‘Eyeball Massage’ by Pipilotti Rist at the Hayward Gallery certainly lives up to its name and is pure delight. A feast for the senses.
The Swiss artist (who, as a teenager, changed her name from Elisabeth, inspired by Pippi Longstocking) is one of the pioneers of video art. Her videos are everywhere – placed inside open handbags and shells, on a chair projected into people’s laps, in the leaves of a giant lettuce or inserted into the floor. There is even one in the ladies’ toilet (on the floor). Enter into Rist’s world.
“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,” she says.
Rist has compared video installations to a handbag, because “there is room in them for everything: painting, technology, language, music, movement, flowing pictures, poetry, commotion, premonitions of death, sex and friendliness.”
The works range from big installations like ‘Lobe of the Lung,’ which is projected onto three huge wall-sized screens, to a tiny screen on the floor, ‘Selfless in the Bath of Lava’ which is easy to miss. A woman cries out for help in different languages: “I am a worm and you, you are a flower. You would have done everything better. Help me. Forgive me.”
People seemed to love the show, lounging on cushions fashioned from clothes which looked oddly dismembered (I overheard a young woman saying “I find this a bit unnerving”) in an installation entitled ‘Administrating Eternity’ (pictured) that was created especially for the Hayward exhibition. Rist describes it as a “forest of light,” with projected images floating across gauze partitions.
Others were chilling to a soothing soundtrack in the Lobe of the Lung space. This video features fields of red tulips, apples, lots of nature and the artist herself, walking through puddles and discarded fruit or bleeding underwater. It’s a truly immersive experience, filmed in super-saturated colours with red dominating.
Rist uses her body to explore things like sex, birth, menstruation, childhood, our relationship to nature, etc in a playful way. But she doesn’t take anything too seriously – she says her declared aim is to create “places of comfort for parched minds”.
For me, the highlight was ‘I’m not the girl who misses much’ – a line from the Beatles song ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ that the scantily clad artist chants over and over again while she dances. Both the sound and the visuals are distorted and viewers are made to pop their heads through holes in a wooden panel to enter a self-contained viewing space. Seeing the other disembodied heads emerge and peer at the screen made us all smile. The whole thing is frankly hilarious, and reminded me of Beckett. The five-minute film was Rist’s first video, made in 1984 when was still a student.
Clearly Rist doesn’t miss much.
Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage runs until 8 January at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank.