Sem título (Areia), 1993
by Luisa Cunha
A piece of Hello! Are You There?, the exhibition at maat, Lisbon
Sem título (areia), 1993
Sound; 61 min 6 s, loop
Installation, 2 speaker drivers, sand, newspaper; dimensions variable
Coll. Fundação de Serralves – Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Porto (acquired in 2009)
[Fernando J. Ribeiro] Yes, they sit on the boundary between the visible and the invisible, between existence and non-existence, between being and non-being. What I find amazing about these things is that, when they are this small, you’re essentially forced to project that scale onto your own, and even onto another which transcends you. Because you’re already in a dimension which is no longer at your scale, so when you try to project it to your scale you can’t conceive it anymore, so you have to move to another one, in which you can no longer tell whether it’s big, gigantic, or related to your scale or with the object’s; it’s a constant propagation from the micro into the macro. That’s what makes it astonishing. It’s like Giacometti, or like that piece of yours with the sand and the newspaper, Sem título [Untitled], where you put the sand on top, and the speakers, and that voice coming from the speakers already sits on the boundary of the visible, of communication – it desperately tries to convey something, but you can’t understand what is being said, because it’s partially covered in sand.
[Luisa Cunha] Yes, there aren’t even any enunciations there. It’s just sound. …
[Fernando J. Ribeiro] Yes, your stance in the world is rather one of observation; in fact, your working process is a lot like that. When I think about it, I picture Luisa suspended in time and space, melancholising and observing in slow motion without even meaning to look too much, waiting for something to arouse her attention. If you talk less than others, that’s because you’re constantly absorbing; the ability to listen is an art, and there’s a certain humility to it. I think it has more to do with a stance in life, a more contemplative one. I’ve known you for 30 years, and I know you have a natural need to see and listen and feel. It’s just who you are, not a matter of self-absorption. As for me, I’m rather fond of passing my knowledge on; it’s a gift for me.
[Luisa Cunha] I’m fond of it too.
[Fernando J. Ribeiro] Going back to your work, let me just say that I see not only a neutral, mental stance, but also something that is quite visceral and terrible. This is obvious, for example, in the work where you address what you read on the internet about the political prisoners in Libya during the Arab Spring, who were held in underground prison cells with only a crack for them to breathe, and when American journalists came near them they yelled “Frydm” – and you made a work out of this. Or even in the piece Sem título, in which there’s a moment of plight – someone wants to communicate but can’t. It’s curious, because several times you make it clear that the most mental, contemplative thing in your work is actually capable of drifting toward something much more distressing.
— Luisa Cunha and Fernando J. Ribeiro, translated excerpt from “E Mais o Resto. Conversa entre Luisa Cunha e Fernando J. Ribeiro”, 9 Kg de Oxigénio, Ágora – Cultura e Desporto do Porto, E.M. / Galeria Municipal do Porto, 2019, pp. 62–124.
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.
Sem título (Areia), 1993, by Luisa Cunha. View of the exhibition Primeira Avenida: Rua de Sentido Único, Avenida dos Aliados 66/68, Museu de Serralves / Fundação de Serralves, 2012. Photo: Filipe Braga, courtesy of Fundação de Serralves.