Pipilotti Rist - Lobe of the Lung, 2009. Photo: Ernst Moritz
Pipilotti Rist first came to my attention as part of the Walking in My Mind exhibition at the Hayward. For her work 'Sleeping Room' disembodied organs were projected onto the surfaces of a room while a soothing soundtrack played. The highbrow was delightfully undercut by the fact that a man standing deep in thought was unaware of a penis projected onto the back of his suit.
That work isn't included in this particular exhibition of the Swiss artist's work, but it serves to illustrate that throughout the serious and more complex readings of her work, there's a current of humour and playfulness.
Eyeball Massage offers Rist her first UK survey and presents a mixture of sculpture, video and immersive experience with over 30 works spread across three rooms and several unexpected satellite spaces including the ladies toilets.
Rist's work centres on the human body which she treats as a landscape. Cameras pass over wrinkles and folds, internal and external spaces, and nipples and feet without appearing to make any particular judgement or distinction. The gallery visitor's body is no exception and is integrated into the works and spaces seamlessly whether by having a video projected onto your lap (Lap Lamp, 2006), being seated within the space between projection screens and mirrors (Lobe of the Lung, 2009) or casting shadows and creating new surfaces by exploring the general gallery space.
One of the highlights is the third room which is entirely devoted to new work, Administrating Eternity. The curious title stems from a mistranslation of 'generosity' from Japanese script. Rist explains that the near-nonsense phrase refers to that moment of realisation that our current existence is the result of such an improbable chain of events and experiences: "It's that feeling that it's almost unbelievable that we live."
Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage - Administrating Eternity, 2011. Photo: Linda Nylind
The room itself consists of video projections which light upon a forest of hanging drapes and wandering visitors while a soothing lullaby version of the communist anthem, The Internationale. The floor is scattered with anthropomorphic cushions fashioned from stuffed items of clothing - headless jumpers and footless jeans which call to mind Sarah Lucas' bunnies made from pairs of stuffed tights.
"Do you think it's a good space for children?" asks the artist.
I think it's a space that will benefit from children. Often adults creep around the edges of art installations, wondering whether an errant step will see them rugby tackled by over-zealous gallery attendants. Children dive in, poking things, picking things up, sitting on things and thus accidentally signalling to adults that it's okay to join in. Whether the parents are up to answering any resultant questions about anuses (Mutaflor, 1996), nipples (Lobe of the Lung and others) and sexuality involving Astroturf underwear (The Little Circle, 1993) is a different matter.
Is the artist worried about the effects of these adventurous children - all those little hands tugging at the drapes? "No. They're only fixed with velcro so we can always rehang them," she says before adding that the attendants have been told to be less stern with this exhibition. If they tell a visitor, "No" they're also supposed to offer a positive alternative.
It's this gentle positivity that infuses the work. The exhibition notes add that Pipilotti Rist aims to create 'places of comfort for parched minds' and that's a good way to describe the exhibition as a whole. Eyeball Massage offers a relaxing space in which to explore interesting (and sometimes uncomfortable) ideas, or simply to let the installations wash over you.
Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage, 28 Sept 2011 - 8 Jan 2012, Hayward Gallery