Artist Pipilotti Rist talks about her video work Hand Me Your Trust, commissioned for the M+ Facade
Hands have always been extremely interesting to me. Our brains have evolved so we can move our hands around us freely, but I am fascinated how from a perception standpoint, our brains aren’t really prepared for the two-dimensional screen. Flat images aren’t a part of our evolution, so the perception of flatness is not really engraved in our brains. We therefore devise tools such as perspective to help us overcome these limits.
I have been working with video since the days of PAL (Phase Alternating Line, a colour television broadcast standard) when the resolution was quite rough. Today, my son would say, ‘Oh, it's not sharp,’ but at the time, everyone thought it was sharp because we always supplied the missing information in our heads. Now, even as we see each other, we only take in a small part of what is visible. Our memories, feelings, and knowledge would fill in the gaps. The screen is huge, but it is only a sketch of reality.
With that in mind, it is interesting to think about how we observe something as intricate as a hand within the limited resolution of a screen. One solution is to provide only a few visual prompts and let the viewer fill in the blanks with their own imagination, so the prompts become like hints through a window.
In Hand Me Your Trust, there are different kinds of imagery. One part of the video is inspired by the millions of lights emitted from the buildings along the Hong Kong skyline. I love how our brains associate visual elements with each other until we ignore their architectural forms and transform them into something structureless. We see what looks to me like diamonds hanging in the air. In another part of the video, flowers, or ‘hand flowers’, bloom until they get cut off by the edges of the screen.
Another scene features two hands which recede into darkness and move like they are clutching to form a ball together, which is suggestive of an ‘island’ forming.
The title of the work was conceived pretty early on. Hand Me Your Trust feels like a short poem expressing the idea of trust between people. It suggests a person can always decide if they will hand over their trust to someone or if they should keep it for themselves.
When I think about how viewers may see my work, I think about what I would like to see, so I use myself as a hypothetical audience. Then I think about how children see it, for instance, or my family. But you cannot dictate what another person thinks or feels about a work and what their impressions might be, and neither should you.
I also worked with hands in a couple of my previous works. One was at the Museum Langmatt in Switzerland. It belonged to the industrialist Brown-Sulzer family, who turned their villa into a museum in 1990 and invited artists to work in the space. Museum Langmatt contains the memories of its owner, but also all the people who ever worked there, all the millions of hands who made a noble life possible. I made a film for the space and used lighting only on the hands, so the rest of the room was dark. In a way, it looked like the hands were drawn out into reality. Like Hand Me Your Trust, the projection isn’t squared, which makes the work look rather ghostly.
One other work I would like to mention is Mercy Garden Retour Skin (2014) in which I filmed a farmer. I have always been interested in the tender side of masculinity, the contrast between rough and gentle. In the video, the farmer is a strong man, but when he works with plants, he becomes subconsciously aware of his interactions and adapts his behaviour in a very implicit way.
Going back to Hand Me Your Trust, I actually filmed the hands of four different people. In the end, I only used mine and filmmaker Yasushi Kishimoto’s hands because the others were too beautiful! My own hands worked best because they already look a bit older. I’m not trained, and what I mean by that is—I didn’t want to produce a work that looked too slick, which is an advantage when making art. We don't have to sell anything, it’s not like we’re selling shampoo or cream or anything like that.
When I directed the filming, I gave tasks to the participants so they could produce different hand gestures. One was to look inviting and suggest something like, ‘Come over! Come over the water! Come in. Understand me. I'm open. I'm ready.’ This gesture becomes interesting considering how the M+ Facade is situated at the harbourfront. The word ‘hello’ supposedly has origins from the Old High German word holôn, which means to fetch, used especially to call over a ferryman so he could take you across the water. This gesture then can also be read as a form of greeting. Other gestures include orange peeling and caresses. I want to make it so that the work is super simple, not in a superficial way, but reduced so it has a clear reading, like a logotype.
One of the individuals I worked with is a dancer. She was very elegant but her movements were a bit too perfect, too trained, perhaps. She was kind of always symmetrical, but I wanted it so that when the two hands worked together, they don't look too symmetrical and practised. So sometimes I had to kill my darlings.
The filming took place in Japan and another place, but in the end, I went back to shoot in the first location in Japan. There was a tree where the leaves create little dappled shadows, which was important for me.
There are many more layers of meaning about hands that I could speak about. When we grow inside the womb, we have only one limb, which then slowly subdivides. This is a pattern encoded in our genes, and this act of creation and destruction is always revitalised through our bodies. Our hands have so much potential for creativity, but they can also be very destructive.
We see and use our hands every day, but our hands and fingerprints are unique. In general, my intention is to help us look at things we are so used to seeing or having. I want to spark these lightbulb moments when we reassess the familiar and appreciate our natural gifts.
—As told to Pauline J. Yao, Lead Curator, Visual Art and Sunny Cheung, Curator, Design and Architecture on 7 March 2023
Hand Me Your Trust is commissioned by M+ and supported by Art Basel and UBS. Image at top: Screening of Hand Me Your Trust on M+ Facade, 2023. Photo: Moving Image Studio, M+, Hong Kong