“I’m not following you, I’m looking for you. There's a big difference.” —Martin Stett, The Conversation
At this year’s Frieze London, Rivane Neuenschwander will present a participatory performance piece based on an earlier work entitled The Conversation and inspired by movie director Francis Ford Coppola’s thriller of the same name. After being selected by Frieze Projects, a program of commissioned, site-specific works held at the fair each year, the Brazilian artist decided to revisit her 2010 piece, which, at its opening, revealed spying devices hidden around the New Museum.
In the titular 1974 film, Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, an intensely private man with a masterful surveillance-for-hire business. Despite Caul’s obsession and knack for spying, he grows remorseful about its potential consequences, and, after a tense cat-and-mouse game in which he tries to undo his prior work, his suspicions prove incorrect. Consequently, Martin Stett, played by a young Harrison Ford, who is working for the agency Caul double crossed, puts Caul under the microscope he had long wielded.
This poetic justice was reflected in Neuenschwander’s New Museum piece. There, the artist was privy to the fact that a surveillance team bugged the gallery, but did not know the location of the microphones, making her both surveille-er and surveilled. Her destruction of the space, and the secret record of that process, became the crux of the performance, revealing the blurred roles of a surveillance state, with the audience as subject, the artist as audience, and finally—fittingly—the artist as subject, too.
Despite few details of Neuenschwander’s upcoming rendition of her past performance, it’s sure to be as timely as ever. The issue and ease of surveillance has grown exponentially since Coppola’s film, and has recently become the national conversation amidst news of NSA leaks. Is it just to surveill others? Is anyone exempt? Should they be? We may wrestle with these questions, but regardless of what the artist has planned for Frieze, we can be sure that she will reveal more than any of us bargain for.
Rivane Neuenschwander, The Conversation, 2010, courtesy of Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Galeria Fortes Vilaça and Stephen Friedman Gallery.