New Criticals

Rist's video creates an image of a soft womanly world while wielding an unabashedly, violently, phallic weapon. It not just that the long-stem of the flower is phallic, but that the flower itself is specific: A Redhot Poker, which bears an uncanny resemblance to an erect penis. The final few minutes of the piece show a garden filled with entire Redhot Poker plants, swaying. At first they stand upright, then, through a turning of the camera, become limp and, deflated, turn downward.  

The choice of cars, too, is relevant. Cars and flowers easily represent proxies for masculine and feminine, hard and soft, technology and nature. Writing in 2008, art critic Graham Coulter-Smith explained “Cars are machines in contrast to flowers which map onto nature to provide a rather stereotypical ideological association of women with nature and men with machines.”  The same can be said of the medium that Rist is using (video) and the use of the "high-tech" in installation work. Rist herself has spoken directly about the fact that video is a medium that requires measurement, specificity, mechanization, precision and technique, but she claims it as a way of expressing what appears to be alinear, murky, blended forms and ideas.

Early in the film, a woman police officer saunters slowly past her, smiles and nods approvingly.  Rist beams at the officer then destroys another glass window. The soundtrack is a soft drumbeat, punctuated periodically by the loud rumble of falling glass. It is a mixture of romance, destruction, urban fantasy, psychological inventiveness and artistic statement presented in what was, at the time, an exploding new medium.

The video’s whimsy and lushness, along with Rist's unabashed exuberance, are hypnotic.  Here was a powerful feminine woman, casually using a male symbol to destroy artifacts of men’s mastery over nature. It was a witty, even flirtatious, commentary on gender, state and socially sanctioned violence. Three generations —a man, a child, and an old woman— walk by and around her, without intervening, as she moves from car to car.  The police officer, very notably a woman, too, not only allows her to wreak this violence but also happily salutes her brutal destruction of her environment. It is a striking artistic and feminist statement about masculine institutional power. 

Rist leaves no detail untouched. In bright red shoes and pretty dangly earrings, she wears a flowing, feminine blue dress that softly and slowly wraps itself around her legs.  She is, in point of fact, dressed like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and her shoes similarly evoke Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Red Shoes – both stories of girls who imagine themselves outside of the confines of their prescribed roles, one more successfully than the other.  Art critics, debate the references.