"Damned, Joyful and Devout Tropics 07" (2020), Rivane Neuenschwander. Photo: Disclosure.

In astonishing days like the present, Rivane Neuenschwander puts her finger on the spot by dealing, in an astute and persistent way, with some of the ghosts that plague our time. There are three central axes that guide your exhibition Damned, Joyful and Devout Tropics, which ran until October 24 at the New York gallery Tanya Bonakdar: fear, sexual violence and war. In four series of apparently independent works, the artist rescues themes that have been part of her personal repertoire for some time, promoting a sometimes subtle, sometimes explicit connection between the intimate, constructive and poetic aspects of the works with the current social and political crisis. “Fear is also a social construction. It is important to me because we see this connection of the cyclical, historical thing coming back”, she says when commenting on the frequent presence of elements linked to the feeling of impotence, anguish and fear in her production.

Fear is an affect associated with childhood. And it is in the investigation of children's fears that the research that Rivane has been developing for at least four years begins. In a series of workshops, held at institutions such as Parque Lage (Rio) and White Chapel (London), the artist asked children to reveal their fears and at the same time exorcise these vulnerabilities by devising protective covers as a way to shelter or chase away your fears. She went through a similar process of debugging spooky images with her young children through naming and describing ghost games that supposedly haunted the house and minds, until the vague feeling of haunting turned into safe and free ground. of threat. This process of exchange and investigation ended up providing him with a wide repertoire of images and references that have been taking on different bodies and forms, echoing here and there in his poetics. “Sometimes there are latencies from one job to the next, something that bothers you and that you will only solve years later. Perhaps through another work,” she explains.

"On the Move" (2020), Rivane Neuenschwander. Photo: Disclosure.
“On the Lookout” (2020), Rivane Neuenschwander. Photo: Disclosure.

Two of the works on display in New York dialogue directly with this process of collection and re-elaboration: the series Lurking, a set of drawings made from material collected with children and reworked as if they were shadow theaters, and fear of, an assemblage in which powerful and paralyzing fears of contemporary society are named and intertwined. “People who lived, were children during the military dictatorship, and today have children, see the cycle, the return of the repressed, perceive a unity and also that fascism is not outside. He's on the inside”, she says, always claiming this emphasis on fear as a social phenomenon, of the need to connect any personal immersion with more totalizing aspects. The particular cases are also illuminating how this fundamental affect is manipulated within the social field, how it is calculatedly used for the maintenance of authoritarian forces within society.

Starting from references such as Vladimir Safatle and a permanent appropriation of references from the field of psychoanalysis – “there are some psychoanalytic concepts that I borrow without major conceptual, academic commitments; a rich word that allows me to make these drifts, these games” –, Rivane alerts to the need to name, embody and face fears, in their intimate or collective dimensions. “We wake up every day, even fighting this fear. So we have to fight this melancholy, but it's difficult because the destruction is so great. We are very touched, because the thing is suicidal. Destruction is in every way. It is physical, it is symbolic, it happens everywhere. The immoral atrocities they commit in the name of false morality is something appalling,” he adds.

And it also has its roots in history. The series Damned, Joyful and Devout Tropics, a reference to the work with a similar title by Hilda Hilst and which names the entire exhibition by Rivane, proposes an interesting amalgamation of sexual, symbolic and historical references, which refer both to our peripheral situation and to the predatory and violent relationship of our colonization. Inspired by Shungas, Japanese erotic prints from the Edo period (1603-1867) and also tributary to the graphic simplification of cordel literature, these paintings and tapestries are representations of intense clashes that refer, according to the artist, to rape as the inaugural act of Brazilian society. .

These works, especially the tapestries, also reinforce the importance of references and collective work in trajectory from Rivane. Determined to transpose these images – situated on a tenuous border between eroticism and aggression, desire and violence – into a language other than painting, the artist chose to incorporate the work of other artisans in the making of the work. She invited three artists who master the technique developed by a Uruguayan upholsterer, Ernesto Aroztegui, to participate in the project: Elke Hülse, Magalí Sánchez Vera and Jorge Soto. In a slow and careful process, they transferred the images carefully planned by Rivane through the loom, with a challenge ahead: to propose a personal reading for the fields in red, which embody the blood and more explicitly witness the violence contained in the images.

The cathartic character of the scenes represented somehow clashes with the technical rigor of the tapestry plot and adds a new element to the work, referring in a very direct way to the tradition of narratives linked to the act of weaving as a way of deceiving time and postponing it. the consummation of an act of violence and sexual possession, carried out by mythical figures such as Penelope and Scheherazade.

If there is something in common in all the works gathered in tropics it is the hegemonic importance of the role of representation as a way of representing a vulnerability, thus making it less threatening, even though we are aware that fear, in life and in Freudian theory, is extremely mutating. the soldiers from the movie Les carabiniers (Time of War), by Jean-Luc Godard, which serve as a guiding thread for the installation The Order and the Method, for example, use images collected through postcards to face their fear of war and death. It seems to become evident that figuring out or naming what frightens us would allow us to make it less paralyzing.

In a recent exhibition, at Auroras, in São Paulo, Rivane follows the same commitment, tries to give body to fantasy and, through this complex process, full of detours and mistakes, to show the powerful and often reassuring effect of facing our fears. In the specific case of this work, which unfortunately was seldom seen due to the pandemic (the New York exhibition also requires interested spectators to make an appointment in advance to be able to visit the show), the works were born from a workshop held in parallel with the exhibition. Childhood Stories, at Masp (2016). The artist then asked the participating children to physically place their ghosts in a given architectural space. And from these drawings she created a series of maps, covered in white paint, to be scraped off in a kind of treasure (or fear) hunt, thus representing a wide range of possible paths.

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