A sedative afternoon with Pipilotti Rist
My first exposure to Pipilotti Rist came in 2011, at her Eyeball Massage retrospective at the Hayward Gallery. I remember it as the best show I’ve seen there; immersive and psychedelic, it was an exhibition of video art unlike any I’d seen before.
Films were stacked up everywhere; installed in crevices, projected onto walls, sculptures, floors and ceilings. The overall effect was one of physical materialisation: film made tangible.
The volume of works presented leant many a sketch-like quality. Conventional moving- image is bound up by associations with the finished, high budget completeness of the movie, or conversely the base graininess of a video phone. At the Hayward, Rist seemed to present a highly refined third form.
No small part of this stemmed from her free and easy view of the audience/artwork relationship; her willingness to involve people in the image. The freeness of her presentation is what reinforced this sense of film-as-actual-physical-sketch. Whether projected onto enormously billowing fabric or peeping through tiny holes in the ground, their treatment and presentation remained democratic. Through exploring the highly formal physical distance of the usual film experience, these clips were all invested with a sense of inclusivity. They fostered a sense of attachment, a feeling of the directness of the artist’s involvement. Decisions in the edit had attached to them the same tangibility of artist’s intent as brushstrokes.
No small part of my attachment to the memory of the Hayward show comes from my own subjective experience of visiting it: hungover. The condition I was in cried out, rather pathetically, for nurturing. Rist’s show was perhaps the only exhibition of art that could have met it; I stumbled round with a sense of relief.
By coincidence I was in an almost identical condition attending Worry Will Vanish.
Hauser and Wirth are currently hosting two simultaneous exhibitions by Rist, at their Saville Row gallery and also at their new space in Somerset, where the artist has been in residence for a year.
The Saville Row show sees the huge space divided, bisected by a giant black curtain. A round bench at the entrance doubles as a place to store shoes, which must be taken off in anticipation of the main event. In typical Rist style, this formal administrative necessity is used as occasion for art. An awkwardly placed projector beams out from between legs. It splashes a lush, green junglescape over a correspondingly verdant (and rather magnificent) peace-lily. The peace-lily casts its shadow over the rest of the projection against the wall.
The beam, placed low under a bench, is prone to constant interruption. Immediately, Rist brings the audience into her world, co- opting them as another prop in her display. It’s not irritating, though; it’s inclusive. The digital greenery unfolding over the natural greenery is so enticing it’s like a shampoo ad, but the music coming through the curtain is too strong a pull to ignore.
The removal of shoes thing, is, again, a potential irritation. It’s a considered decision, though; everything here is designed to soothe. To distance the audience from a sense of connection to the outside world, and to transport them into a place of calm.
In the viewing room, duvets are scattered across the floor. The film is beamed onto two walls, across a corner. The film fills ones eyeline, into the periphery. Immersion is absolute. There’s a psychedelic soundtrack, electronic chirps and squeaks coupled with a persuasively optimistic guitar part. The film unfolds, on a loop: abstract digital animation meandering across abstract forms – transparently corporeal but hard to identify – juxtaposed with more greenery. At one point the camera pans gently through a towering forest of nettles, which part as it progresses. They’ve never looked so seductive, the last place you’d want to be in a field suddenly becomes the first.
The human body appears at its most literal as a woman’s form, at one point bowling around in a state of weightlessness, at another jiggling on the spot, boobs and belly bouncing up and down.
Pipilotti Rist has, since her first art film I’m Not The Girl Who Misses Much (1986), made a habit of presenting the female form naked but desexualised – assertively resistant to more standard patriarchal representations. In Worry Will Vanish she continues in this vein: there is a joyousness and freedom to the woman’s body here. It’s a non-aggressive reclamation, deriving its impact through simplicity.
This installation is magnificently designed, and through it all shines a thread of generosity. The straightforwardness of it, even, is cause for celebration. Big ideas needn’t be complex and here Rist offers hers, to be picked up and mulled over, or ignored – it’s as rewarding as a purely aesthetic experience.
The success of this piece stems from its rejection of the typical rarefied, hyper-intellectual atmosphere of much contemporary art. It’s not that it doesn’t engage – with the audience, with gender politics, with questions of the viewer’s relationship to it – it’s that it in no way demands: the audience’s trust, the benefit of the doubt. It earns these things which, really, is the way it should be.
Rist has carved out a space in the buzzing nightmare of London’s west end in which quiet reflection, passive absorption, or deep critical engagement are all facilitated, encouraged and nurtured. Incidentally, it makes for a great hangover cure.
Worry Will Vanish runs at Hauser & Wirth London until 10 January 2015. Stay Stamina Stay runs at Hauser & Wirth London until 22 February