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5th. January 2006
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Interview: Pipilotti Rist, part 4 - The Venice Biennale

Throughout the last 3 parts of the interview with Pipilotti Rist we have been asking Pipilotti about her motivations and thoughts behind her art. In this last part of the interview we are asking Pipilotti about her video installation in the San Stae Church during the Venice Biennale and what caused the Church’s authority to close down her exhibition.

Text: Pia Strandbygaard Frandsen and Jan Falk Borup
Photos: Courtesy by Pipilotti Rist

This article is the fifth in the theme about Pipilotti Rist and the forth and final part of the interview with the artist.


Homo sapiens sapiens, 2005, video/audio installation. Video still


Pia: At the Venice Biennale 2005 you installed a work in a church. However the church closed down the installation. How do you feel about this and what are your thoughts about this kind of censorship?

Pipilotti: I was very mad and sad. It shows that the conservative parts in the Catholic Church gets the most attention. The Portuguese pavilion next to the church collected more than a thousand signatures to re-open my exhibition. People came by only to give their support. So the church’s decision to close down the exhibition is only the opinion of a very small group, I think. It does not make sense to me, because I tried to speak about paradise, but without depicting them as the guilty ones. The church, all the fundamentalist religions always try to separate the brain and the body. It is a way to control people, to say you’re dirty, you’re guilty. This always has to do with the body. I see it like this; they don’t like the picture of the undivided human.

View from the San Stae church, Venice   Custum made madrasses for the audiance to lay on

Jan: I saw your work at the Biennale. The context is a catholic church, and your version of paradise is definitely not very catholic. In the video there is two women, sisters, behaving in a very intimate way, and the only representation of a male, I saw, was two fruits being squashed. For me your video seems to be a political move against the Catholic Church, which is well known for it’s repressive attitude towards the female sexuality. Was it a political motivated work?

Pipilotti: I would say so but not in a loud way.

Jan: Was it a site-specific work?

Pipilotti: Super site-specific. I made it especially for this place. It should be subversive in a very subtle way, to challenge our deeper prejudices. These religious pictures are influencing us a great deal and I tried in a very subtle way to change them a bit. We can write a lot of feminist statements, but my method works in a more delicate way.

Video stills from Homo sapiens sapiens    

Jan: When I left your exhibition, my main focus was not your video. Instead it was the church as an institution and I thought that this might also be your agenda - to make me think about the context and not just about your work?

Pipilotti: Yes I didn’t want to place a separate work in the church. I wanted it to melt together with the church architecture, where the ceiling is the symbol also for heaven. The church is a heavy statement, the architecture and the picture of the human being.

Jan: I am not sure how it is in Switzerland, but in Denmark you can go into some of the very old, medieval churches and see paintings in the ceilings depicting scenes from heaven and hell. So for me this was also a big reference. I saw this very much as art made for a church. As if you were a new Michelangelo...

Pipilotti: [Laughs] I would not go that far.

Installation views from the church's ceiling    
Webdesign: Jan Falk Borup