Magnetic Needle, 2015 

A performance by Luisa Cunha 


To walk, to hear, to listen, to think. The presence-absence voice of the body. 

Curiously enough, when Luisa Cunha chose performance, only once did she use her voice—in Magnetic Needle (2015), a work about spatial orientation, compasses, and the four cardinal points, where the words uttered into the microphone describe a journey. For all other actions, her body has remained mute. Regarding performance, the artist states that it invariably results from a state of shock which she can only overcome by using her own body: other media such as drawing, sound, video, photography, and sculpture are insufficient to overcome the trauma. And this state of shock may be caused by something external to her, something belonging to the social and political realm rather than the personal one, as is the case with the performance in Brown and Blue (2018), triggered by the construction of Donald Trump’s wall on the border between the United States and Mexico. 

— Isabel Carlos, “Hello! Are You there? Three Decades Walking with Luisa Cunha”, Luisa Cunha. Obras / Works 1992–2022, EDP Foundation / maat, 2023, p. 261. 


Magnetic Needle, Luisa Cunha


View of the performance: Magnetic Needle, Old School, 2015. Photo: Susana Pomba, courtesy of the artist.


The exhibition Hello! Are You There? (maat – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Lisbon, 19/05–28/09/2023), is the most comprehensive retrospective ever of the work by Luisa Cunha (Lisbon, 1949). Spanning multiple media – from video to drawing, painting, and sculpture – a large and wise choice of 52 works occupies the entirety of this floor and extends outside. This exhibition is also the occasion for releasing the most complete catalogue of Luisa Cunha's work to date. With more than 280 pages, the book Luisa Cunha. Obras / Works 1992-2022 encompasses a total of 108 works in dialogue with a selection of text excerpts by various authors, released between 1997 and 2022 in several different publications. The volume also includes two original essays by Isabel Carlos, who curated the exhibition, and by Joshua Decter, an American writer, curator and art historian.


Luisa Cunha was born in 1949, in Lisbon, where she lives and works. With a degree on German Philology, at the School of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon, she concluded in 1994 the Advanced Course in Sculpture at Ar.Co – Centro de Arte & Comunicação Visual, Lisbon. Heir to the dematerialising experiments in international art of the 1970s, Luisa Cunha has exhibited her work since 1993. In 2021 she was the winner of the EDP Foundation Art Grand Prize, having the jury highlighted “the originality, experimental boldness, multidisciplinary and pioneering nature in the use of new languages”, while also emphasising how influential she has been to younger generations, and also “how she works with space and sound based on verbal language, in a permanent game of constructing and deconstructing meanings”. In 2022, she was awarded the AICA/MC/ Millenium BCP Award for Visual Arts.



Magnetic Needle was performed by Luisa Cunha, on 14 November 2015, and presented as the #39 of the Old School programme of one night events, curated by Susana Pomba at Escola das Gaivotas, Lisbon.