2.11 / Review

From Tokyo: Pipilotti Rist and Phantom Limb

By Mary Anne Kluth February 8, 2011

In an increasingly global art community, it’s not surprising to find artists working in cities as distant as Zurich and Tokyo grappling with very similar formal concerns. Pipilotti Rist and Motohiko Odani both create immersive audio/video experiences directly concerned with “beautiful” sensations, though their works diverge from there.1

One enters Rist’s installation, A Liberty Statue for Tökyö (2009), on view as a special feature at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, through a ten-foot-tall dark blue velvet curtains. It includes a raised, cushioned brown floor, made of materials with a depth and permeability that discourages actually walking upright inside the space, instead promoting visitors to crawl. At the center of the space, a lacquered red grating is positioned level with the cushioning, housing both a projector and a large mirror. Its video plays on the ceiling, with a split picture-in-picture imagery reflected below.

The music in the video is composed of a swaying, synthesized melody that intermittently includes field recordings and other noises like insects and footsteps on gravel. Though formally resembling a soundtrack, it serves the mood of the piece rather than bolstering any kind of plot- or action-based reading of the video.

The video imagery is formatted to display one sequence appearing as a circle at the center of the projection and another sequence appearing around the first, filling out the square screen. The camera moves like a hand, gently tracing the various topographical surfaces, sweeping over natural and man-made objects at immediate range: long green grass, a woman’s hands and the top of her head as she climbs a tree, sandaled feet walking in white cotton socks, leaves and branches, a chain-link fence, a shiny brocade kimono, braided nylon rope. One segment features a woman’s hand trailing a lipstick line on a concrete interior, echoing the camera motion. Often the only apparent connection between the two sets of imagery is the saturated, slightly shifted color, with acidic greens, emphatically vibrant reds, warm yellows, and cold blues creating an energetic, complementary counterpoint to the mellow (verging on ponderous) soundtrack.

Pipilotti Rist. A Liberty Statue for Tökyö, 2009 (video still); audio and video installation; 9:47 min. Collection Sammlung Essl Privatstiftung, Klosterneuburg, Vienna; courtesy of the Artist and Hauser & Worth, Zurich.

Motohiko Odani. Inferno, 2008–10 (video still); 8-channel synchronized HD video projection installation; 5:37 min. (loop). Courtesy of the Artist and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.

The overall effect is of a glowing cocoon, like the materialization of the way one’s mind would recollect a hallucinatory trip to the park, mimicking the way memories can distill sensations and collapse temporal relationships. Combining footage from Tokyo and Zurich, it invites viewers to share in Rist’s revelry, sparing grown adults from the unseemly impropriety of rolling down a hill or climbing a tree themselves. (Even as a visitor from San Francisco, where we have historically had entire parks set aside for this specific type of ecstatic experience, I appreciated this carefully constructed opportunity for simple enjoyment.)

Inferno (2008), Odani’s eight-channel HD video and 4.1-surround-sound installation, is included in Phantom Limb, a mid-career retrospective encompassing his range of sculpture and video works on view at the Mori Art Museum, in Tokyo. It is a formal analog to Rist’s Liberty Statue in several ways.

Inferno consists of an octagonal interior space made of tall rectangular screens with a mirrored floor and ceiling. Projectors are positioned on the outside, showing synchronized footage of a high-contrast, extreme close-up of water droplets cascading in a dark space. The sound element is a long rumbling crescendo, a processed chorus of wordless human voice that is cinematic, reverberating, and grandiose.

The space reiterates many of Liberty Statue’s elements—the participatory element of entering an enveloping space, the extreme attention to the textural character of the video subject, the use of mirrors to expand the video presence and enhance visual symmetry, the related but not direct sequential linking of sound to image, even the physical size of the installation enclosure.

One major difference between the two pieces is the way Odani manipulates the pace and temporal direction of the video using slow motion and reversed footage. The effect inside the piece disrupts the logic of gravity. At the points where the screens meet each other and the mirrors, the symmetrical motion of the water implies points in empty space where matter is created and destroyed. By demonstrating his mastery over video, he creates an environment in which he appears to have control over time, space, and matter. Viewers are marooned, apparently levitating in an infinite tunnel of mirrored primordial images. Though water is a familiar, banal material, the motion, scale, and noise of Inferno transform it into something alien and sublime.

Another difference is the attitude with which each piece addresses its audience. Rist’s video, placed above and reflected slightly below the viewer, indirectly suggests that we should pay more attention to things we may normally overlook. Odani’s video, surrounding the viewer, eliminates all distractions and directs attention to his own technical mastery while reminding us all of our relative physical smallness and vulnerability. Both pieces, however, create gorgeous sensorial worlds unto themselves.


Special feature: Pipilotti Rist is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, in Tokyo, through May 8, 2011. Phantom Limb is on view at the Mori Art Museum, in Tokyo, through February 27, 2011.



1. Motohiko Odani is alternately referenced with his surname listed first, as Odani Motohiko.

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