Pipilotti Rist is not the girl who misses much
Having started out using Super 8 film, Pipilotti Rist is one of the pioneers of video art. She made her first film in 1984, depicting herself with her breasts out repeatedly singing the line “I’m not a girl who misses much” (a reference to The Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun”) and became notorious for a sexually provocative piece called “Pimple Porno” in 1992.
But her work, which is characterised by its joyfulness, has successfully withstood the relentless onslaught of the other video and digital artists who have entered the arena in the last two decades, as her new show ,“Eyeball Massage”, which includes three decades of her work and opens at the Hayward Gallery tomorrow, reveals.
The title is appropriate for an exhibition conducted in semi-darkness which is something of a pummelling of the senses. The Swiss artist’s video installations are not your usual hushed and blackout-curtained affairs. The videos are surprisingly placed and unexpected. I peered into open handbags to discover a globe of glass reflecting a childhood memory. I sat on a chair only to have a pastoral scene projected into my lap from above. Putting my ear to a shell I didn’t hear the sea, but instead a voice saying “Ah hello, how nice it is to have an answering machine.”
Rist’s art is not designed to be a cinematic experience. Her 1984 debut (mentioned in the first paragraph and embedded, below) is screened at the Hayward within a huge shaft of wood, shaped like the beam of a projector, but with holes drilled into its underside into which visitors can pop their heads like meerkats. Trying to watch it as other disembodied heads popped up around me was hilarious.
The artist, who named herself Pipilotti as a child in tribute to Pippi Longstocking, has been claimed as feminist icon, but I think her work is actually a reminder that art needn’t be overly serious . She explores very human things like sex, menstruation, birth and childhood, but approaches them whimsically. Rist refers to her artworks as “audiovisual poems” , so when she makes a chandelier out of underpants belonging to her friends and relatives it is possible to conjecture that those poems might be more Spike Milligan than John Dunne.
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