RAFAEL VOGT MAIA ROSA - Do these fingers that you made point to the same direction as Duchamp’s Tu m’ (1918)? TUNGA - You mean “tu m’aimes.” RVMR - Yeah…, a homophonic title. T - This is a very deep-rooted tradition in Europe. It’s what we call bird language, interpreted by means of a phonetic kabala and not through its explicit meaning. RVMR - I used to have this more limited reading that the work does not build a language, but it points to a complement that only reality can provide. T - But even the dart object is an object d’art. You can neither deny nor omit this information; it is one of the elements of the work. Otherwise, it would be like looking at a red painting and saying you’re colorblind. This is a subject that interests me, the use of language in this way. RVMR - Your work, time and again, is associated to Beuys’s. But Beuys has a biographical legend. You don’t have one legend, maybe a patchwork of legends. T - I don’t know if it’s a biographical legend, but you can’t escape subjectivity. It doesn’t seem to me the case of psychologizing the art production in terms of personal history, because this would be exactly a way of isolating the production as if it were a matter of a complex, complicated subject, and the work as an instrument for transforming this complication, so to speak. I think this way it is only impoverished. Sometimes I notice that one observes Louise Bourgeois through her personal history, the paternity… It is a way of not generalizing the possibility that everyone can see that, that everyone can do that. And I don’t think it’s a matter of trauma resolution. RVMR - In this sense, you would identify yourself more with Borges, with “the other”? T - Yes, I think Borges’s way comes from parody. RVMR - As a “parallel chant”? T - A parody of mythical situations that are extremely present, current structures, that have been masked by modernity, by contemporaneity, but that are latent, they are back there. Maybe in the United States, they are terrified of reading some texts by Plato or Nietzsche, but Plato is behind a lot of stuff, isn’t he? Retrieving the archaic is updating structures that are still current, so it is possible, through mythical reconstruction—which is a very complex language in itself, as dense as the language of reason—to update not the sources but the origins of what happens today, of what subjectivity is today. I think modern subjectivity does not escape much from these archaic structures. Even if cubism has determined this explosion of the subject, it’s always the urge for the idea of the totality of the unit of a discontinuous subject. RVMR - And how does repetition, or even mirroring, fit into what you’re saying? Because when I think of geminility, for example, I don’t necessarily think of an update of a mythical or archaic structure. There is a whole fact there, an identity, right? T - When I say parody, it is a form of updating. It’s a sense of sorts… Not that humoristic sense we relate to parody nowadays, but the one that lies in the origin of the word itself. The issue of the twins, the geminility, can be found when we read Dumézil [Georges Dumézil], many references to the twins’ matrix in all matrixes. In the Indo-European culture, for instance, we find in some groups the solution for the problem of the subjectivity of the twins. In some tribes, when twins were born, they didn’t know what to do. Many of these tribes would kill one of them because there were two, just one was enough. So, one would be fake; and the other, real. The compromise that was created was to enthrone them both as only one. Anyway, what is mentioned in the beginning of the introduction of those twins that are the Xifópagas capilares (1984)—the first time this subject appears so vehemently in the work—it’s the matter of the presentation of reality and the representation of the identity and the repetition as a means of creating representations that are identical and different, continuous and discontinuous in relation to the fact, to reality. RVMR - Now, something maybe a little more distant: to what did Frank Sinatra’s song lead you, before putting you in that Ão (1981) tunnel? Where did Sinatra take you? T - In Sinatra, obviously, there is the cream of his voice that was interesting, this unique quality that the human voice has, something irreducible. I’ll stretch the argument a little bit, but this is where it leads me: the sung word is the incarnation of mystery. The meaning of the word was only completely achieved in the sacred archaic manuscripts when it was sung. When you read the papyrus or the sacred archaic manuscripts from Chaldea or from the first Greek alchemy from the 1st and 2nd centuries, they were already a result of the knowledge conjunction born in Egypt migrating to Greece. When these two cultures meet, the Egyptian culture being massively more powerful than the Greek one, there is a kind of adaptation, of symbiosis. In many texts back then, the translation into Greek of what was considered the sacred word that
forms the manuscripts is criticized because they couldn’t emit the sound that, once pronounced, would make present what was said. It was as if the word became a sign and not a symbol as the totality of that which lends it presence. RVMR - Once again the homophony of the bird language. T - It’s a skill to try to think of a word also with all the ranges of connections that it brings to the unconscious. When you talk about the poetic word, you evidently seek in poetry the highest density of the word’s meaning, and this density is sometimes a phonetic allusion to another word that lies in there. The verticality of poetry is different from the horizontality of the sentence and it allows, through the migration of this process into sculpture, an enrichment that is words as stones, as things. RVMR - But there is the tunnel, which has a continuous, “perpetual” temporality. T - Which is identical to the temporality of the braid: always the same and yet different every time. I mean, your presence, your testimony is what makes the difference, so much so that you enter the room and can project yourself in there as a shadow. RVMR - I’ve heard, like, almost as a joke, associations of the lyrics of Frank Sinatra’s songs with drugs. I’ve got you under my skin, or even Night and day… The process of ascesis is a territory of your work, isn’t it? There is