Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Almost not there and almost not art

This is due to appear in Critical Bastards: but as I’ve not posted anything for a bit I thought I’d put this up here until I have time to write some more. It’s a review of Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, (Nov. 2011 – Feb. 2012)

There are mysterious mucky circles on the lower floor of the New Galleries in IMMA that are easy to walk over and easy to miss. They’re almost not there and they’re almost not art. They lie there patiently and silently recording the visitors to the space in the dirt that sticks to their tacky surfaces. It’s a simple enough idea, to put glue circles on the floor. But in that slight gesture beneath your feet you can see both an aesthetics and a philosophy begin to take shape.

Rivane Neueuschwander’s work gives form to relations; be they between people, objects or spaces. What these forms do, quite beautifully, is allow us to see that space is not a neutral vacant nothing but rather a site of potentiality that emerges from systems of subjects and objects. Space is not a void but rather something that is constantly renewed through complex interrelations between things and people. Space is something to be achieved.

Involuntary Sculptures (Speech Acts) is a collection of motley objects made by people during conversations in bars and restaurants. It’s an odd array of micro-sculptures made from torn beer mats, toothpicks, napkins, bottletops and so on; twisted by a haphazard origami. Their precariousness betrays the absent minded process of their construction and they run the risk of toppling into inconsequentiality. Yet these ersatz records of now unknowable encounters are the residue that’s left behind after the gentle collisions of things and people.

A whole room is given over to the ribbons of I Wish Your Wish which hang in scruffy lines on the walls. We’re invited to take one and wear it around our wrist; this is a reference to the tradition at the church of Nosso Senhor do Bonhim in Salvador, Bahia (in Neueuschwander’s native Brazil) where it’s said that the wish will come true when the ribbon falls off. Each ribbon has a wish printed on it taken from what other visitors have written. Every desire (to speak better English, to have more money, to recover from a fatal disease) gives only the slightest glimpse into whole other spaces where complex networks of intentions, and expectations fizzle and pop.

What all these works do, then, is open up the gallery as another space of possibility where relations may be given some form. This happens quite literally in the drawings of First Love (2005) that were created when a police sketch artist tried to capture the image of visitors’ descriptions of their first love. Here the gallery becomes a space where intimate liaisons are made public.

Yet to claim that these gestures and things are a form of philosophy could suggest that this is a serious, dry and perhaps precious exhibition. Far from it. Its beauty lies in the lightness by which these relations are handled and spaces nurtured. And as I watched the bubble in the film The Tenant (2010) bob around the environment of a vacant house like a furtive intruder I couldn’t control my body as splutters and laughs irrupted from it. It was only then that I noticed the woman who’d walked in behind me and just then caught my eye with a look that I couldn’t quite place. This was a look of recognition; but an uncertain one. Was it one that was disapproving or flirtatious? What nascent relationship was taking form here? I didn’t know. And, ashamed at my awkwardness and ignorance, left the space behind.