Built in the 19th century to show large Victorian paintings, the South London Gallery has been completely transformed by the Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander. Using the building's features, she has followed the picture-rail to divide the space in two by the insertion of a wooden floor. This not only transforms the gallery but creates two new environments, each with its own character: the dark lower space with its struts forming the skeleton of the structure, and the light, airy upper space.
Within the darkly claustrophobic lower space, two flickering films are projected on to the walls. The only other light sources are a bulb and the light pouring down from the stairs. In this disorientating atmosphere, inchoate sounds emanate from different points. There are bangs and taps and the sound of water dripping. It's hard to say what it all means, but it's like being in a leaky warehouse full of evocative noises with a poetic life of their own.
Looking up, the eye spies a microphone, which amplifies the drips falling into a metal basin embedded in the upper floor. The idea of It's raining out there (La fora esta chovendo), created this year with the artist O Grivo, is to link, by an association of ideas and sounds, the upper and lower spaces.
The downstairs "gallery" provides the context for the two films. The silent black-and-white Inventory of small deaths (Blow), made with Cao Guimaraes in 2000, depicts a huge soap bubble floating seductively across a tropical terrain. Dreamy and hypnotic, its changing shape implies transformation, but it's never realised: the bubble never bursts. Arabian Nights (2008) depicts a circular area of flickering light, a moonlike image created by punching 1,001 holes in a 16mm strip of film.
The light of the upper space provides a complete contrast. The glass roof suggests elevation and connection to the sky, and running round the white walls is a frieze-like series of "tear here" perforations. Forming a tentative horizon line, they imply a microcosmic landscape, an idea further developed by the little mountain of residue dust from the drilled holes, and the "lake" suggested by the aforementioned bowl. There is an implied merger of internal and external landscapes, dreamscapes and reality, as though the outside has somehow been brought inside.
Neuenschwander's work is certainly evocative, though what exactly is being evoked is harder to say.
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