If you’re unfamiliar with the artist Pipilotti Rist, your first encounter with her work could prove surreal: at the end of this month, to coincide with her major solo exhibition at London’s Hayward gallery, she will hang a string of 300 pairs of white underpants along the south bank of the Thames. The pants, in three sizes, will be lit from within to form a bizarre outdoor light sculpture called Hip Lights, one of two new works that Rist has created specially for the Hayward show.
“From a distance,” Rist tells me by phone from her studio in her native Switzerland, “they will look like whipped cream. Or sheep’s heads, with the legs of the pants forming the eyes. I hope they will make people smile, but also think about the relationship we have with this important, sexually charged area in the middle of our bodies. We all come out from between our mother’s legs. From there that we first see the light of the world.”
This preoccupation with the body – and the female body in particular – underpins much of her art, which encompasses sculpture, audio and video installations. In her 1996 film I’m Not the Girl Who Misses Much, Rist dances frenetically for the camera, her breasts bare. And in 1992’s Pickelporno, lurid images of leaves and flowers are overlaid with erotic closeups of writhing lovers.