Friday, 10 February 2012

Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other

I recently went to see Rivane Neuenschwander's exhibition at IMMA.  A mid-career survey, it contained a number of distinctly different works many of which encourage visitor participation. I wish your wish was the highlight, a single room with the walls punctured with small holes, each one containing a coloured ribbon printed with the wishes of visitors to the exhibitions previous location. Based on a local tradition in a church in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, where the faithful tie silk ribbons around their wrists believing that their wishes will come true when the ribbons wear away and fall off. Neuenschwander carries this religious superstition into the realm of the contemporary art gallery, crossing cultural and geographical divides through a kind of pay it forward intention. The wishes themselves were a little repetitive with quite a few "I wish there was no recession/ I had more money/ I could get a job". Amongst the more amusing ones was "I wish for world peace and that I had a turtle". Choosing one became an interesting choice between the people you felt sorry for "I wish it was benign", whose wishes you wanted to grant, and those you identified most with "I wish my college degree meant I could get a job". Having read the wishes of others on display also made me self conscious about my own wish, which you wrote on a scrap of paper and deposited in the hole in exchange for your ribbon of choice. I became all too aware of who might be reading my wish in the next city, and trying to make it sound funny or sympathetic so that someone would choose it and make it come true.
Even though the whole point of the project was to promote selflessness and a kind of international helping each other across time and space mentality, it actually had the opposite affect. My self and my friend spent ages trying to wittily compose our own wishes and then when we had chosen our ribbons, we both felt disappointed when they fell off later that day, as we had spent so long choosing the right wish in the right colour.

Another work in the exhibition with a similar ethos was first love where visitors can make an appointment with a sketch artist to describe their first love, and have a portrait drawn. The pictures on the walls were from previous exhibitions, but the cartoonish goofy quality of the drawings made the sincere and emotional intention of the work lose its punch. What was particularly disturbing were the portraits of people who were obviously still children, maybe a childhood friend, but in the context of first loves, it made the clownish grinning portraits take on a slightly sinister edge.
One theme that kept cropping up for me was that of the micro within the macro, the individuals wish amongst the hundreds of ribbons, one love within many, and the final room in the exhibition which contained a wall covered in numerous frames of what at first appears to be photographs of the night sky. upon closer inspection they are actually thousands of the pieces of paper made by a hole punch, which are actually called chad according to a quick google search. It was an astute take on how the miniscule everyday can take on metaphysical proportions in a different context. They reminded me of those microscopic photographs of germs and amoebas in science magazines that are indistinguishable constellations.  I couldnt help thinking they would also make really cool wallpaper.
This was the problem with most of the exhibition, the initial grand themes promised in works such as I wish your wish were let down in the execution, they just didnt  quite come to the greater conclusions and profound revelations promised in the themes and titles. This disappointment was embodied perfectly in the video the fall where the camera is a substitute for the eyes of a person running an egg in spoon race through a   blurred forest. the heavy breathing and jerky movements of the camera, along with the title, continually suggested the egg would eventually topple, a climax that was eternally thwarted by the continual loop of the video.

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