Rivane Neuenschwander, Walking in Circles, 2000. Permanent glue, dimensions variable.
The work of Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander often explores the minuteness and grandeur of everyday actions. In her mid-career retrospective at the New Museum, A Day Like Any Other, the artist conveys these poetic actions through a variety of different media, including film, sculpture, collage, painting, installation and participatory events. From rain-weathered maps to a looped video that follows a wandering soap bubble, Neuenschwander presents small, seemingly insignificant occurrences that become metaphors for translation and transience. Much of her work pays homage to key movements in Brazilian art history, such as the linguistic investigations of Concrete poets, and the sensorial and participatory explorations of Neo-Concrete artists. Neuenschwander draws upon the strategies of her predecessors to create a distinct approach that unites geographic and culturally specific references with collectively shared experiences.
Rivane Neuenschwander, I Wish your Wish, 2003, Silkscreen on fabric ribbons. Variable dimensions.
Such is the case in her popular installation, I Wish Your Wish, which was first shown in the 2003 edition of the Venice Biennale. Displayed in the New Museum’s lobby gallery, the work is a colorful grid of silk ribbons arranged on three walls. For the piece, Neuenschwander prints other people’s private desires on ribbons that visitors are invited to take. The wishes themselves usually range from mundane to more grand desires, including statements like: “I want to be thinner” to “I wish democracy was real.” Once someone removes a ribbon, he or she is invited to record his or her own wish on a sheet of paper, and place it in the empty hole in the wall. Later, their wishes will be incorporated in subsequent projects. I Wish Your Wish is inspired by a religious tradition at the Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim in Bahia. At the church, a follower selects a ribbon and makes a wish as they tie it to their wrist. When the ribbon falls off, their wish will come true. As we see in this work, Neuenschwander also plays with chance and control, since—for example—a visitor is free to take twenty ribbons without contributing a personal desire. The degree to which she controls these situations is often undetermined. Contingent outcomes are also significant to Neuenschwander’s other body of work, which incorporate the actions of snails, goldfishes and ants, such as Starving Letter (2001), Love Lettering (2002), and Pangaea’s Diaries (2008). However, none of these pieces appear in the exhibition.
Rivane Neuenschwander, Rain Rains, 2002, Aluminum buckets, water, steel cable, ladder. Dimensions variable.
Circular, and almost imperceptible exchanges—a common theme found throughout her work—are most apparent on the fourth floor. Occupying the center of the gallery is a large installation of shiny buckets and a ladder. Entitled Rain Rains (2002) a series of buckets suspended from the ceiling slowly drip water into the ones below, creating a symphony that echoes through the space. Every four hours gallery attendants must transfer the water from the lower buckets back into the upper ones, and the cycle repeats itself. This piece compliments Walking in Circles (2000), an intervention in which the artist draws delicate circles of glue directly on the gallery floor. Becoming visible as it accumulates the dirt brought in by the shoes of museum visitors, the work can be read as a reflection on institutional memory or the overlooked potential of smaller daily interactions.
Rivane Neuenschwander, Involuntary Sculptures, (Speech Acts), 2001–10. Mixed media. Dimensions variable.
Unlike the cohesive presentation on the fourth floor, the curatorial decisions made on the third floor were somewhat problematic. Three new works appear here, intermittently dispersed throughout the gallery alongside of better-known works such as, Arabian Moons (2008) and Involuntary Sculptures (Speech Acts)(2001-10). Although the two new performance-based installations and new series of paintings recall themes familiar to Neuenschwander’s practice—they move in different, maybe even disparate directions. For example, in her new project The Conversation—titled after Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film—the artist introduces topics such as paranoia and surveillance. Prior to the show’s opening, she hired a security firm to hide “bugs” in a wallpapered and carpeted section of the gallery. Reenacting Gene Hackman’s famous scene from film, Neuenschwander shreds her way through the gallery to find the devices. The remains of tattered carpet and wallpaper are arranged in the space along with playback recordings of the sounds captured by the devices during the performance. It will be interesting to see how these subjects play out in her practice. Nevertheless, the New Museum’s curators did very little to contextualize these pieces within the show and her larger body of work.
Rivane Neuenschwander, The Conversation, 2010, wallpaper, carpet, carpet pad, glue, audio recording devices, audio playback equipment, speakers. Dimensions variable.
A Day Like Any Other attempts to survey Neuenschwander’s multifaceted practice. Although the show falls victim to inherent misgivings of its exhibition model, it provides a space to reflect on nearly a decade’s worth of work, revealing the artist’s distinct contribution to Brazilian Conceptualism.
From the New Museum, A Day Like Any Other travels to the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis; the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in Arizona; the Miami Art Museum; and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin.
Images Courtesy New Museum. Photos by Benoit Pailley.