immersive states

On Friday evening, we went to see the Pipilotti Rist exhibition, Eyeball Massage, at the Hayward Gallery. ‘See’ is not quite right; ‘experience’ is more accurate. And what a joyous, enriching and somehow also calming experience it was, and a wonderful transition out of – far away from – the working week. I’m worried now this is going to sound rather hippy-trippy, and you could find this aspect in the Swiss video artist’s work. On the whole, I’m not a fan of video art, but really this is too narrow a category for Rist’s art, which encompasses sculpture, installation, environment and sound, as well as her lush, flowing visuals. Her concerns include childhood, nature, the body, domesticity; the pieces are sometimes on a large scale – such as the room hung with pale, rippling curtains onto which loops of film are projected, and which you wander through as through a forest, or recline for a while on the scattered cushions made from stuffed clothing (a pair of jeans, a hand-knitted jumper – suggesting both dismembered body parts and cosy, homemade furnishings); sometimes small, delicate pieces – the beautiful conch shells and handbags, which you peer into and discover another world flickering inside, each with its own lilting, slightly distant soundtrack. Sometimes you’re not sure what you’re looking at – something red, glistening, fleshy; or bristly; skin, eyeballs, feet. And flowers – whole fields of intensely red tulips and bright yellow daffodils, vivid green stalks and leaves; and then these showy emblems of beauty are joyfully undercut – crushed, pulled apart, eaten.
My first encounter with Rist’s work was her 1997 piece, Ever Is Over All, at that year’s Venice Biennale, and it made a big impact on me. So I was thrilled to find it’s on show in the Hayward Project Space, and as subversive and uplifting as I found it the first time. To a gently rocking, infectiously whistlable tune, a young woman in a white dress and red shoes and carrying a Red Hot Poker strolls down the street, smashing car windows with her phallic flower. Flowers as weapons. None of this really captures her work. If you get the chance, go and immerse yourself in her worlds.

The following evening was my first live encounter with The Necks, described by Wikipedia as ‘an experimental jazz trio from Sydney’. Again, jazz isn’t usually my bag, but The Necks are something different, by several degrees. The two CDs we’ve got (Drive By and Silverwater) are endlessly engrossing listening. Each is an hour-long, improvised journey, and the patterning and textures that The Necks wring from the simple combination of piano, double bass and drums are astonishing. We missed the start of the first set due to – let’s call it a map malfunction, which saw us chasing around Shoreditch trying to find the Bishopsgate Institute. This turned out to be only a few doors away from the pub where we’d met fellow Necks fan, and illustrator extraordinaire, Andrew Pavitt. We had to wait then for a suitable moment to be let into the hall and creep quietly into seats at the back. Once we were in, it took me a little while to adjust to a) being late – since when did gigs start half an hour after the doors open? and b) being seated – I’d imagined the audience standing, pressing close to the stage, not seated in orderly rows. So I had to silence these jumbled, distracting thoughts, and gradually I did get drawn into the music unfolding around us. Still struggling to listen deeply without putting the experience immediately into words in my head. Close my eyes. Focus. Be in the music. Something switched; I tuned into the building intensity, a change of gear, and then a slow stripping back, lowering the temperature, coming to a hushed standstill.
The second set, following a buzzy, chatty interval, was an even more intense experience, helped no doubt by being there from the outset; the first three note theme plucked soflty on the double bass, picked up in the lower register of the piano, a scant beat tapped on the rim of a drum. The music developing from here in ever widening ripples, shuttling complexities, generating a trance-like energy that had me on the edge of my seat and all my nerves tingling. The Necks held us, for that 45 or 50 minutes, as they journeyed out on their wayward, crisscrossing tracks, finding their way back finally to the point of departure. What a privilege to be there in those moments when something new and unrepeatable is being created.
Home then with a new CD to add to our small collection – Mindset, The Necks’ latest.

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