Swiss artist restores paradise at the Biennale

Excerpt from Pipilotti Rist's "Homo sapiens sapiens". Federal Culture Office

By choosing Pipilotti Rist as its main representative at the 51st Biennale in Venice, Switzerland is staking its reputation on an original and gifted star.

This content was published on June 1, 2005 - 10:33

In her video installation, the internationally renowned artist conjures up a world without Adam and Eve’s original sin.

One of the world’s top contemporary visual-arts events, the Biennale opened to the public last weekend and runs until November 6.

Housed in the baroque church San Stae on the Grand Canal, Rist’s exhibition features the church itself as an organic part of her art.

Entitled Homo sapiens sapiens, Rist’s video is projected onto San Stae’s ceiling. Its backdrop of saints, martyrs, and cherubs underscores the otherworldly feel of her vision of paradise.

Viewers can literally lie down on the "leaves" of an oversize tree to see it.

The church is darkened, a musical score plays, and film sequences of a lush paradise unfold.

"You look up and relax. The body will be carried along by the spirit," said Rist.


Instead of Adam and Eve, Rist casts sisters Pepperminta and Amber in the roles of the first human beings.

In fact, Adam never makes an appearance. In Rist’s paradise, the two sisters are imagined as members of a tribe of redheads.

"I’m celebrating pure innocence, which is something good," explained Rist. "I don’t want to be provocative. I’d like to show how things might have been if we had not had to feel permanently guilty."

Although Rist was raised as a Protestant, she has no problems with having her installation in a Catholic church.

"I’m very much for ecumenism. As a child I toured numerous Catholic churches with my father, so the grandiloquence, pleasant odours and sensuousness of the Catholic world aren’t strange to me. I trust myself to interpret this architecture, even though I’m Protestant."

Group installation

Switzerland is also represented by a group exhibition entitled Shadows Collide with People.

Four artists - Marco Poloni, Ingrid Wildi, Gianni Motti, and Shahryar Nashat - explore the relationship between birth, language, culture, nationality and citizenship.

The four Swiss citizens are all world travellers with roots in different cultures and languages.

Documenting cultural diversity and promoting discussion of it is a worthy goal, says Stefan Banz, curator of the installation.

Banz, who is a member of the Swiss Federal Arts Commission, convinced his colleagues that responsibility for the Swiss pavilion should not fall on just one artist, as at the Biennale 2003.

"Having more artists means that everyone is supporting everyone else," said Banz. "Then it’s not that bad if everything isn’t 100 per cent successful."

Although the four artists are hardly unknowns, they are less established in the art market than Roman Signer and Urs Lüthi, who represented Switzerland at the pavilion in 1999 and 2001.

But the Federal Arts Commission is keen to support new talent.

Each of the four artists has enough space to display individual works. In the middle of the exhibition area curator Banz shows works the artists created especially for the Biennale that embody the open, colourful Switzerland that the artists represent.

"Art functions only when it conveys a picture of society," said Banz.


Key facts

The 51st Biennale in Venice runs from June 12 to November 6.
Pipilotti Rist’s video Homo sapiens sapiens is in the baroque church San Stae on the Grand Canal, which is housing the second Swiss exhibition since 1990.
The Swiss pavilion in the Giardine is hosting a group exhibition, Shadows Collide with People, featuring four artists.

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In brief

In 1895 the first Biennale for contemporary art took place in Venice.

An unexpected public success, it attracted 220,000 visitors.

Since then the art world has continued to meet at the Biennale in Venice to showcase contemporary international art.

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