Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage, Hayward Gallery, London
A feminist fantasist who knows how to light up a room
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Wednesday 19 October 2011
Pipilotti Rist has strung underpants lit from within, like bunting or fairylights, around the area approaching the Hayward Gallery. These are not scant lacy knickers or fashionable boxers, but big pantaloons that hug groins, hips, legs and stomachs, in every shade of white: soft, worn and rather innocent. Inside the gallery's opening space, the Swiss artist has created a chandelier from pants, which lights a room if installations in which innocence, intimacy and something more subversive – a kind of suburban malaise – plays out.
Though I can't say I love the pants chandelier, it is often a mix of erotics, innocence and subversion that is played out in Rist's film installations. We tower over a miniature suburban bungalow, set near a road with neat street lamps, like a curiously prosaic doll's house. Films are projected around the room: a passing landscape from a car onto a collection of white packaging goods stuck to the wall (the Innocent Collection); Rist on a car journey, ruminating on the failure of marriages. Perceived in this light, the little, flat-roofed house seems very fragile, as though it could be swept away, like Dorothy's house, by a tornado to a strange land.
Which is, arguably, what happens in the next space, which contains an overview of Rist's video works made from the 1980s to the present day. Though perhaps our experiences are more akin to those of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland than those of Dorothy, due to the fact that Rist is constantly attentive to scale and of creating situations in which the viewer feels as though they have shrunk or grown. In Lobe of the Lung (2009), a set of film projections in an immersive room in which one can drowsily lie on cushions, we are dwarfed by fields of gorgeous tulips, or psychedelically hued strawberries that float past in an underwater environment; we watch bare feet exploring soil and dirty puddles.
It's this approach – a coating of all subject matter in a kind of velvet sensuality that has allowed Rist's work its feminist subversiveness. Gina's Mobile, for example is a projection on to a small teardrop-shaped screen hanging from a branch depicting red glistening flesh and hair that turns out to be close-up explorations of vulvas. Works such as this and Pimple Porno (1992) seem like necessary, important counters to a more mainstream image of women's bodies in film – an exploration of looking, spying, glimpsing.
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