• Eyeball Massage

During a brief trip to London last week, I was persuaded to go to see an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.  I say ‘persuaded’ because the advance publicity for this exhibition of video work by the Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist hadn’t really lit my fire.  It turned out to be fascinating, funny and moving.  Part of the fun was watching the reactions and movement of other visitors.

There were the ‘lie down and absorb’ sections, the better of which was ‘Administrating Eternity’ (2011), where two different videos were projected onto and through series of see-through veils hanging from the ceiling.  Visitors were encouraged to lie on the floor, resting on cushions shaped like torsos or snuggling their heads in the crotch of a pair of stuffed legs.  Atmospheric music (that sounds awful, but it worked) supported the ‘eyeball massage’ of the exhibition’s title.  Viewing the images from the sides and from behind brought ever new perspectives.  It was unexpectedly impressive.  A still image gives only a glimpse of its qualities.

It’s hard to describe ‘A Peak into The West …’ (1992/2011) and its video ‘I’m Not The Girl Who Misses Much’ (1986). The former is a huge elongated horizontal pyramid made of wood which sticks, point out, into the room.  In its underside are cut several football-sized holes and visitors can’t resist crouching down to pop their heads up into the interior space.  This act itself is performance art for those standing nearby.  What you see inside is the somewhat manic video ‘I’m Not The Girl …’, where Rist dances half naked, singing the title, which is based on The Beatles’ Happiness is a Warm Gun.  All components – image, sound, colour – are distorted, rather like the actions and posture of the viewers, who giggle uncontrollably at seeing just fellow heads poking up through the floor of the pyramid.

Another viewer contortion is inevitable if you’re to see the tiniest video, ‘Selfless In The Bath Of Lava’ (1994).  Blink and you miss it unless you hear the sound coming from beneath your feet.  Inset in the floor is a video window barely bigger than a £2 coin.  If you get down on your hands and knees, you can see a woman writhing in red-hot lava, asking for forgiveness in four different languages (English, French, German and Italian): ‘I am a worm and you, you are a flower.  You would have done everything better.  Help me.  Forgive me.’  Somehow, Rist persuaded me that I was looking at something real, crying out from one of Dante’s circles of hell far below.

Among the other exhibits, I particularly liked the miniature models with in-built videos, like ‘Your Space-Capsule’ (2006), or not-so-miniature objects such ‘The Little Circle’ (1993), with its video ‘Pimple Porno’ (1992), where images of sexual activity are viewed inside a giant red model of a virus sitting inside a baby’s cot.  Some of the items are more modest, but equally telling, like ‘Sparking Of the Domesticated Synapses’ (2010), with its video – projected from inside a watering can onto a vase – of a woman’s hands working with flowers.

The exhibition continues until 8 January 2012.

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