Summer Guests Pipilotti Rist: Close my dress, thank you at Langmatt Museum Baden

Swiss film and video artist Pipilotti Rist has designed a kaleidoscope of colours and poetic surprises for the 20th anniversary of the Langmatt Museum: the artist focuses on the hidden life at Villa Langmatt, built in 1900-01 by Karl Moser. She directs our attention to the now-forgotten parallel universe of the servants and creates coherent counterworlds to the pictures of the French Impressionists. Open through November 15, 2010.

Villa Langmatt, home of industrialist and collector family Sidney and Jenny Brown-Sulzer and their three sons, Sidney, John and Harry, was at the same time workplace and residence for a number of employees who looked after the household and took care of the buildings and gardens. Pipilotti Rist is interested in this fundamental aspect of the daily life of an upper-middle-class family, which rarely comes to light in our perception of “history”, and yet was so important for self-image in society.

Fascinated by the overlaps between life and art, Pipilotti Rist and her adorable team have often worked with formerly inhabited places (most recently in 2009 at Werdenberg Castle). In contrast to the situation in an association-free white cube, such exhibition spaces are closer to life for this artist. Hence, she seized the opportunity to set up the museum of Impressionism and lifestyle: “Villa Langmatt is a collection space that is full of life and whose history is noticeable.”

“Summer Guest”, the exhibition series started in 2006 by Rudolf Velhagen, allowed her several months of “decelerated” working time to deal with the historical substance of the Langmatt museum with particular intensity.

In the permanent collection of the Langmatt Museum, Pipilotti Rist sends visitors on a journey of discovery in darkened rooms to the ‘familiar’ masterpieces of the Impressionists. Carefully composed coloured lighting makes for a perceptible maelstrom of the senses on the tour, culminating in a large-scale mirror installation in the gallery. Video pieces created for Langmatt Museum produce objects and images as if by magic. Art becomes the image carrier, questioning the interdependencies and hierarchies of various art genres.

The artist has brought to light a Renoir nude, not shown in the permanent collection, because she was moved by the self-sufficiency and unrestrained physicality of the sitter – for her, the naked body is a fundamental and philosophical picture.

In the upper rooms of the museum Pipilotti Rist presents “splinter planets” of the universe she has created on the ground floor and refers to other aspects: objects from the “White Collection”, produced by the artist in the mid-80s, are piled up in front of a window. The cheap plastic objects look like seductive crystals in the back light. With this installation, Rist points out that aesthetic categories that opine over what is valuable and what is worthless, are ultimately a purely societal convention.

With a lounge to relax and read, the artist emphasises, finally, that, for her, beauty and aesthetics have the central task of calming the viewer: “I see Villa Langmatt as a haven for the Brown family, and now Villa Langmatt is a haven for the community. Incidentally, this corresponds with my belief in art. Art is contemplation for me.”

Close my dress, thank you
Physicality plays a special role in the artist’s work. The exhibition title, Close my dress, thank you, points to the extreme closeness between master and servants, and the constant physical contact through serving, often tender hands. A closeness that, according to Pipilotti Rist, that only strict social hierarchy made bearable to either side involved.

The artist and her team discovered themes and issues through an intensively playful interaction with the location. In the footsteps of the servants at Villa Langmatt she drew close to the “silent witnesses” in the sense of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s (The Black Swan; Allen Lane, UK, and Random House, US; 2007). By dedicating herself to the subject of these seemingly countless helping hands, whose service made the upper-class life of the Brown family at all possible, Rist restores to the house previously hidden historical meaning. The theme also refers to the present, since the indoor and outdoor employees of the museum still use many of the former tricks of the trade in the day-to-day life of the museum. As the artist emphasises, non-specialist craft activity are still seen as less valuable — think of daily housework. It is a political, gender-political debate, as to what is worth how much.”

The works produced for Langmatt museum seduce with life-affirming sensuality, and soothing sounds accompany the images. The installations occupy their surroundings with great vitality, provoking associations such as between the social hierarchies of the past and our present dependence on machines.

On aestheticisation, the historical subject crosses over into universal categories of human experience. Pipilotti Rist’s, “helping hands”, which we see in intimate close-up, affect the viewer and stir involuntary memories of personal experiences of being cared for.

Image: Guten morgen, Finger, streichelt die Demut!
Pipilotti Rist, Videostill, Courtesy die Künstlerin und Hauser & Wirth

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