Rivane Neuenschwander's "I Wish Your Wish" Continues in Perpetuity at SMoCA

Sometimes there's just not enough space in my regular art reviews to devote to all the facets of individual work in an exhibition.

This was especially true in the case of Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art's "A Day Like Any Other," which is a ten-year retrospective of Brazilian conceptual artist Rivane Neuenschwander, and the show I've reviewed this week.

One of the most attention-grabbing pieces in the Neuenschwander show is "I Wish Your Wish," a full-gallery installation featuring row upon row of multi-colored ribbon strips imprinted with wishes left by viewers past.

"I Wish" is a living, breathing, on-going performance inspired by a similar set-up for pilgrims at Nosso Senhor do Bonfim (Our Lord of the Good End) Church in São Salvador, in the state of Bahia, Brazil. This 18th century church is one of the most famous in Brazil and attracts both intensely religious worshipers and curious tourists from all over Brazil and the world.

At the church in São Salvador, visitors are encouraged to select a fita or ribbon and make a request for a miracle or a wish, knotting it three times around the left wrist while repeating the wish three times. Different ribbon colors available correspond to different orishas.

In times past, fitas were made of silk with the name of a saint handlettered on it, but are now mostly crafted from nylon and machine-printed. And according to folklore, when the ribbon finally falls off, one's wish will come true.

For Neuenschwander's nouvelle interpretation at SMoCA, visitors do much the same thing, though they are requested to leave behind a written wish that will eventually be printed on one of the ribbons and available for selection by future participants.

According to SMoCA curator Cassandra Coblentz, who worked closely with Neuenschwander to install the show, the artist wanted people to know that it's a commitment to wrap that ribbon on your wrist.

"Better be serious about taking a wish and tying that ribbon [on] until it falls off," she says. "It may take months for that to happen, given that you're supposed to tie the ribbon with three knots."

"One of the things that's really beautiful about the piece is that, all of a sudden, you are very conscious of the kinds of things you want to wish for," notes Coblentz. "Some are very lighthearted and some are very poignant, like 'I wish it was benign' or 'I wish I had the courage to tell my parents I'm gay."

She says different people respond to the wish ribbons differently, with some people taking hours to choose one, while others know exactly what they want immediately: "It's an interesting psychological study," often pitting the desire for indulgent personal wishes against more conscientious and altruistic ones.

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Kathleen Vanesian