Pipilotti Rist, Eyeball Massage review by Max Liu
As our Indian summer fades, the bunting of white knickers outside the Hayward Gallery will grey until it looks so hard up against the Southbank’s brutalist architecture that it will have to be taken down. To be brief about the Massachusetts Chandelier inside: it’s a fresher, less scuzzy prospect in reality than in photographs. It’s also the least memorable part of Pipilotti Rist’s Eyeball Massage.
The exhibition’s real entry point is Suburb Brain, which combines a model of a bungalow with videos and monologue. One film evokes the ends of long days - brittle, overhanging branches, clouds against darkening sky - while another depicts a family dinner-time inside the bungalow. The scene glows with hubris, meals flame while outside the bungalow looks small, lost amongst arid acreage. Of three model trees, two stand together and one stands apart, as in a broken family. ‘I am a birch tree,’ says the monologist.
Like most of this show, Suburb Brain immerses audiences within its discontinuities and solicits personal responses. Whether what we project on to her work lies deep down or to the fronts of our minds is a question Rist inspires. Past and present, inside and out - binaries that characterise how we perceive - are juxtaposed. However, this generous, entertaining exhibition can feel breezy: surprises, such as the coin-sized film in the floor, command attention but not for long; there’s fun to be had with clever films encased in sexualised handbags but it is possible to float through Rist’s lush world of hyper-lucidity and soothing sounds. The body is the country of her art and she unites it with landscape, as in the sensuous visual poem Lobe of the Lung, where we lie on cushions, watching images overlap, lulled by a soundtrack of bodily rhythms.
It’s lovely but happiness, as John Lennon said, is a warm gun. Rist uses a refrain from that song in I’m Not The Girl Who Misses Much. The film speeds, slows, blackens and lines of evisceration appear as the topless artist turns the lyric into an anxious incantation. In contrast, Lennon sounds blokey, clubbable. This is the most visceral, disturbing exhibit here.
Your Space-Capsule might be the most popular. Audiences want to touch this wooden box which contains the miniaturised bedroom of a pizza-munching, guitar-strumming, Kafka-reading yoof. We’re reminded of spaces where we’ve lived and loved, the only difference being that in YSC the moon is in the room. But perhaps it always was, a symbol, like those overhanging tree branches, of the looming, encroaching universe.
The peacefulness and fluidity of Eyeball Massage can feel womblike but outside is always waiting. I was thinking about this later when, walking down a dark street, I noticed a very glamorous, blonde-haired girl who I mistook for somebody I used to know. She flashed a shrewd, knowing, professional smile and there wasn’t a shred of warmth beneath her lipstick. ‘I’m not the girl who misses much’’ But you so are.