Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage

Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage. Installation view at the Hayward Gallery. Administrating Eternity (2011) Photo Linda Nylind

I’ve been a fan of Pipilotti Rist’s exuberant artwork since I first saw an exhibition of her work at FACT in Liverpool back in 2008. I think I would find it difficult not to be drawn to any artist who, as a teenager, renamed herself Pipilotti in honour of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking; but more than that, there’s something distinctive and very charming about the dizzy, colourful, visceral and provocative world that Rist’s artwork brings to life.

Given this, I was excited to see Rist’s new solo exhibition at the Hayward Gallery – the playfully-named Eyeball Massage – on Friday night, a treat at the end of a long and stressful week. This show brings together over 30 works from the mid-1980s to the present day, including some which have been created specially for the Hayward.

This is an exhibition which is always unexpected. Before we even enter the gallery, we are greeted outside by drifts of smoky bubbles and strings of illuminated underpants, like unlikely bunting crossed with a washing line; inside, a video installation is secreted in a cubicle in the ladies’ toilets. Meanwhile, in the galleries themselves we are invited to lounge on semi-sinister cushions in the shape of headless bodies, and watch sensuous, dreamy projected images rippling over a labyrinth of gauzy curtains. Like Alice in Wonderland, we are repatedly confused by shifting perspectives: in Mutaflor the artist's immense mouth seems to swallow the viewer whole; but a moment later in Selfless in a Bath of Lava we peer through a tiny hole in the floor to glimpse her in miniature, naked and surrounded by molten lava, shouting messages to us.

Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage. Installation view at the Hayward Gallery. Photo Linda Nylind. Selfless In The Bath of Lava (1994)

Physicality is hugely important throughout this exhibition: the human body is celebrated everywhere, from Blood Room, a ‘visual poem’ in praise of menstruation to Digesting Impressions which takes us on an endoscopic journey through the oesopaghus, stomach and intestines. We as viewers have to engage physically with the works on display, from poking our heads through the viewing holes of A Peek into the West – A Look into the East (or E-W) to allowing our own lap to become the screen for a video projection in Lap Lamp.

Perhaps because my expectations were so high, Eyeball Massage didn’t quite deliver everything I wanted it to. Some of the works in the show, like Your-Space-Capsule and Ever Is Over All I had seen before, and others, like Yoghurt on Skin – Velvet on TV in which tiny LCD screens are hidden inside handbags and seashells, didn’t grab me as much as I might have expected. However, much of this show was all that I have come to expect from Rist’s work – a fizzy blend of hypnotic, uplifting, unsettling and invigorating.

Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage. Installation view at the Hayward Gallery. Administrating Eternity (2011) Photo Linda Nylind

The New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl has described Rist as an ‘evangelist of happiness’ and interestingly, Adrian Searle (who in my review of the FACT show I cite as criticising Rist’s work as ‘mak[ing] me feel as if I'm stuck inside a vegan, possibly even fructarian, new-age indoctrination video’) has apparently been converted too, stating in his review of Eyeball Massage: ‘You have to be a miserabalist… not to take pleasure in Rist's warm baths of light and nature, her sunny fertile fields and underwater rebirthings, her gleeful swooning mischievousness.’ It’s this, ultimately, that makes this exhibition a delight – the sheer joyfulness of Rist's work.

Eyeball Massage is at the Hayward Gallery until 8 January. Take a look at an interview with Rist about the show, below:


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