Frieze Magazine, Alexandre da Cunha - Published on 02/06/08
by Nicola Harvey
I was in the US recently and couldnâ€™t help but notice the countryâ€™s penchant for displaying the stars and stripes. Granted, it is election year, and much has been made of the Presidential candidatesâ€™ allegiance to the flag, but Old Glory receives a reverence far beyond any election campaign. It is, quite literally, everywhere: on top of schools; hanging from front porches; suspended from office blocks; engraved into building facades; and waving from the back of cars. Up until 1989, it was a federal offense to desecrate â€“ even stand on! â€“ the flag, punishable by up to a year in prison. This collection of shapes on rudimentary fabric is the embodiment of the nationâ€™s collective values and identity. But why is such lofty meaning projected onto a collection of shapes that has no material value? Under the banner of a national flag, patriotism and identity are considered black and white issues; as President Bush put it in 2001, â€˜Youâ€™re either with us or against us.â€™ That leaves very little room for ambiguity, but provides comfort for many.
Brazilian-born, London-based Alexandre da Cunha, an artist long interested in the stereotypes propagated under the guise of national identity, had plenty of flag-like forms at his recent solo exhibition at Londonâ€™s Vilma Gold. In the first space was a photographic series, â€˜Seascape (Flags)â€™ (2008), of tourist-industry images of perfect Brazilian beaches fragmented by blank geometric shapes, resulting in collages that were reminiscent of standard national flags. These geometric forms connect â€˜Seascape (Flags)â€™ to an abstract Modernist aesthetic: the series bears a resemblance to the peculiar â€˜Tableauâ€™ (1925-26) series that Mondrian produced following his break from De Stijl. (Da Cunha has, in the past, also made Op Art-referencing stripe pieces from old deck chair canvases).