Open now at London’s Hayward Gallery is Pipilotti Rist’s first solo UK exhibition, ‘Eyeball Massage’. The provocative and sensual Swiss artist refuses to conform to the quintessentially British stiff upper lip. The show will undoubtedly rattle a few feathers, but charm, intrigue and sex appeal underpin a show that combines nipples, worms, underpants and bathing suits… just a usual Tuesday afternoon for us!
Rising to prominence in the mid-80s, Pipilotti Rist’s work soon received critical success with numerous awards from her peers. In 1997, she was awarded the Premio 2000 for Outstanding Achievement at the Venice Biennale for her most well known piece of work, ‘Ever Is Over All’ (1997). In 2005 she represented Switzerland at the 51st International Venice Biennale followed by standout shows at some of the finest art establishments worldwide, including MoMA. In 2009 she became the second artist to be awarded the Joan Mirò Prize for her wide-ranging creative activity and her outstanding contribution to the current artistic scene.
‘Eyeball Massage’ is an enduring collection of new and previously seen work that spans Rist’s career from when she bound onto the arts scene in the 80s to present day. Rist’s work is visceral, saturated, sexy and irreverent and the current show doesn’t disappoint. You can sit on body-shaped cushions made from stuffed jeans and jumpers in the mezzanine area to watch the brand new video installation, ‘Administrating Eternity’ (2011), in which a maze of draped curtains acts as the canvas for her projections: images of sheep, a man’s stubbly chin and swirls of colour diffuse into what Rist terms a ‘forest of light’.
Further enhancing the spectator/artist interaction, ‘I’m Not The Girl Who Misses Much’ (a line adapted from The Beatles’ song ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’) invites visitors to stick their head through a circular hole in a gigantic structure that projects from the wall. The video shows Rist dancing with her breasts exposed, whilst singing the title over and again, but sped up and sounding like a deranged Alvin, Simon or Theodore.
Another of the new pieces on show is ‘Highlights or Enlighted Hips’ (2011), a light sculpture that sees hundreds of glowing white underpants in a variety of sizes suspended as though on a laundry washing line outside the gallery. Friends, family and the charity Caritas donated the pants used and yes; all were cleaned before use. “Underpants”, Rist says, “are the temples of the abdomen” and they are also used as a medium for ‘Massachusetts Chandelier’ (2010), where the pants are turned into a striking object that acts as the illuminated catalyst for a further, vividly coloured video installation.
Women are often accused of being hysterical when they try to assert themselves; those with girlfriends would probably scream, “yes” as they read this, but Rist, through her playful use of hyper femininity, breaks free from all the preconceptions. In ‘Selfless In the Bath of Lava’ (1994), a small video embedded in a hole in the floor sees the artist apparently swimming naked in an incandescent lava bath and crying out in German, French, Italian, and English: “I am a worm, and you, you are a flower. You would have done everything better. Help me. Forgive me.” Towering over her tiny naked body, the viewer is put in the position of saviour. Rist says, it’s about “the urge to forgive and help yourself and others, and particularly about the severity with which we sometimes treat ourselves and punish others for our mistakes.”
Rist’s art is a supreme disenfranchised look at the hypocrisies and modesty so related with the art that’s been the staple for most of the large shows at London’s leading institutions recently. ‘Eyeball Massage’ is like a rowdy football fan chanting to exclaim the power of the female form; her sexuality, sensuality and the bodily pleasures she can have, as much as it is about being just downright silly.
‘Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage’ runs from 28 September until 8 January 2012 at the Hayward Gallery, London. For more information on the show see here.
All images are courtesy of Samantha Sweeting.