always a moment when one gets transported to a dimension that is not the day-to-day one. Would you say there is a strategy in that sense or does it happen by surprise, as a mystery? T - The attitude of making art is an ascetic one, I mean, when there is this commitment of having this gaze upon the world, you start to exercise this gaze as part of your everyday life. Many years ago, back in the 1970s, I welcomed a group of kids at an exhibition and, in order to try to explain what that was, I told them, “Look, don’t you wash your hands with soap?” “We do.” “So, every day you wash away some soap and it gets rounder and rounder. See, that is a sculpture you’re making.” Evidently the catch here is the matter of the intentional act, which is to bring to conscience that gesture which is metaphorical, the fact that everything in the world can be metaphorized, and that the world is a group of signs, a group of symbols that can be decoded, not in the linguistic sense, but in the sense of being experienced. If I am in front of a painting by Matisse, a red studio, and I am wearing only green, I change that painting because I have a complementary color that makes the painting vibrate with my presence. If you read this, if this is part of your world, the world is an installation. I intend it to be an ongoing instauration. An instauration of phenomena, things that come to light and that you bring to light when you pronounce them. RVMR - Freud says something like “nothing is harder than giving up an already-experimented pleasure.” From what you are saying, it seems to me that this situation is completely set, nothing will keep you from fulfilling your desire as an artist. But this implies, let’s say, more than awareness, a power to deal with these signs. T - Fortunately this society has the role of the artist, and fortunately I could enroll myself as such. Because I could be, like Artaud, in a mental institution, I could be somewhere else, because giving up this desire is something I wouldn’t like to do, this desire of seeing the world that way. RVMR - At the entrance of this exhibition, there is this picture that looks like a self-portrait and at the same time reminds us a lot of Mario Cravo Neto. T - When I took that picture, what I had in my spirit was Adam and Eve, my turtles, and this pervert conjunction that is to turn the male and the female into a face. But Mario Cravo was a great friend of mine and I have a picture of his, an Exu, at the entrance of my home. After I finished it, I looked at it and said, “Thank you, Mario Cravo.” This language of his, the photography, is tributary to archaic positions connected to Candomblé. Where does this image come from? There is his presence, as an artist, and also that of someone initiated in Candomblé. He was in the position of looking at that world and incorporating that archaic world that is present in Brazil. And it’s very interesting that, regardless of what happens here, everybody there is animist, like it or not. This is latent, even with the most rational thinking, in the construction of subjectivity that we all experiment culturally, not on account of being Brazilian, but because we live in close contact with archaisms that are constitutive and sublimated in so-called more advanced societies. RVMR - It’s almost the opposite situation, but Waly Salomão says in an essay that, in the opening of the Opinião 65 exhibition at the Modern Art Museum in Rio, you, a young artist at the time, were rapt with the lacquer hairdos of the ladies who were there… T - I haven’t heard anything about it. [laughs] RVMR - But you were there. T - Indeed I was. I attended, from a very early age, events held by the small and rarefied world of arts in Rio… I remember [Antonio Carlos da] Fontoura’s movie Ver ouvir (1966), particularly the great impact that Roberto Magalhães had upon me,
in the beginning, and still has today. Yet, I had an attitude, due to my background, a bit critic with regards to all that reality. I was already in search of new paths. RVMR - You mean in counterpoint to a political commitment? T - To commitment and to the fact that all that, though fascinating, wasn’t the complexity I was looking for. Maybe this identification with Roberto came due to procedures that led to the presence of the unconscious itself, of an art more connected to surrealism. RVMR - Talking about surrealism, did you have anything to do with the conception of Inhotim? T - There was a talk with Bernardo [Paz] and the idea of a huge garden. As a matter of fact, when I found it out and we started to become friends, I saw in him a character capable of doing what Poe’s character did in The Domain of Arnheim (1847). Bernardo had a small collection of modern art, basically, and a small house in Inhotim, and he asked me if I would like to see one of the mines, a “small” mine nearby. I went there with him and the canyon was there, some twenty “small” trucks deep down there… going down, and each wheel of these “small” trucks was about eight meters tall. It was something huge. And Bernardo told me, with simplicity, “no, we removed that mountain yesterday, the other one we will ‘make’ tomorrow.” Like that, kind of like the delirious dimension of Poe’s short story, which finishes in this endless garden in which the character ends up lost. RVMR - It was some kind of surrender on his part. T - It was something about getting lost in one’s own creation, you know? I mean, getting lost in the good sense of the word. Bernardo had already spent part of his life lost in that mining stuff, building himself through mining; he built this empire and was at a point in his life, a turning point. And art seemed to open a new door, both for the gardens and for the installations. I saw in him the perfect character to join these elements. It was a beautiful story. RVMR - You also took part in the creation of a very important publishing house for Brazilian art. T - Cosac & Naify is yet another story of friendship, of love, of proximity. Charles Cosac called me with the intention of starting a publishing house and asked me to make a book. And kind of gave me carte blanche. RVMR - You loved books already. T - I was born among books. If I had to go to my father’s house, there were books… RVMR - …your father was a poet. T - My father, Gerardo de Mello Mourão, was a poet, so there were books in the bathroom, in the