Through poetic and playful means, Rivane Neuenschwander (Brazilian, b. 1967) explores the blurred boundaries between the natural and constructed world. Her video Quarta-Feira de Cinzas/Epilogue (2006), on view in the Forum Gallery during the exhibition, depicts ants on a forest floor carrying sugar-soaked pieces of confetti. The title literally translates as “Ash Wednesday” but more generally can refer to the melancholic and restful day following the spectacular annual celebration of Carnival.
Made in collaboration with Brazilian filmmaker Cao Guimarães, Quarta-Feira de Cinzas/Epilogue was filmed in the rainforest of Neuenschwander’s native Belo Horizonte and offers a playful scenario in which the viewer might imagine the ants cleaning up in the aftermath or “epilogue” of the celebration. The accompanying soundtrack by the experimental music group O Grivo mixes samba beats, created using matchsticks, and the ambient sounds of the rainforest. Together, the audio and visual components form a lyrical metaphor for the ambiguous interactions among human-made and natural processes and behaviors.
The collective nature of the ant colony is analogous to an essential element in the artist’s work: collaboration—with people, animals, and natural organic processes—as a means to catalyze her artistic intention and activate the work. Experience and participation form the core of Neuenschwander’s “ethereal materialism,” a phrase suggesting the manner in which her work generates poetic experiences from ordinary processes and materials in beautiful, subtle, and often ephemeral ways. Through expanded methods of collaboration and the embrace of chance and randomness that come from such processes, the artist allows incidental, whimsical, or imaginative circumstances to shape the viewer’s experience of her work. Neuenschwander’s work ultimately comments on the infinite possibilities for communication and interaction across cultures, species, and between the animate and inanimate. It is here at the threshold of certainty and uncertainty, nature and culture, that Neuenschwander works her magic.