Rist studied at the University of Applied Arts Vienna in Vienna, through 1986. She later studied video at the School of Design (Schule für Gestaltung) in Basel, Switzerland. In 1997, her work was first featured in the Venice Biennial, where she was awarded the Premio 2000 Prize. From 1988 through 1994, she was member of the music band and performance group Les Reines Prochaines. From 2002 to 2003, she was invited by Professor Paul McCarthy to teach at UCLA as a visiting faculty member. From Summer 2012 through to Summer 2013, Rist spent a sabbatical in Somerset.
Pipilotti Rist currently lives with her common law partner Balz Roth, with whom she has a son, named Himalaya.From 2005 to 2009, she worked on her first feature film, Pepperminta.