Lesson: Rivane Neuenschwander: Taking a Chance: The (Non)Experience of Participation

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grades)
  • Subject Area: Art History, Music, Poetry
  • Detail of "Eu desejo o seu desejo/I Wish Your Wish," 2003.Detail of "Eu desejo o seu desejo/I Wish Your Wish," 2003.
  • Detail of "Esculturas involuntárias (Atos de fala)/Involuntary Sculptures (Speech Acts)," 2001–10.Detail of "Esculturas involuntárias (Atos de fala)/Involuntary Sculptures (Speech Acts)," 2001–10.
  • Installation detail of  "Continente/Andando em círculos/Continent/Walking in Circles," 2000.Installation detail of "Continente/Andando em círculos/Continent/Walking in Circles," 2000.
  • Installation view of "Eu desejo o seu desejo/I Wish Your Wish," 2003.Installation view of "Eu desejo o seu desejo/I Wish Your Wish," 2003.
  • Installation view of "Eu desejo o seu desejo/I Wish Your Wish," 2003.Installation view of "Eu desejo o seu desejo/I Wish Your Wish," 2003.


written by Joseph Keehn II

Rivane Neuenschwander’s interest in chance takes center stage in her videos, works on paper, photographs, and installations. Influenced by the Neoconcrete movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s in her native Brazil, Neuenschwander challenges art’s formal and conceptual limits through the use of many different mediums. This lesson explores the role chance plays in not only a work of art, but how we experience that work of art as well. Upon completion of the lesson, students will have an understanding of the complexities of the themes time, memory, and chance, and their impact on current and future readings of art and more broadly on our understanding of culture and society.


one forty-five minute session and added sessions for research, writing, and art-making


  • Students will understand the various roles audiences perform in art.
  • Students will learn about a contemporary artist’s use of the past to create works in the now.
  • Students will create a participatory experience for their community.

Suggested Procedures:

  1. Begin by writing “What is your role in art?” on the board. Have students list their responses. Are they viewers? Makers? In what ways do they interact with art? Look at Neuenschwander’s  Esculturas involuntárias (Atos de fala) / Involuntary Sculptures (Speech Acts) (2001–10). What materials were used? What is the scale of the sculptures?  Where do you think these were created? Under what conditions? Share with students that these sculptures were made by various people engaged in conversations at bars and restaurants. Knowing this information, have students respond to the title of the work. Who created these sculptures? Who is being credited for this being art? Our roles in art are more complex than often perceived, and often it rest on chance. At times we may be participating in art production without knowing. In what ways does this work provide new insight to the initial question “What is your role in art?” 

  2. Introduce Neuenschwander’s Continente / Andando em círculos / Continent / Walkingin Circles (2000). Have students create a brainstorming diagram of this project with the finished product (the work itself) representing the middle circle. What was needed in order to accomplish this exchange? Students should list out all the people they think would need to be involved (research, testing etc.). Provide students with the label text for the work and have them compare their deductions with the information provided by the label. In this work aluminum basins are filled with a mixture of water and coconut milk soap. Invisible circles of glue are applied to the floor, and they become increasingly visible as visitors walk through the exhibition space, tracking in dirt and other particles that adhere to the glue, creating a trail that leaves a record of their visits. How does chance affect this work?

  3. Much of Neuenschwander’s work references her own culture, as seen in Eu desejo o seu desejo / I Wish Your Wish (2003). Provide students with images of the work and the following information:

    • In this ongoing project, visitors are invited to take fabric ribbons printed with the desires of several people from different locations. According to the tradition at the church Nosso Senhor do Bonfim in São Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, where the idea for making the wish ribbons originated, the ribbon is tied around the wrist, and once it falls off or breaks away, the wish comes true.

    • Have students read further on the tradition at the church Nosso Senhor do Bonfim in São Salvador, Bahia, Brazil and compare their findings on the tradition with the artist’s intention. How does this project differ from the tradition? What concessions become nuanced to include a broader audience?

  4. Now having looked at a few of Neuenschwander’s works, have the class discuss the following themes: chance, history, human behavior, and memory. Instruct students to list out other themes Neuenschwander’s works addresses. From the list of themes students will select, individually or collectively, a theme to further investigate. Using their own community as their audience, students will create a proposal for a work/project that engages their constituents. This can take on many forms, such as a documentary, a series of happenings, or even a chain letter. There are no limits to the proposal. The proposal should answer the following questions:

    • What theme is the student investigating?

    • What is their interest in the theme?

    • Who they will be collaborating with?

    • Why these people were chosen to collaborate with?

    • What is the intention of the work/project?

    • How will the work/project be engaged?

  5. Students will implement their work/project with an audience of their choosing. They will need to document their process, by writing, making a video, or writing. Upon completion of the implementation, students will reflect on their proposal and make necessary changes for a future implementation. Implementing a project in different locations and times crops up in Neuenschwander’s practice over and over, as with all three of the works discussed. Students should consider if their project was carried out ten years from now in different location with a different audience. How would the project look? What chances does the work depend upon to be engaged?

Extending the Lesson in Art History, Poetry, and Music

Introduce students to Neoconcrete and Tropicalismo, 1950s and ’60s Brazilian art movements that have influenced Neuenschwander’s practice, in particular the role chance plays within the work. For visual artists, have students look at the works of Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, and Rogério Duprat. Suggest students read poetry from the Campos brothers (Augusto and Haroldo). For music, have students listen to Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. 


Lesson Plan: Rivane Neuenschwander: Taking a Chance: The (Non)Experience of Participation