living room, in my bedroom, in my brother’s bedroom, all over the place. Since we were young, one of our child’s plays was to guess, between my brother and I, at dinner time, like this: “Le Rire?!” and then the other would say, “Bergson!” and then we had to point where the book was on the shelf. Anyway, I made this first book for the publishing house, that was Barroco de lírios (1997), which gave me the opportunity to express my point of view over things. I think this brought up the characteristic of having books by artists and not about artists. It’s in these situations that happen by chance in life that you can, with no big compromise, sow something, like my own life is sown from random things, like everybody’s lives. So let’s go back to what I was saying about having this ability to see the world as signifier, not as meaningless events. The idea of building up sense from facts and things. RVMR - But if we get your Xifópagas capilares and Guignard’s painting of the twins, Lea e Maura, there is more than just chance, there is a kinship inside and outside of art, isn’t there? T - Unfortunately, I did not live together with that painting. But Guignard lived in my grandfather’s house, Antonio de Barros Carvalho, for about three or four years, and he painted everything, he painted, painted the table, painted the roof, he painted... Family legend has it that he also liked to drink and my grandfather had a cellar, so..., that surreal thing: the booze quantity reduced as the paintings grew. [laughs] My grandfather was a senator and, one day, he had the idea of creating an independent art salon, because there was only one art salon and it was an academic one. He created the Modern Art Salon project and it was approved by law. The prize was a one-year trip to Paris. Well, then he said, “Guignard, you have to send one of these things to the Salon!” [laughs] Guignard was far from being a fool and he painted the portrait of the daughters, my aunt, and my mom. And it was very interesting because my grandfather, who was born in the state of Pernambuco, supposedly said, “But I don’t want their portrait with that Minas [state of Minas Gerais] stuff, no, I want Olinda in the background!” And Guignard, “But, Barros, I don’t know Olinda!” “Don’t worry, I’ll tell you exactly how it is!” [laughs] And he went on to paint the house rows in Olinda, which is the background of the painting, and it was like “no, there is the blue house row there, there is a façade such and such there.” And that painting was sent to the Salon, it was awarded the travel prize and ended up in the collection of the Ministry of Education and Culture. It stayed there for a long time. Then, at the 500 Anos exhibition, it traveled, it was even shown at the MoMA.
RVMR - Is anonymity a theme you are interested in? T - Tunga is not me, Tunga is just my name. The search for “who we are” is much more intense than the search for identity. It’s not about searching for identity; it’s about searching for who you are dynamically. Identity is a bit static, as if you put the name and the thing. The thing becomes different at each phenomenon, so we are someone else, as Rimbaud said, continuously, all the time, and that is something that interests me, this revelation that you are, the side you live in, the moment you live. RVMR - And what about allowing some unfolding of your identity in a threshold between dream and nightmare? T - I think the dream fascinates us because it keeps some notions we have when we are awake suspended, a certainty of the real world. Reason brought us a series of beliefs that we are facing reality when we can prove things and repeat them, etc., etc. We all have access to the narrative of dreams, however, we all believe that it’s while awake that things happen and, for this reason, half of our life happens backwards. The traffic between the logic of the dreams and the logic of being awake brings us an enlargement of the existence field, operating in this territory where certainty and uncertainty assert themselves with the same intensity. RVMR - Is there something of daydreaming in living at the base of the Pedra da Gávea? T - Rio de Janeiro is a city that is a bit like an ancient period of China, when sculptors and poets would sign stones that were found by chance. They’re called pierre d’étudiante, the student’s stone, because they were stones used to paint in the studios to practice painting landscapes too. Then the guy would place a stone he had found that was as if it were the synthesis of a mountain chain that was there and was to be observed, they were sources of countless images. These stones were signed and they were stones as artwork, as sculptures. You will find gardens where there are natural stones and they are placed, observed, and seen as sculptures, for people to search inside them, in their images, a possibility of expression much wider than the sole presence of a stone, of a mineral. The question is that those stones in Rio are seen as monuments, they are our cathedrals. A place that has the sloth of not needing to build its temples and its cathedrals and assume its stones as such is an extraordinary thing. RVMR - Is the religious element in your work an exclusive part of your poetics or does it extend into your personal life?
T - What extends into my personal life, and has to do with a transformation that is also part of the work, is the faith in the mystery of life. That was something very important, the moment in which the fascination for death became fascination for life. And I believe this was a kind of a break with the romantic tradition of searching to find, in the night, the indeterminate. RVMR - Is that recent? T - This is something of ten years ago. It happens together with an accident that I suffered where my life was at risk and I needed to rebuild this proximity with death in a different way. RVMR - But what are these fingers pointing to, after all? T - To love, isnâ€™t it? The other name of this exhibition is Eros. I see it like a love story with characters that are the product of a love conjunction. Love in the sense of the power of the energy of conjunction, which is capable of building continuity, which is Eros. Eros as he who transforms one in three. I think here, these works, are the presence of Eros, they are one, two, three, they are three in one. English version by Priscila Forster