Every twelve days and a letter, Tunga
The engraving 'Every twelve days and a letter', by Tunga. Photo: Disclosure

On Friday, December 15th, Masp opened the exhibition to the public Tunga: The Body in Works, a solo show that closes the museum’s 2017 program and which also dialogues with Histórias da Sexualidade, the collective polemic currently on display at the São Paulo museum. Tunga: The Body in Works (read more) is curated by Isabella Rjeille and expography by Metro Arquitetos Associados.

In 2009, the trajectory of the artist from Pernambuco was the subject of the cover story of the first edition of the magazine ARTE!Brasileiros. With his departure, in June 2016, the editor Leonor Amarante made new obeisances to Tunga in the report The Wild Philosophy Remains Alive (read below). 

tunga has transformed a trademark in the history of Brazilian art. His work is a river without banks, carried by the “wild” and intense life experienced by him in different territories. He was born in Palmares, Pernambuco, lived in Rio de Janeiro, in Valparaíso, Chile, during a period of dictatorship, and lived in Paris for an “intellectual evidence and not a romantic refuge”, as was insinuated in Brazil. He redefined and recomposed his work, in various periods, driven by curiosity for other forms of expression. His incursions into dance, music, cinema reinforced his concern to decolonize spaces and act as a mediator of transdisciplines with groups from other “galaxies”. His fictional imaginary is a paradigm of insights affective in the construction of individual mythologies supported by science, archeology, zoology and, above all, literature. Tunga is the son of Léa de Barros, one of the twins in Guignard's famous canvas, and the journalist and poet Gerardo Mello Mourão. He lived with Brazilian and French intellectuals who frequented his parents' house in Rio de Janeiro and, under this influence, he became a voracious reader. Not by chance, his work is impregnated with Latin American fantastic realism, present in short texts that accompany some performances, such as sowing mermaids (1983), in which a dramatic and allegorical Tunga appears who “talks” with his own severed head, with exaggeratedly grown hair, thrown into the sea by himself. With “his” skull at stake, Tunga deepens his reflections on the artificiality of forms, urging the viewer not to be intimidated by them. After all, he consciously treats the “sculpture” as an enigmatic and strange figure that can cause discomfort.

Tunga, performance 'Inside Out Upside Down', 1997

At the 1987 Bienal de São Paulo, he assumed a leading role as spectacular as his work, While Flora on the Edge (1987), floating structure made of very thin steel wires that hang from the ceiling and reach the floor, destabilizing the spectator. In the following decade, he began to work with the opposite material: he manipulated light and delicate shapes executed with glasses, sometimes filled with viscous liquid, highlighting the material structure, sometimes simply empty. true rouge (1994) is the culmination of this phase, an installation composed of hundreds of glass bottles of different shapes and sizes. All brought directly from MoMA in New York to the II Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, in 1999, of which I was assistant curator with Fábio Magalhães. The two places were diametrically opposed: the MoMA with its architecture and formal cleanliness and the wooden warehouse, from 1922, already worn out, inserted in a bucolic landscape, on the banks of the Guaíba River. Harald Szeeman, critic and curator of the 48th Venice Biennale, in 1999, checked out the installation in New York and, finding it at the Mercosul Biennial, comments: “This work has its hermeticism, and here, in contrast to the surroundings, it opens a field of provisional but disturbing meanings”. In any location where true rouge is “installed”, the montage reveals itself to be the soul of the work and not what happens afterwards. In this sense, Tunga defended art as an evolution of ruptures and not of continuity. At the X Documenta in Kassel, in 1997, with the performance Inside Out Upside Down, in the old train station of the German city, he points to a new phase for the corporal arts, no longer related only to the performance, which had already given birth to it. Now he reinforces the presence of psychoanalysis with small narratives as an agent of an exercise in transience.

tunga sowing mermaids
Tunga, 'Performance Sowing Mermaids', 1983.

From an early age, Tunga created strategies to disrupt the normality of the art circuit, perhaps influenced by Pasolini, Rimbaud, Foucault, Lacan, whom he had always read. I met him very young, at the age of 22, presented by the Rio de Janeiro critic Roberto Pontual as “an artist to be followed”. Tunga had just opened his first exhibition at the MAM in Rio de Janeiro, already causing controversy. Drawings of him, with hints of child masturbation, reach the public to provoke him to take a position on aspects of our conservative culture, even if he was understood as an author of libertine imagination. Sensuality becomes a primary source of investigation and its trajectory becomes marked by bodily representations and their fluids. Tunga has always defended the status of the body, its life-to-death banner. The boldness and attitude of that young man in the face of criticism hooked me, and I started to follow him.

tunga Xifopagas Capillaries
Tunga, performance 'Xifópagas Capillares', 1998.

On video To, from 1980, filmed in 16 mm, looping, he manipulates emotion by projecting the curve of an endless tunnel: with no entrance or exit. At the invitation of the curator and critic Walter Zanini, the video is shown at the 1981 Bienal de São Paulo, in a vector dedicated to electronic art.

Tunga returns to exhibit at the São Paulo show, now with large-scale works in 1987, 1994, 1998 and 2013. Already internationally known, he participates in the Venice Biennale, Havana Biennale and Documenta in Kassel. In France, he exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, at the Jeu de Paume, at the Louvre Museum, at the Palais de Tokyo, all in the French capital, and at the Lyon Biennale. He also shows his works, among other museums, at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne.

morphological tunga
Untitled Works, from the 'Morfológicas' series, started in 2014, and in progress at the time of Tunga's death.

In cinema, he joins director Eryk Rocha, son of Glauber Rocha, in the audiovisual trilogy: Marrow e Quimera (2004), shown at the Cannes and Sundance festivals, and received the title of dream film by the duo. This partnership also generates Laminadas Almas (2006), filmed during the performance at the Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro with 600 frogs, 40 flies, tadpoles, larvae… transmutation of the elements.

In recent years Tunga manipulates terracotta, plaster, crystals, present in the work From the Humid Voie where tripods and body parts link your world to alchemy. Even without the physical presentation, his work brings results as mental objects, as evidenced by the series produced in partnership with the composer and singer Arnaldo Antunes.

In addition to its presence in museum collections around the world, Tunga's work is exhibited in Inhotim, located in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, in the largest center of contemporary art in Brazil. Also responsible for the design of this complex, which opened in 2012, the artist has in this space the Galeria Psicoativa Tunga, where Lezart (lizard in French) from 1998, composed of braids, clubs and combs connected by magnets, and the fiction Capillary Xiphopagus, a 1984 performance, in which the seduction by abnormality takes shape and where he radically celebrates the closeness of man to himself. In another pavilion, inaugurated in 2006, it shines alone true rouge, an ode to the missing artist.

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