Alexandre da Cunha is not the typical maker, despite the fact he operates within a sculptural field of overtly modernist tendencies. The artist intervenes into the everyday, displacing specific objects and entering them into an exhibitory realm, reorienting them as artworks. The nature of this appropriative act creates a space in which objects oscillate between strange tensions, bringing the paradoxes of contemporary art into plain sight. In da Cunha’s exploratory practice, a traditional method of figurative sculpture making is confused with found objects. His inventions emerge from a cross reading of Brazil’s neo-concrete movement and the contradictions of modernist architectural cities like Rio de Janeiro. The precariousness of urban design, which is rooted in the necessity of re-purposing found materials, is met by the minimal aesthetics of ubiquitous mass-produced objects.
Da Cunha’s introverted form of artistic practice is centred on a negotiation with techniques of materiality. It often involves a close observation of the object, as it reoccurs within the conceptual canon, but with a direct intention of transgressing and indeed challenging this inevitable historical quotation. The treatments which Cunha’s objects forgo are related to the spatial architectures of the Brazilian modernist environments he grew up in, where form is manipulated to envelope and isolate the human body. By this logic, da Cunha relates studio practice to home cleaning, both as environments in which the body becomes an agent for the clearing of space, making way for a blank slate. Domestic symbols and the products of manufacturing and leisure industries are rid of their hierarchical functions acting simultaneously as objects, artworks and artefacts.
Humour, the final and perhaps most important component of da Cunha’s practice, is rooted in certain ambivalence towards the conditions of the modern object. Even when the artist is working on canvas (Nude, 2012), a series of large brown circles emerging across the surface give way to a certain threedimensional quality. Viewed from an angle, the protruding peeks of the rounded sunhats begin to suggest the physicality of human nipples, exposing the surreal dimension of da Cunha’s metaphoric language. A worn out car tire repurposed as a flower pot, framed depictions of popular icons from Brazilian culture, and a seemingly abstract painting made from deck chairs and rugs, form the corpus of Cunha’s incessant dichotomising of singular objects. The subtle monumentality of the work may be imbedded in minimal strategies of mid-century modernism; but there is always more than meets the eye alone. As ready-mades cast in a tropical irony, such acts are demonstrative of how any use of an object is an appropriative act.
© Osei Bonsu, 2014
Frieze Magazine, Alexandre da Cunha - Published on 02/06/08
by Nicola Harvey
I was in the US recently and couldn’t help but notice the country’s penchant for displaying the stars and stripes. Granted, it is election year, and much has been made of the Presidential candidates’ 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 – even stand on! – the flag, punishable by up to a year in prison. This collection of shapes on rudimentary fabric is the embodiment of the nation’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, ‘You’re either with us or against us.’ 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 London’s Vilma Gold. In the first space was a photographic series, ‘Seascape (Flags)’ (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 ‘Seascape (Flags)’ to an abstract Modernist aesthetic: the series bears a resemblance to the peculiar ‘Tableau’ (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).