ARTSPACE: Get to Know Alexandre da Cunha, the Brazilian Sculptor Who’s “Tropicalizing” the Readymade
Most of da Cunha’s works originate from intense observations of the everyday—specifically the ways in which people in Brazil improvise ordinary objects to create other useful items. He translates these improvisations into his own sculptural pieces through processes of decontextualization and modification. The resulting artworks, made out of inexpensive and sometimes defunct consumer items, often mimic modernist sculptures, yet their forms are rooted in everyday life.
One of his best-known series, for instance, is a group of large ceiling-fan sculptures made from old skateboards and household utensils. Their titles are based on either the brand names of the skateboards or writings that their former owners scrawled onto them. The ceiling fan is obviously a reference to the climate and ordinary household decor of tropical countries such as Brazil. But da Cunha’s approach to appropriation goes beyond the straightforward reuse of the objects themselves. The found boards have scratches and stickers that tell stories—personal narratives of their former owners—and as cultural artifacts they refer to a particular lifestyle that is familiar to some and completely mysterious to others. We may see them as abandoned trophies, or fragments of secrets that da Cunha has found and exposed.
Recently, the artist’s work has become more political and critical. For his 2006 Velour Series he used metal fittings and tape to cobble beach towels, curtain poles, and ribbons into flaglike constructions. The towels’ graphics are carefully selected; they show, for instance, tigers or girls in bikinis. Thus the flags are critical dissections of the idea of national identity, playing on the stereotypical iconography of tropical or “exotic” countries by presenting lighthearted images associated with leisure culture as if they were official national symbols.