Serendipity always rewards the prepared. Katori Hall

Love Lettering, 2002- Rivane Neuenschwander
Serendipity always rewards the prepared. Katori Hall
Rivane & Sergio Neuenschwander, Love Lettering, 2002 Single-channel video installation, color, sound 6 min 22 sec. Produced by Museu de Arte da Pampulha, Belo Horizonte

In Love Lettering (2002), goldfish flit through the bright green and blue environs of a water-filled tank, trailing behind them strips of paper on which are typed words including “sweet,” “my dear,” and “no.” The words carried by the fishes begin to form syntactic elements and reveal conceivable fragments of a love letter. (tbo)


In her installations, film, and photography, Neuenschwander employs fragile, unassuming materials to create mesmerizing aesthetic experiences, a process she describes as “ethereal materialism.” (Guggenheim)

In the following work, “she unleashed snails on sheets of rice paper and exhibited the gnawed remains.” (Frieze) The snails eat intricate shapes into sheets of rice paper creating an uncanny map-like result!

2001. Starving Letters. Chinese rice paper eaten by snails on brown board.

The installation I Wish Your Wish (2003) draws on a tradition at the São Salvador church Nosso Senhor do Bonfim by inviting the viewer to take a ribbon, tie it around his or her wrist, and leave it there until it falls off, upon which the prayer inscribed on it will come true. (Guggenheim)

Rivane Neuenschwander. 2003. I Wish Your Wish. Installation: Silkscreen on fabric ribbons. [online] available at:

Her works involve the human capacity to project sense, meaning and delight into what might be entirely arbitrary phenomena, and it’s that habit of projection which also informs the anthropomorphic humour of The Tenant (2010), a video that purports to track the movements of a soap bubble as it floats, unpopped, through an old house, as if looking for something. (Art Review)

Rivane Neuenschwander and Cao Guimarães, The Tenant, 2010. Courtesy Galeria Fortes Vilaça, São Paulo

The soap bubble also appears in Inventory of small deaths (blow) (2000), a film Neuenschwander produced with Cao Guimarães that tracks the slow progress of a large, single bubble, as it drifts across a tropical landscape. Set on a loop, the film shows the bubble billowing in the wind, shifting shape, but never popping. The climax of the bubble’s death is eternally postponed so that something fleeting is granted permanence. (Ted Mann)

Rivane Neuenschwander in collaboration with Cao Guimarães
b. 1967, Belo Horizonte, Braz
Inventory of small deaths (blow), 2000
Black-and-white video, transferred from Super 8 mm film, silent, 5 min., 12 sec., continuous loop


Some think that elephants can paint and that they are artists.

  • Do you think Neuenschwander’s snails are the artist of Starving Letters? Why or why not?
  • Or is it Neuenschwander being prepared for Serendipity?
  • Neuenschwander, despite leaving the main outcome to chance, the snails eating rice paper in Starving Letters (see above), had control over the presentation, the amount of snails, and how long they could eat the paper leading to the desired outcome. (Nicola Kerslake)


  • ‘Write’ a poem in the style of Neuenschwander or Dada artist by cutting apart an article word by word and assembling it by random as you pull the words from a bag.
  • Try rolling a die to make artistic decisions.
  • Try these other chance art ideas with MoMa!


Rivane Neuenschwander

Rivane Neuenschwander was born in 1967 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She lives and works in São Paulo, Brazil.

Neuenschwander is one of the most internationally renowned Brazilian artists of her generation. She often allows the influence of autonomous, transient forces – humans and animals being recurring elements –  to dictate the production of her works. Themes of mutability, geography and nature underpin Neuenschwander’s practice. Highlighting the beauty of overlooked phenomena and seemingly banal gestures, she seeks to unveil, and make sense of, the chaotic logic that underpins both the natural and man-made worlds.

Neuenschwander’s unique take on Brazilian conceptualism investigates chance and control, at times through direct interaction with the viewer. Her innovative and experimental practice includes painting, photography, film, sculpture and installation. Identity is integral to her works; she draws from folk traditions and incorporates eclectic influences from Brazil’s diverse history of art movements.
(Stephen Friedman)