Cildo Meireles, Tunga

T Kanaal

This exhibition of works by two Brazilian artists, Cildo Meireles and Tunga, illustrated the ways in which strategies of displacement and substitution can be used to produce works of multiple, sometimes contradictory, meanings. Meireles has been an important figure in Brazilian art for the past 20 years. He has incorporated tactics from conceptual and performance art, in order to underscore the series of political upheavals that have characterized his country’s tumultuous recent history. His installation here was entitled A traves (Through, 1989). It represented both a conceptual and physical challenge for the viewer. Meireles’ portion of the exhibition space was covered with shards of broken glass. As one advanced, the ground literally broke with each step, emitting a sound that was both frightening and pleasurable. The work played on the prohibition and attraction of this activity, establishing a complicity with the viewer. One’s passage also required negotiating a series of barriers constructed of disparate materials, including mesh, wood, and barbed wire. At the center of this labyrinth was a huge ball of crumpled plastic. The large plastic mass acted as a kind of ultimate blockage after one had navigated so many barriers. A traves offered a means to examine the process of passage and travel, and could itself be read as a political and artistic metaphor.

Tunga’s installation was entitled Lezarts, 1989. While it shared a tactile sense of materials with Meireles’ work, its use of allusion came down on the side of the symbolic as opposed to the metaphoric. The recurrent image of Lezarts was hair, transformed into endless strands of copper. One passed through a large metal comblike structure to reach the central area, making it seem as if an infinite manufacturing process were taking place to produce the copper strands. This magical image of abundance recalled the writings of Gabriel García Marquez. Here, the work created a scene of controlled chaos and uncontrolled nature. Lezarts reproduced the imaginary through the use of everyday objects and symbols. The symbolic, narrative undertones of Tunga’s piece were striking. However, the insistence on, rather than the implication of, the fantastic, somewhat weakened the overall effect. Lezarts covered the distance from sign to signified a bit too quickly.

Michael Tarantino