I’m doing a writing residency at South London Gallery this year along with the other five on my Art Writing MA. The plan is to make three publications with SLG recording our residency, one in conjunction with each exhibition we work on. The exhibition we’ve begun with is Rivane Neuenschwander’s Suspension Point, and we spent today at the gallery writing things in response to the show.

rn-suspension-install-3-72Below is a formal review I wrote of the work, which will make an appearance in the first publication along with some other more ‘creative’ writing from all of us. I’ll put some of my other things online tomorrow, crossings-out and all.

Rivane Neuenschwander – Suspension Point
South London Gallery, London, 3 October – 30 November 2008

Suspension Point is immediately an experiential exhibition: one that yields only to the physical navigation of its objects, surfaces, temporalities and narratives which continually exchange as they reveal themselves over time. Yet conceived as a single, monolithic work, the internal relations within the exhibition remain entirely its own, and refuse to be inhabited by the extraneous viewer. This is the paradoxical territory in which Neuenschwander suspends the viewer, signalled from the outset by the open doorway to the exhibition hall, symmetrically framing a staircase that leads out of view: the work is precisely here, but from where you stand it is out of reach.

For the two months of the exhibition, the imposing height of the main space has been bisected horizontally by a thin timber ceiling/floor, supported underneath by eight functional timber structures which serve also to portion the lower space into areas of (usually motionless) activity. Choosing this lower space to explore first, one is immersed into the subdued warmth of a dimly-lit underfloor space, with the roughly hewn timber lending a tone of provisionality and practicality to the otherwise formal arrangement of support structures and electrical equipment.

Confining the experience of the space comes the sound of distinct, infrequent drips leaking from the temporary ceiling, escalating every now and then into a measured cacophony. A first exploration suggests the noise is artificial after all, fed through a number of floor- and ceiling-mounted speakers. But among the speakers, a ceiling-mounted microphone is poised at the base of a round metal drum set into a circular hole in the ceiling itself: a double bluff? Sure enough, following the clue to the upper floor reveals the drum to be a nearly empty trough, subjected to the steady beat of barely visible drips which, when finally located, can be traced still higher to a tiny, transparent pipe of real water, secreted in the very rafters of the hall’s original lantern ceiling.

Thus the viewer is conveyed through the space in a piecemeal exploration of the exhibition’s topology, tracking down references and redeeming the hanging promises of its objects. And one line of research spills into another. The noise from the speakers downstairs is barely audible on the upper deck, reducing and tightening the sound into a single regular drum beat of real-time drops that punctuate the stillness of the upstairs room, marking time rather than describing space.

Just as the source of cacophonous sound downstairs traces a path from floor to ceiling and floor to ceiling again, so this singular beat uses many of the same coordinates to continue a navigation of the space. The regularity of the beat finds an immediate response in a clean line of circular 2” holes drilled across all four walls at eye-level, again horizontally bisecting the space, and transposing into physical form the time marked out in sound. Back downstairs another sequence of circles continually replays the time-as-form trope in celluloid, as the tiny perforation in each frame of 16 mm film momentarily flashes onto the wall with the jerkiness of stop-frame animation. Each bears signs of its inception in a minutely scuffed circumference that recalls the rough edges of the holes upstairs, and which find ultimate conclusion, perhaps, in the sawdust gathered on the wooden floor. A dislocated palimpsest of form and activity emerges, spread intimately across space over multiple temporalities and scales.

A silent 8 mm film projected onto the opposite wall follows the meandering of a huge bubble as it floats above darkened woodland. Careful cross-fading between shots gives the impression that the bubble remains intact continuously as the film loops. Darting and bobbing on the air in slow motion, the bubble shifts over time through infinite variations of form and size, but never bursts. The stubborn integrity of the membrane leaves the camera resolutely outside, with no possibility of integration.

In Suspension Point Neuenschwander constructs a spacious but finally closed text of parallel and shifting associations which, for the viewer, is immersive but never relational. The work engrossingly solicits trespassing over its floors and into its hidden corners, and gradually divulges soft, intricate mappings between its elements as rewards for the physical, intellectual and intuitive work supplied by the viewer. But the real project of the exhibition is internal to itself, and operates beyond the reach of the viewer: in their formal, causal and temporal analogies the works answer one another entirely, relating to one another as only things can relate to other things. The circuit of relations pulls a closed membrane around the works, resolutely guarding against the integration of the onlooker: contained but suspended, and just out of reach.