Rivane Neuenschwander

Stephen Friedman Gallery | 25 - 28 Old Burlington Street

The calendar was a priestly invention, a way of coordinating human and natural cycles, but in modern cultures it's mainly a tool for keeping track of the workaday routine. For Rivane Neuenschwander, however, it becomes something else again: a poetic artifice, an unexpected, offbeat accent to the daily round. To make Found Calendar (all works 2002), the Brazilian artist, who attended London's Royal College of Art, simply collected bits of paper (tickets, ads, bits of packaging—just about anything but an actual calendar page), each bearing a printed or handwritten number from one to thirty-one. Arranged in order on a table, her finds become a land of metaphorical record of time spent, allowing for both consistency and serendipity. A companion piece applies the same formula to the alphabet—a cultural system nearly as ancient as the calendar and just as dulled by routine-with similarly exquisite results. More elaborate than these reconstructions is Deadline Calendar, which registers a whole year (August 1, 2001–July 31, 2002) in a grid of cutout “sell by” dates from food packaging. Give us this day our daily bread, for tomorrow it shall be stale, no matter what its packaging or preservative.

In other pieces Neuenschwander establishes a more tenuous relation to the calendar. The work that dominates the show—your nose senses it before your eyes do and continues to tingle after you've moved on—is a wallful of paintings of varying size and format, all depicting fruit. Originally street-market signs, these naive pictures have been “retouched” with large quantities of ground black pepper; everything is obliterated except the fruit, which now hovers in an unfamiliar textural and olfactory setting. (The bananas and apples and so on, too, have been treated with a fine film of pepper, just enough to give them a unified tone but not enough to blot them out.) They wouldn't make you think of the calendar were it not for the title, Still-life Calendar, which suggests why there are thirty-one panels. Most enigmatic of all is Blank Days, which calls on the theme of counting and repetition behind the other pieces without evoking the calendar itself. Here Neuenschwander has arranged a great many variously dismantled yellow matchboxes on a table, forming a sort of labyrinth—but one in which no path goes very far—inhabited by large black beetles, each with a little white tag on its back. The tags ought to carry numbers, one thinks—a beetle race!—but they are blank (and the insects are pinned in place).

Neuenschwander's methods are hardly unfamiliar. She takes the systems—consciousness of Conceptualist devotees of dates and calendars like On Kawara, Alighiero e Boetti, and Hanne Darboven and reconstrues it through the refined, sensual awareness of quotidian materials characteristic of Brazilian. Neoconcretism and the work of its contemporary heirs like Jac Leirner or Ernesto Neto. But Neuenschwander's work has an engaging lightness that seems unburdened by historical precedent. Instead it's very much about the present—about days encapsulated by moments of attention that are fleeting, delicate, numbered.

Barry Schwabsky