Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage @ Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

The first major retrospective in the UK by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist titled ‘Eyeball Massage’ showcases videos, sculptures and installations, bringing together over 30 works that the artist produced from the start of her career in the 1980s to today.

A massive chandelier (‘Massachusetts Chandelier’, 2010) made of women’s underwear welcomes visitors as they enter the exhibition. In immediate proximity Rist appears on a small screen driving a car; we listen to her monologue philosophising about families and relationships (‘Suburb Brain’, 1999). “Should one end the relationship at its best?” she wonders. In front of the screen we see a model of a perfect suburban house probably similar to the one she grew up. On the opposite wall a gigantic wallpaper installation (‘The Innocent Collection’, 2001) exposes objects of everyday life, household apparatus and personal items. All these are dressed in a coat of psychedelic lighting creating an oneiric and simultaneously melancholic environment; this is Pipilotti’s personal environment.

A labyrinth of transluscent curtains, with projected images on their fluid surfaces opens up soon after we leave the chandelier area. Everywhere one turns there is a sense of limitless metaphor. Images of nature and nudity are omnipresent. In video triptych, ‘Lobe of the Lung’, 2009 the viewer is invited to explore a world full of aggression, nudity, blood topped up with vulgar animal instincts. Much of the show feels like entering into the artist’s dreams or a never ending hallucinating vision. As we wander around a series of dark rooms, miniature video screens provide surreal environments within unexpected micro loci such as handbags, seashells (‘Yoghurt On Skin – Velvet ON TV’, 2009) and even in a baby’s cot (‘The Little Circle’, 1993 and ‘Pimple Porno’, 1992). Each video is a statement; it is awaiting to be discovered and explored.

The ‘Selfless In The Bath Of Lava’ (1994) video is wittingly placed through a tiny hole in the floor. We see a naked Rist surrounded by burning lava, screaming intensely from a distant world (probably her own personal hell): “I am a worm”, “You are a flower”. Throughout the show, Rist invents controversial ways to position us within her imagination and her very own surreal idiosyncrasy. To watch another of her films one must place their head through holes in a box shaped like a pyramid emerging from the wall (‘A Peak Into The West – A Look Into The West’, 1992/2011). There she hysterically sings “I’m not a girl who misses much”, a borrowed line from The Beatles’ song ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’.

Rist consistently reinvents and painstakingly explores the art of installation, by always presenting her films in an imaginative as well as ambiguous mannerism. Associated with the Feminist art movement, she explores the visual presentation of the female body and its crude relationship with the camera. She often makes the naked body a central preoccupation although this nakedness strangely does not shock or provoke. Her visual language is a delight to the eye, the endless surreal environs scattered around the gallery space are almost soothing. The never ending imagery is analogous to a subconscious state that emerges in a dreamlike situation. Locked emotions and fears are soon to be freed and reach the surface.
|Kostas Prapoglou