Lying in bed next to strangers is not something one does unless it’s in an Ikea, or last night was a bit too much fun. Now, add experiencing “Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest” at theNew Museumto that list.
This is just one of the purposely disorienting ways waiting for visitors to the Swiss artist’s exhibit, which has taken over three floors of the Bowery museumbeginning Oct. 26 through Jan. 15. In the beds, part of the installation “4th Floor to Mildness,” visitors gaze up at screens on the ceiling, which takes the isolating experience of using your smartphone to “connect” with others and bringing back an element of real world intimacy. “The content of the show and how it’s presented are in concert,” explains curator Massimiliano Gioni. “The entire museum is morphing and changing.”
Rist, whose work has made it to MoMA but is largely unknown to American audiences, is given plenty of room to roam with “Pixel Forest,” and the results are as Insta-ready as they are a compelling argument that technology should be doing more to actually connect you with your world. Rist has been questioning the role of technology in our lives since her debut in 1986 — well before the Internet was in our homes, let alone our hands.
“It’s not a scholastic approach to an artist,” Gioni says of the exhibit, describing the process of working with Rist “like getting to know Alice from ‘Alice in Wonderland.’”
Indeed, “Pixel Forest” takes you out of the world as you know it in every way. Videos put viewers underwater and inside a human body; a maze of diaphanous curtains serve as projection screens that also put fellow visitors in our line of sight, mixing reality and art; a white wall covered in household objects like plates and egg cartons is the canvas for a montage of suburban idyll, then turns into an alien landscape when the film cuts out.
The third floor’s titular pixel forest is particularly surreal, a collection of hanging vines holding 3,000 glowing orbs that change and pulse with color corresponding to a video installation. “Imagine an LED screen taken apart, but the pieces are still showing images,” explains Gioni. If you could step far enough away, they would coalesce into a picture; as it is, wandering among them is like being surrounded by a swarm of digital fireflies.
Instead of the tech phobia common in modern art, Rist explores the “ecstasy of communication,” looking for ways technology can help connect us with our world by taking us places we can’t go, reminding us of times that have passed and creating communal experiences. Gioni sums up her work as “very much an effort to connect bodies beyond screens,” so be sure to bring a friend to experience the wonders of “Pixel Forest.”