Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Graphically Conscious at the Carnegie International

Drawn by friends and curiosity, the Graphic Conscience traveled to Pittsburgh this past week to see the 55th Carnegie International before it closed. I found most of this international exhibition a disappointment and example of lazy curating, as the show was basically the same as a window cruise through Chelsea. The theme, "Life on Mars," did not appear to be anything that any of the artists included were considering. There was redemption, however, as I was introduced to the work of Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander.

Neuenschwander's piece, I Wish Your Wish, is encountered by visitors just as they pay their admission to the Carnegie Museum. It is based on a tradition from the Basilica da Nosso Senhor do Bonhim in Sao Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, in which ribbons are tied around a parishioner's wrist with three knots. With each knot tied, a wish is made, and the ribbons are worn until they fall off, upon which wishes are confirmed upon the wisher. In Neuenschwander's piece, ribbons are screen printed with the wishes of participant-viewers. Each participant viewer is invited to write down a wish of their own, and in return, take a wish-ribbon of some one else and tie it around their wish. Thus creating a cycle of wish making and granting though interactions with viewer-participant/museum parishioners. Collected wishes are then printed onto new ribbons, and the cycle continues.

The wishes vary in content, from the silly to the very desperate. Some the Conscience came across are the following:

I wish my cat could talk.
I wish it was benign.
I wish I hadn't cheated on him.
I wish everyone in the world could be happy and own unicorns.
I wish my life had a soundtrack.
I wish I loved myself.
I wish guns didn't exist.

I was intrigued by both the interactivity of the piece, as well as how it creates small ritual for viewer-participants. Moreover, I was struck with the responsibility that if I had one wish that I knew would come true, what would I wish for? It seemed too selfish to simply wish for my own fortune, if such an opportunity came along, doesn't a Conscience have an obligation to wish for the benefit of humankind?

Surprisingly enough, I did not come across any wishes for world peace, which seems the obvious and most ethical wish. However, my companion did remind me of the X-Files episode in which a genie grants such a wish by erasing humankind from the planet.

The wishes of Neuenschwander's piece are like prayers or ceremonies, only by completing the rite is the wish granted. It was unclear if your wish was granted when your ribbon fell off, or if that granted the printed wish. I Wish Your Wish is more an interactive rite of focusing desire and providing an opportunity to earn deliverance rather that a service that provides a miracle. It was evident that viewer-participants must earn their happily-ever-after, but it is dependent on all viewer-participants following the forms.

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