Luísa Cunha’s Mapa Mundi performance at Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar
After Rui Chafes, Julião Sarmento and Pedro Cabrita Reis, the work of Luísa Cunha is now dialoguing with the one of Júlio Pomar, in the exhibition O Material Não Aguenta, curated by Sara Antónia Matos. The exhibition is the continuation of the annual exhibition programme of Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar, whose ambition is to provide different readings of Júlio Pomar’s work, by crossing it with the efforts of other artists.
Still during his lifetime, Júlio Pomar found in Luísa Cunha’s work a sense of irony in the face of a reality similar to his own. This irony is the binding element between the work of both artists and embodies the exhibition itself.
The title is perhaps related to the sense of matter found in many of Luísa Cunha’s efforts, often strengthened by key sentences as titles, and it is a throwback to a time when the artist lectured at Ar.Co and was confronted with the long stories that her students found in the works they presented, stories that their material could not support. According to the artist, that is the act of thinning ideas down, since the visual language is a visual language and not a literary, Romanesque language. She would say to them, “the material cannot support it” – which is the exhibition’s title.
Luísa Cunha conceived four pieces for the exhibition, including an unprecedented performance, Mapa Mundi, which took place on November 28, 2018 in Atelier-Museu. No one, apart from the artist herself and a close friend, was aware of its content. There was only one rehearsal behind closed doors, during which not even the curator was present.
On the day of its presentation, when stepping inside Atelier-Museu, the audience was surprised by the delicate silk papers sorted by colour on the wooden floor. Calmly and methodically, Luísa started to organize them according to a certain order with repeated movements of lowering, picking, raising, lowering, dropping and raising, thus lending rhythm to the whole area, which punctuated the silence of the crowd.
The blue, brown and white tones gradually created a design on the pavement, not immediately perceptible by those on the ground floor. Some papers were laid straight, colouring the flat surface, while others presented themselves totally crumpled, with Atelier-Museu acquiring a new topography.
Lowering, picking, raising, lowering, dropping and raising, Luísa Cunha repeated this sequence more than three hundred and forty times. The mechanical, slow and methodical gestures were drenched with physical suffering, something only visible through the sweat that started to drip on the delicate material. A game of coordination and self-control, taken to a meditative state of mind in order to conceal the effort, since the notion of fatigue was not an integral part of the piece.
Little by little, the world map became noticeable, inviting a part of the audience to the first floor, in order to see it as a whole through the mezzanine. The continents, represented by brownish spots, were surrounded by the different oceans in shades of blue. Antarctica limited the planisphere its base, in white.
Almost an hour later, with her body and mind taken by immense exhaustion, frantically and yet calmly, the artist finished the drawing of the world map on the surface of Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar. After completing it, she walked all over it, from country to country, from continent to continent, across Australia, Indonesia/Papua New Guinea, Thailand/India, China, Russia and the Middle East towards Europe, jumping to the African continent, from where she returned to Europe and visited the Scandinavia and Greenland, then reaching the American continent. From Canada, the United States, Mexico and Latin America, she returned to North America and then again to Europe.
Finally, she stopped a bit longer in her country and home, Portugal, and then began to pick country after country, carrying them all in her arms, as if they were her own. After experiencing it, she dropped every paper on the floor, giving anyone the chance to experience the world as well.
It was possible, for a brief moment, to see the pavement of Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar covered in colour, particularly the contrast between the intense shades of brown and blue. The silk papers that, according to her own words, fascinated Luísa Cunha, to the point of propelling her to use them in this piece specifically designed for that place, filled Atelier-Museu Júlio-Pomar with vibrant colours.
This performance emerges as a reaction to a political context, fuelling a reflection on the issue of borders and the division of the world we see today.
This subject is not something new in Luísa Cunha’s career who, a few years ago, did a performance for Arte Ilimitada, also in Lisbon, where she built a border with painter’s duct tape, deliberately conditioning and limiting the movement of the crowd.
Mapa Mundi, although it does not produce any object, reveals a strong relation between the body and space, a recurrent subject in the artist’s work, emphasizing the movement of the body in space, the earthly space, the effort of the body and the dissimilarity between the intensity of the gestures and the lightness and frailty of the silk paper, which is scattered using those same gestures.
In conversation with a close friend, the only one who knew about the performance before the event, Luísa Cunha affirmed, faced with the question about her ability to take the performance to the very end, “I will die on stage, if necessary”. Fortunately, the body, which was the material in the case, withstood the test.
Sara Antónia Matos revealed that Mapa Mundi encouraged the implementation of an old idea of inviting one or two artists annually to do an unprecedented, unrepeatable performance, based on Júlio Pomar’s work, to be seen at Atelier-Museu.
Some photographic records remain from the unrepeatable performance. In turn, the exhibition O Material não aguenta can be seen until January 13 at Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar.