Rivane Neuenschwander, artist: 'There was pressure as a younger artist to be responsible for a legacy'


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The Independent Culture

Rivane Neuenschwander moved hemispheres and continents to join her German husband, curator Jochen Volz, in London, where he had taken up his position as head of programmes at the Serpentine Gallery. Working initially at their home, she has recently moved into collective studios in Hackney.

When I visited her the small but light top-floor studio is quietly productive with several assistants hard at work on new paintings, masking them with tape so she can paint the straight lines. Severely black and white, they are based on children's mazes, modified so there are no entrances or exits. When they are finished Neunschwander will add another unique touch: slugs that she has found in her garden will leave their silvery slime trail.

Chance here will play a part, as in many of Neunschwander's works. Typewriters, forensic artists, Scrabble letters carved on dried oranges, talcum powder and brooms are all devices that have been employed – as Marcel Duchamp would say – "to let the viewer complete the work", but in a more 21st-century, inter-relational way than he would have contemplated.

Insects are not new in this artist's vocabulary. I first saw her video Quarta-Feira de Cinzas/Epilogue (now in the Tate Collection), a film about ants, at Frieze several years ago, and was captivated by the sight of them shouldering burdens of colourful edible confetti. Neunschwander was born in Belo Horizonte in 1967. Her family moved to a quasi-farm in the centre of Brazil when she was eight, and this led to her explorations of insects, capturing them in brick traps to study them.

Growing up in Brazil she was aware of the legacy of Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica. She has often, because of the social inclusivity of much of her works, been linked to their practice. But, she says, that is not really where she feels that her work is coming from – and says that Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles is more of a conscious influence on her works: "There was a pressure as a younger artist to be responsible for a legacy [to Oiticica and Clark] that we were not that conscious of. Now I feel there is a relationship to Lygia Clark through psychoanalysis."

Neuenschwander's recent engagement with therapy has led to her exploring the relationship between mother and child. She has made embroideries that, while conceptual in design, refer to her mother who taught her how to embroider. "Everything is coloured, like kids do in school, the embroideries talk about things that we do in childhood." Neuschwander will also display two works created by her two children, aged eight and six. "Hannah's piece is a seashell on top of a cotton bed. She called it a bed for a seashell. My mother gave her the seashell. Just this part talks about motherhood."

Just in case it is all becoming too sentimental she reassures me that she is also working on a film about eroticism. "Oranges and lemons are things from Brazil but other things are so abstract that they could be a collective memory. People do not need to know that my mother made embroidery or that my kids made drawings."

Rivane Neuenschwander: Misunderstandings, continues at MAM, São Paulo, until 14 December