Tuesday 24 January 2012

Evangelist of Happiness

'Evangelist of Happiness' - this phrase was used to describe Pipilotti Rist by the New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl, I saw this written in a review of her recent London show at the Hayward Gallery and couldn't think of a better or more apt description for 'Eyeball Massage' - her recently-finished show at the Hayward Gallery.

[photo by me]
The first thing you see when you go in to the exhibition is Massachusetts Chandelier -  a light-hearted start to the show and a nice way to begin.  The underwear was donated from her family and friends and in the booklet accompanying the exhibition she refers to underpants as 'the temple of our abdomen' and goes on to say 'this part of the body is very sacred, as it is the site of our entrance into the world, the centre of sexual pleasure and the location of the exits for the body's garbage'.  So straight away you get one of the main themes of the exhibition - the celebration of the human body.

My photos are, to put it bluntly, crap! However the video review at the bottom was filmed in the exhibition so watch that if you want to see more of the films.  The photo I've included here (below) is of 'I'm not the girl who misses much', made whilst Rist was a student.  It shows her singing the words of the title (a line from the Beatles song Happiness is a Warm Gun') while dancing around topless.  This was really weird as you had to stick your head up through holes in a wooden board in order to see the film - it felt like watching a peep show, but with other people as there were quite a few holes - even weirder!  Both image and sound were at varying speeds and there was a definite air of hysteria to it, but still a real element of fun as well.  There were lots of films shown on the floor, in the floor, in seashells, in handbags - so innovative!  My absolute favourite, and the one I could have spent all day in was 'Lobe of the Lung'.  This was projects on three screens, a slightly different film on each one, with lots of cushions for folk to sit and watch it on.  It was like a cocoon, with hypnotic music as well.  When we were in there were children in, dancing about and enjoying it and lots of people lying about on the cushions.  The colours in this film were totally saturated - I remember lots of shots of rotting fruit, water lillies, a girl underwater, a wild pig eating grass shown at the same time as the girl eating an apple. 

[photo by me]

In his audio review Peter Schjeldahl says “She resolves no critical problems of contemporary art. She just makes you forget that there are any”.  This isn't meant as a criticism at all as he begins by saying she is one of his favourite artists.  I don't know much about the critical problems of contemporary art but this exhibition didn't make me forget issues in contemporary art and art history which I think are important.  This show really made me think about the way that women are often portrayed in art, of the absence of women throughout the history of art (not a complete absence just a distinct lack of).  I would also say that in the positive depiction of sensuality and of the human body in all it's shapes and sizes, the theme of reconnecting us with nature, with animal instincts, makes it in a sense very political.  And, as Schjeldahl said, 'it made being a member of society seem like a great idea'.

Another description of the show, which sums up how I felt when I walked out - happy, dazed, calm, on a bit of a high, in love with the world - comes from Adrian Searle in the video shown below.  His description? 'You come out and the world feels better'. Thank you Pipilotti Rist for making my world a better place on Saturday January 7th.


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