Art News & Views

Eyeball Massage: Pipilotti Rist


by Sabrina Osborne

London. While walking through dark gallery spaces, following the playful floating movements of sounds & lights, I almost stumbled on the little kid lying down and totally immersed chatting with the floor. On close inspection, I found a small hole in carpet with a video projection of a female floating in burning lava, screaming for help and introducing herself as a worm. Kneeling next to the kid, I watched him for long, explaining to her repeatedly, how he is unable to help her and trying to convince her that she was not a worm.

It has been almost two months since I visited the Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist’s much awaited first major solo exhibition at Hayward Gallery, London.

The residues of the experience have not faded.

The exhibition started when one started wondering about the giant iridescent smoked-filled bubbles that floated down outside the gallery entrance and the illuminated washing line of underpants hanging up high out side the gallery. Underpants, Rist said, are the temples of the abdomen: "This part of the body is very sacred, the site of our entrance into the world, the centre of sexual pleasure and the location of the exits of the body's garbage."

The exhibition showed some thirty works of the 49 year Swiss artist who is a pioneer of video art, acclaimed for her innovative installations. Eyeball Massage was Rist’s first major public survey show in the UK, presenting videos, sculptures and installations, spanning her career from the 1980’s to the present day. The exhibition consisted of many video sculptures creating this particularly immersive environment in the gallery.

Rist continually made the viewer’s experience waver between micro/macro, inside/outside, excluded/included and witness/witnessed. Lobe of the Lung (2009), the multiple channel video was projected on translucent floating diaphanous fabrics with a surrounding mirror wall. Laying down on floor enveloped in comforting body shaped cushions, one looked at these images of psychedelically hued, microscopically filmed close-ups of tulip fields, apples rolling in the fresh mud, both animal and human rampaging in a most primitive manner and the exploration of the human body (internal and external) as a landscape. These sensual visuals brought in a new perspective of the vital world with busts of freedom and energy, celebrating the beauty of nature and life in a provocative and seductive way.

These moving images and sounds made the viewers move, peep, lay down, sit, stand, look up and down, kneel in the specially designed floating spaces of the gallery. Videos were projected on floors, walls, furniture, ceilings, screens, on/in objects, screens and miniature house interiors. By doing so she changed their nature and imbues a sense of wonder to the most ordinary of objects, as if providing them an opportunity to tell their stories which they have contained all this time. There were tiny LCD-screens hidden inside handbags and seashells, a chandelier made of underwear and a horizontal pyramid sticking out from the wall. The very act of looking got fragmented into witnessing, spying, voyeur, gazing and glimpsing.

Rist’s visual environments place particular importance on the viewer’s physical presence. Rist comments: “When I close my eyes, my imagination roams free. In the same way I want to create spaces for video art that rethink the very nature of the medium itself. I want to discover new ways of configuring the world, both the world outside and the world within.” Stephanie Rosenthal, Chief Curator of Hayward Gallery said: “Rist’s works compel us to change our way of looking at our own and other people’s bodies, and question our relationship to nature. Her art transforms the material of our lives into sensual experience and imbues the most ordinary events or objects with a sense of wonder. In her respectful, generous way, she embraces the gallery visitor, and invites them into her world.” The hallucinatory quality was added by applying innovative filming techniques: constant looping and churning movement as experienced during dreaming, managed to place the viewer in her imagination. To watch one film, we put our heads through holes in a box shaped like a projector beam to watch her, perform a Minnie-Mouse clod-hopping dance routine singing "I'm not a girl who misses much", over and over, all speeded-up, high-pitched and frantic. The line she sang was from The Beatles' “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, towards the end John Lennon's voice came in at normal speed.

Apart from music, Rist’s main interest lies in the perceived failings and shortcomings of video. "I’m interested in feedback and generation losses, like colour noise and bleeds. In my experiments with video it becomes clear to me how these supposedly, faulty, opportune images are like the pictures in my own subconscious."

One can feel a strong sense of an all-encompassing and limitless female sexuality. The New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl has described Rist as an "evangelist of happiness". Her seriously crafted and paced works are as generous as it is dangerous. One could not disagree when she has said, we all are "permanently juicy machines".

The combination and intermeshing of nature and the human body creates this sensuous, strange and manipulated versions with applications of different media, pouring a sense of delirious, boundless metaphor. As a result this non threatening space takes viewer on quite a journey of sensual indulgence.

Pipilotti Rist’s exhibition Eyeball Massage opened at Hayward on 28th September 2011 and was on until 8th January 2012. The exhibition was curated by Dr Stephanie Rosenthal, Chief Curator, Hayward Gallery. It will tour to Kunsthalle Mannheim, from  24 March to 24 June 2012.

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