Review – Pipilotti Rist’s new exhibition at Hayward, ‘Eyeball Massage’, is an aptly named sight for sore eyes. This major survey show, the first of its kind in the UK, presents the Swiss pioneer of video art in all her glory, bringing together over 30 different works – from her early single-channel videos of the mid 1980s, through her expansion into sculpture and ‘architecture’, to her present-day immersive installations. It furthermore includes a significant new piece – Administering Eternity –, a ‘forest of light’, a maze of video and hanging veils, created especially for the Hayward exhibition, and taking up the entire upper floor of the gallery.
The word ‘immersive’, a term often used in relation to Rist’s work, is, in this instance, simply inadequate: rather, the viewer is positively drowned in her art, every inch of the Hayward drenched in animate super-hyped colour. Her work, becoming part of the architecture (with floating fabric partitions-come-screens cutting up the space, and even the staircases covered in Ristian wallpaper), is the artistic equivalent to ‘total war’ – attacking the senses on all fronts and compelling you to succumb.
This exhibition is an overwhelming blend of the psychedelic with the psychotic, replete with an opium den-stlye chill zone centrepiece, surrounded by a three-screen video depicting lava lamp-ish globules, apple-green strawberries, orange skies, purple-blue trees, and the naked figure of the artist herself, grubbing up apples like a pig, or wading through a sea of menstrual blood. The body is ever-present, whether it is the surveillance cameras scanning down Rist’s body, and into her jewel-stuffed crevices, or the in-depth video exploration of her vulva, named ‘Gina’s mobile’ – pun very much intended. Though such enforced intimacy – an abstracting force –, we are encouraged to see this physical entity ‘free of cultural and social taboos’, to comprehend it anew, either as a landscape, or as ‘a lump of whizzing atoms’.
The pleasure here is also in the detail. Hidden within the all-engulfing video-light installations, are micro points of focus – tiny works that are ‘discovered’ rather than simply looked upon. There are, for example, the petite monitors hidden in the handbags presented on velveteen poof-pedestals, with abysmally-sung show tunes quietly leaking from their folds; or the coin-sized hole in floor (small enough, certainly, to be missed) exposing the artist engulfed in flames, presumably in Hell, reaching up, pleading ‘Ayudame!’ – Help Me!
‘When I close my eyes, my imagination roams free’, Rist explains. Her talent lies in the ability to translate those visions into external physical space to be experienced externally by the viewer. In the words of Stephanie Rosenthal, chief curator, Rist, ‘in her respectful, generous way …, embraces the gallery visitor, and invites them into her world’: this is done so expertly, in fact, that the show simulates the experience of a rather severe (and somewhat scary) trip.
The artist wants this exhibition to provoke feelings of energy, serenity and enlightenment, and hopes that her work makes visitors smile: it does all those things, such reactions tinged only ever so slightly with a faint note of hysteria.
Words/ Photo Thomas Keane © 2011 ArtLyst