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18th. december 2005
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Interview: Pipilotti Rist, part 3 - On gender politics

Pipilotti Rist is known for her focus on issues of equality between the sexes, however usual as an underlying theme in her art works. In the third part of the interview with Pipilotti Rist she explains her relation to the idea of a specific feminine sensibility and gender political art.

Text: Pia Strandbygaard Frandsen
Photos: Courtesy of Pipilotti Rist

This article is the fourth in the theme about Pipilotti Rist and the third part out of 4 of the interview with the artist.

 

Related Legs (Yokohama Dandelions), 2001, audio/video installation. Video still

 

ON GENDER POLITICS

Pia: I would like to talk about you as a female artist. In my opinion there are several parallels in your work and the work of the Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila and the work of Icelandic singer Björk. These two artists are both trying in very different ways to challenge our rational perception of the world. Do you think there is something like a special female sensibility, a special feminine way of perceiving the surrounding world?

Pipilotti: No. [Laughs.]  I would say that the difference in perceiving the surrounding world between you and him [points at Jan] as persons is probably bigger than between your genders. Once I was at a festival they showed ten short films, where the title and the end of the films where cut out. The audience then had to vote, whether they thought a man or a woman made the film. What I realised there was, that one couldn’t tell. But also that you look differently at the film, if you know a woman did it. For example in a film there was a cat, and because I thought a woman had made the film I looked differently at the cat, than if I would have thought a man made it.

 
Pimple Porno, 1992, video still   Extremities (smooth, smooth), 1999, audio/video installation. Video still

Pia: We have very strong ideas about gender?

Pipilotti:

Yes. Even though I would call myself a modernist, the idea of gender is layered deep inside. It came over hundreds and thousands of years and it doesn’t disappear that quickly. If someone says ‘camera’, I see a man. I find this very interesting. Where are the women in camera work? What would they like to see? As an example take my video ‘Pimpel Porno’. The title was ironic, but the main motivation was to explore what kind of erotic pictures, women would like to watch. There was this discussion about porno-no, but I am not interested in saying what is wrong or not. I am more interested in finding alternative, emotional and another kind of erotic feeling, and in exploring what is our fetish. Take as an example erotic fetish. Most fetishes aimed at women in a way come from the homosexual world. The working man, the leather biker or the sailor. I wonder whether we as women want them, or whether we need them. Are we not visually capable, or is it just that too little women have a camera in their hands? These are just questions I have. I think in reality woman are already much wilder or behave more freely compared to the masses of pictures, which is proposed in TV or film. It is lacking behind. It also has to do with the fact that women are less fanatically. I only know fanatic men, who are fanatically collecting records for example. That is for me a very erotic symbol – I like men, who collect music. I don’t know many women, who do something fanatically, and to do film or installations you have to be a little bit macho. Women are trained to think ‘Oh, that’s not so important’ and always keep the overview. But in order to complete installations like Ahtila does or the records Björk do you have to be a little bit ‘macho focused’.

Pia: At the moment you are living in Switzerland, where you were born. In Denmark some would say this is a very conservative country, where women did not have the right to vote until 1972. Do you have a wish to influence or to change aspects of society – in particular with regard to gender?

 

I'm Not The Girl Who Misses Much, 1986, video still

  The Honour Of Pipi Flushes, 2000 and The Help, 2004, Inkjet-print

Pipilotti: Yes, I have an agenda in this way, but not only in regard to the woman thing, also with regard to how I vote and my wishes for the human being. Gender is just one part of it. Society today is very segregated. In my private life I don’t have to be a feminist, because all the men I am working with and all the women are nice people, but if you watch it in a broader perspective, there is still a lot to do with equal salary etc. There are a difference between countries as Switzerland and Denmark; you can see it in the demography patterns. At the moment Italy has the lowest birth rate. A lot of women don’t want to have kids, because they want to have their own profession. They are in a way ahead and they don’t want to fall back to the macho choice of men. Iceland has the highest birth rate, and it is my theory that is due to the fact that the men there are saying ‘yes, I will take my half, we will do it together’. I got a very modern one man. He really makes even more than half with our kids! [Laughs] Maybe through my way of living I can contribute to that. But in general I want to give hope through my work.

Pia: So you are not political in the way that you have actual political statements. Instead you want so show alternatives?

Pipilotti: Yes. My political ideas are influencing me, but it is not the centre of my expression. When I am talking about pain and suffering it is not the centre. Instead it is hanging around in the corners or is often my motivation to work. Of course there are artists, who put pain in the centre, who do good works, but I choose not to do that. It is the same with the feminist questions. They influence my work, but they are not my main subjects. When I have women in my videos, a woman is not only a symbol for woman. It’s a figure for the human being. If you take the Leonardo Da Vinci power man you would think it is a symbol for the human being, but if we make it a woman it suddenly is a symbol solely for women. That’s also one of the prejudices. And if I broaden the possibility for actions for women, they also broaden for men.
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