Review by Siofra McSherry
This midcareer survey of Brazilian conceptualist Rivane Neuenschwander showcases a decade’s work across a wide range of media and thematic material. She establishes atmospheres of immense tension, pushing the viewer into a state of expectancy, strategically withholding narrative and therefore resolution. One witty installation, a flip clock or timer mounted high on the gallery wall, perennially shows a time of 00:00; each time the figures flip over they again reveal 00:00. If this is a countdown, the expected event never arrives but is forever imminent. If interpreted as a clock, time is never permitted to advance.
In this state of ambivalence and insecurity, the viewer is invited to explore the tension that arises when our desire for resolution is refused. In O inquilino or The Tenant - the title borrowed from the 1976 film by Roman Polanski - a soap bubble is filmed as it floats through an empty house, followed closely by the camera as it moves around corners and through doorways, never settling or bursting. This most delicate of hauntings is accompanied by a brittle soundtrack of found and synthesised sound.
Neuenschwander’s works evoke the processes of nature and time. In Rain Rains, water drips into dozens of steel pails arranged at the centre of the floor from similar pails suspended above them, full of water with a hole and valve at the base. The soft sound of water falling invites thoughts of weather and rain, a reminder of erosion and dissolution. This installation has to be tended carefully by gallery staff, who empty the bottom pails back into those above every four hours. Human attention and energy is required to prevent the gallery being flooded.
Viewer interaction is also required. In First Love, a forensic artist reconstructs the face of the participants’ lost loves through a collaborative procedure that is part artistry, part science and part storytelling. These portraits establish a record of absence and loss and dramatise the action of memory. In I Wish Your Wish, Neuenschwander has hung thousands of ribbons printed with wishes in the lobby of the New Museum, which we are invited to take and tie around our wrists, in accordance with Brazilian folk tradition. In return, the viewer is asked to write and leave a wish of their own. The wishes have been gathered from the public during past projects, and their banality - wishes for world peace and better politicians, to be better able to love oneself - may be a comment on the commonality and simplicity of people’s desires. These remain remarkably constant in a world Neuenschwander so often demonstrates to be transient, unknowable, brittle and strange.
Neuenschwander acts as artist, director, editor and facilitator of these works - she allows them to develop beyond her direct control with a respectful regard for instability, process and change. There is a sense of joyfulness throughout the exhibition, as the artist celebrates the tense and fragile moment before the bubble bursts, the egg breaks, or the bucket overflows with rain.