I Wish Your Wish

This afternoon, my mother took me to the Carnegie Museum of Art to see the Carnegie International 2008. This is a show that rivals the best and biggest art exhibits in New York and Europe, and it's right here in little old Pittsburgh, my hometown.

My favorite piece is this one, called I Wish Your Wish by Rivane Neuenschwander. It's sited on a large wall near the entryway to the museum, where three massive hallways lined in grey granite meet. From afar, it looks like an Agam, or an out sized, colorful wall painting. When you get closer, you see that it is made of hundreds of narrow ribbons threaded into circular holes in the wall. Each ribbon has a saying printed on it in English or Spanish or French, and perhaps some other languages that I did not notice. I WISH THAT I LIVED AT THE BEACH. I WISH THAT MY CHILDREN WILL HAVE A LIFE FREE FROM PAIN. I WISH THAT I DIE IN MY SLEEP.

And the curator singled me out to demonstrate how the piece works. You choose a ribbon, wrap it, and then it is tied three times (that's an important part of the ritual, she said - remember this for later) around your wrist, with a wish made with each knot. You wear the ribbon until it falls off, and when it disintegrates, your wishes come true. My ribbon, which she selected, says I WISH I MAKE LIFE PROUD OF MY ACHIEVEMENTS. (I did remove it to read it, but I didn't make wishes the first time, so I'm calling this a fair and clear do-over.)

The link above doesn't convey how tactile and colorful and interactive the piece is. It was hard to move people away from the wall: they gathered in front of it, wanting to read each ribbon, wanting to select the wish that was the one for them. I loved that an older man on our tour allowed me to help tie his ribbon around his wrist, and that he told me that his wife thought it was a gruesome choice. His ribbon said I WISH TO DIE AN EASY DEATH. I admired his selection and mentioned that I wished for the same thing, and that my husband and I were just talking about this the other day after attending a memorial service for a relative, who left behind a wife who is also very ill. Now, this man's wrists were larger than mine and the ribbon was not going to wrap around, so I told him that, for men, the ribbon only goes around once and then you tie the three knots on the same side of the wrist. I tied the ribbon on and walked away, and I heard the man telling his buddy: "Now for men, you just wrap it around once and then tie it." Instant ritual and connection with others.

One other element that I loved about this piece: on a table nearby, scraps of paper and the little wooden pencils from the miniature golf course. (I mention this in part because I love miniature things, and I love those proud little nubs of pencils.) For each ribbon/wish that you take away, you are to write a new wish and leave it in the empty hole. It's like sending a message in a bottle across time and space. The artist uses the left-behind wishes to create new ribbons, and the cycle continues.

My second favorite piece was Cavemanman by Thomas Hirschhorn. Be sure to click through the images to get a sense of the labyrinthine quality, of its homeliness - both in the sense of feeling very cozy and in the mundane materials - over 3500 rolls of packing tape were used to make it, the guard told us, and it requires upkeep of retaping continually - and the idea of this construction of cardboard and tape and political tracts and video screens showing images from the painted walls of the Caves of Lascaux as the home of our future. Each time you go around a corner, you find a new room, with new images, or pages of philosophy taped to the walls like images, or bookshelves filled with lots of incendiary books. My favorite pun in the piece is that the books are the fuses for the very hokey looking, tinfoil and red tape dynamite stuck to the entry of each room. Yes, books and thoughts are dynamite.

I also liked the Just a Bit More by Ranjani Shettar. An ethereal piece with so much attention to detail. The string is dyed with tea. The small spheres in the piece are each hand formed from wax. And the piece is hung in waves that seem like airy screens in some places, in others bowing out or making a sharp angle like a sail on a boat. The theme of the International, called Life on Mars, is the ephemeral aspect of life, and this piece showed the extreme beauty of an insubstantial, crafted object.

The show is here through mid-January. You should come visit. Pittsburgh is a lovely town with good ethnic food, good music, and good architecture. And good knitting, too, for you knitter-lurkers.

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