pixel Forrest.
No offence to the New Museum either, it’s actually doing a pretty decent job of being an alternative art institution. If anything, it’s symbolic support of all things queer and radical and it’s genuine embrace of chic socially-engaged hipsters gets a gold star. I loved how when my partner and I walked in with a baby the staff assured us male restrooms also had changing stations and I could breastfeed anywhere. She recommended the 4th floor, which featured, “beds and boobs on the ceiling.” When I say take a shit in the Pixel Forrest, what I mean to say is… what’s wrong with everyone in the Art world?
I can like Pipilotto Rist, but not love her. Neither her nor her 1980s Feminism. When Roberta Smith of the New York Times calls Rist’s work “perfect” and her 1990 video (almost) exposing the artists breasts “among the best videos ever made;” when the New Yorker hails her “Therapeutic Rapture” and the media bell tolls the New Museum’s “most popular show ever” – driving more ticket sales and more likes and more clicks, then we know, well (I know), it’s just not radical enough. Hurrah the beauty and rapture of nature! The Ecstasy of communication! The Female body – she is GOD! Genitals are juicy, sacred, profound, nourishing, natural and vital.
Enclosed in two neat rows of pyramidal viewing boxes, museum-goers waited on line to privately (or perhaps cozily) watch Rist’s 1980’s single-channel videos canalizing her critique of popular culture’s objectification of the female body. We even watched Pipilotti Rist giving birth to her son on screen. Nudity is naturalized. But it’s not enough. One white, cis female celebrity art star who feels rock n’ roll in her bones and thirty years later overtakes three floors of the New Museum (even if she does do something as punk rock as telling viewers to “spit onto their mobiles… technology is a complete copy of our senses.”) isn’t enough. Don’t show me pyramids and lily white boobies if you’re not going to come out of the closet and talk about when God was a women; if you’re not going to pay homage to the countless Art movements from Abstraction to Rock n’ Roll to the European Renaissance and Greek Mythology that were not so secretly authored by Black civilizations and cultures.
Why Ms. Rist? Why one straight white woman? If the show celebrated nature, how do we justify the 3,000 crystalline-resin hanging pixels that would one day go into a landfill? Personally, I felt overwhelmed by the crowds of people glued to gargantuan screens, at least half simultaneously capturing the work on their smart phone. And I felt guilty and a bit ashamed as I too reached for my phone to take bad photos for this article. I loved that her work immersed us in luscious, soothing, pixilated nature. However, “Encountering nature as never before?” Hold up Roberta Smith. This show reminded me what I’ve known deep down for the past couple of years. I need to get the fuck out of New York City and find some nature. Touch real nature. Breathe fresh air. Have real friends without financial motivations and career aspirations entangling our genuine appreciation of one another, or our faith. ALL THAT… in Mother Nature.
All the watery, phallic abstractions and earthy tits and emerald green vegetation on the 4th floor recalled for me when Hindu Lord Siva plunged into the deep and through his Asceticism caused the fertilization of the waters and the birth of plants. I think Lord Siva, he who is time who spins the Universe, ecstatic deity with the whole world caught in his mouth, he who is half female, serpent coiled at his hips – is a fantastic metaphor for the work. If Rist’s work brings us home, I’d venture to say it’s to a place where Caucasian heroes dead.
The show provided an unexpected reunion with several artist friends who happened to be there too. One fellow feminist artist and mom had let her eight-year-old skip school to experience the last weekend of Ms. Rist’s technological sublime. We bumped into each other somewhere near her 90s “Mother Floor” and then sat on recycled tree stumps in the café and caught up as I eyed the Gay-pride pastries.
According to Buddhism, the Three Jewels of Faith are teacher; teaching the reality of freedom; and the community that realizes the teaching and the reality. Thank you Ms. Rist, for teaching us through your work. Surely, some people left the show less perverted and others, more! But when does the simulation end and the reality begin? How are we as a total community becoming activated? Where to next?
The art world might be smart, but it’s still not conscious. Yung feminists drop bombs!! (and not the Trump era neo-Cold War kind, but the kind that blows them gatekeepers right off their hinges)!! It’s time to take the Planet back.