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:

Museum of Everything Exhibition #4 at Selfridges

If you've been following this blog for a while, you'll know that I'm a big fan of the Museum of Everything, which describes itself as Britain's only museum dedicated to outsider art. Two of their past exhibitions have been presented in a ramshackle building in Primrose Hill, and the unapologetically handmade aesthetic, combined with an exuberantly chaotic presentation of work have combined to create a pleasingly off-the-wall atmosphere. 

The latest offering from the Museum of Everything, Exhibition #4 is somewhat different. This time the museum has popped up in Selfridge's, one of London's largest and most famous department stores, where it has transformed the Ultralounge area into an exhibition space filled with over 400 drawings, paintings and sculptures from international studios for contemporary self-taught artists with learning and other disabilities. The Oxford Street windows of the store have also been transformed into a series of installations, showcasing the work of some of the artists in the exhibition.

I was looking forward to seeing this latest show when I went along last Sunday, but all the same I wasn't quite sure what to expect from an exhibition of marginalised artists in such an overtly commercial setting.  Arriving a little early, I found myself waiting outside the doors on bustling Oxford Street along with hordes of eager shoppers, many of whom were obviously intrigued by the eye-catching window installations. At last the doors opened, and I went down to the basement, passing on my way a whole area dedicated to Christmas decorations, shimmering with tinsel and tree decorations, and already blasting out 'All I Want for Christmas is You', which set the stage for a slightly surreal experience.

In many ways, the exhibition proved to be much of what I've come to expect from the Museum of Everything. The show is well thought through, with some challenging and intriguing work, and maintains its usual quirky homespun charm, although perhaps it loses a little something away from the kooky atmosphere of its Primrose Hill home. I especially enjoyed Erica Punzel's multicoloured abstract images, Leonard Fink's dense monochrone maps, Mary Ogunleye's garlands of rainbow-coloured particles and Kenya Haley's drawings of cupcakes and ice-creams. I was also interested to see a whole host of works exploring text in various ways, from Nicroe Kittaka's images made up of signs, letters and ideograms, to Kunzo Matsumo's lists, letters and diaries, and Harald Stoffer's amazing letter-based drawings, raising some interesting questions about the relationship between creative writing and visual art. So far, so good.

After a good rummage around the exhibition, I headed up to the Shop of Everything on the ground floor (delayed en route by an optimistic salesman intent on demonstrating handwarmers, in spite of the fact that it was probably one of the hottest days of the year), which is another new development for this show. Although there have been bags, badges and a few other  items of branded merchandise for sale at their shows in the past, this is a much more wholesale affair, packed with everything from postcards to prints to Oyster card holders to crayons to designer t-shirts and other clothing produced in collaboration with the likes of Clements Ribero. The items themselves are lovely, and I'm the first to recognise that arts organisations need to find practical ways to generate income to support what they do, yet I have to admit that this proliferation of branded goods left me feeling slightly uneasy.

I don't think there's any good reason why art shouldn't be exhibited in a shop, and I can't help admiring the sheer panache and ambition of the Museum of Everything in brokering a collaboration on this scale with Selfridges, probably the most prestigious name in retail in the UK. Yet somehow all this seems to change the Museum from something distinctive and idiosyncratic to another slick, clever branding exercise, which makes it feel suddenly much more like the other big name galleries we encounter in the art world. What made the original Museum of Everything exhibition so special was how out of the ordinary it felt: remote, secret, magical, like stepping into a colourful, uncomfortable otherworld. Encountering it on Oxford Street somehow just isn't the same.

Yet somehow I still can't quite make up my mind about Exhibition #4. In some ways, I admire how the Museum of Everything is apparently breaking all its own rules to reach new audiences and to grab the attention of all kinds of people who might never usually think about visiting an exhibition like this. But in part I also have a certain sympathy with Adrian Searle, who writing in the Guardian, suggests that the setting is 'inappropriate' and that such challenging artworks might require more than an idle visit in between trips to the Clinique counter. But on the other hand, is chaotic Oxford Street absolutely the appropriate place - in some ways the perfect setting for these bold, spiky, attention-grabbing artworks? It certainly offers a fantastic opportunity to get the voices of these often unheard artists out there into the city's public spaces. Or has the Museum of Everything simply sold out?

I don't have any answers to any of these questions, but however you choose to look at it, Exhibition #4 certainly offers its visitors plenty to think about.

Exhibition #4 is at Selfridge's until 25 October 2011. Find out more about the Museum of Everything, visit the online shop, or see their digital exhibition.

Great new picture books

Back from Scotland and back into the swing of things! Although I'm mourning my peaceful sojourn by the sea, one advantage of being back at work is that I have the chance to catch up on some lovely new children's books. Today, to celebrate Children's Book Week (which starts tomorrow!) I thought I'd share three favourite new picture books from some of the Booktrust Best New Illustrators, who I worked with earlier in the year.

The High Street by Alice Melvin

The High Street by Alice Melvin is a beautiful new picture book from Tate Publishing. Like Alice's previous book, Counting Birds, it's notable for its high production values and delightfully old-fashioned, nostalgic feel. 

The story follows Sally, a girl heading down the High Street to look for all the items on her shopping list, from a stripy jug to yellow tulips. Readers can join Sally on her shopping trip, popping into the local sweet shop, florist and pet shops, and opening the flaps to explore exquisitely-detailed spreads showing everything that's going on inside each shop.

Children will enjoy poring over all the details in the pictures, and Alice's vintage-style aesthetic will appeal to readers of all ages, but this book is also a great tribute to the pleasures of shopping on the local high street, and the charm of independent shops.

Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson

I'm a huge fan of Katie Cleminson's illustration, but I think Otto the Book Bear may be my favourite of all her books to date. This is the tale of a lonely bear who needs a new home, but who eventually finds the perfect place to live and make lots of new friends - the public library.

Katie's distinctive, softly-coloured illustrations are
packed with character, but what I especially love about this book is how she has communicated the magic of books and of the library - as blogger LibraryMice has described it 'a place of joy but also a haven of peace and safety'. At a time when libraries are under threat from cuts, it's so important to remind everyone of why they are so special, and Katie does just that in this delightful book.

You can download a poster with an illustration from Otto the Book Bear to celebrate Children's Book Week here.

A Place to Call Home by Alexis Deacon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

Viv Schwarz once again joins forces with one of the original Best New Illustrators Alexis Deacon for a great new picture book A Place Called Home.  

This is the epic story of a brave band of hamsters, lost and looking for a new home. Will they find it? Will they stay together? Will they know where they are going? This laugh-out-loud funny and charmingly illustrated story is a real treat - it's no wonder it has just been shortlisted for the 2011 Roald Dahl Funny Prize.

An exhibition of work by all ten Best New Illustrators, including Alice, Katie and Viv, is currently on display at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, and the Free Word Centre in London.

If you're interested in reading more about children's books and children's book illustration I can heartily recommend illustrator Sarah McIntyre's blog. I've been reading and enjoying Sarah's blog for a while, but I heard her give a great presentation about how she uses blogging and other online activity to complement and support her work as a children's author/illustrator at this week's Bookseller Children's Conference - fascinating and inspiring stuff!