Carlos Bunga (Porto, 1976) simultaneously presents two exhibitions in Lisbon: Where I Am Free, at Fundação Carmona e Costa, and The Architecture of Life. Environments, Sculptures, Paintings and Films, at MAAT. These exhibitions are a partnership and complement each other. Where I Am Free is curated by Inês Grosso and is exclusively dedicated to his drawing efforts. At MAAT, Iwona Blazwick is the curator and we can see his sculptural works, videos and installations. Both exhibitions reveal his artistic career under different mediums and expressions, but following the same conductor: the ephemeral or permanent architecture and the relationship between the subject and his housing, and the latter is broadly interpreted by Carlos Bunga.
In Nomad, a book published under this exhibitions’ umbrella, Bunga exhibits his story, thought-process and writes the following: “Demolitions have always followed me”. The first drawing is of a pregnant woman whom the artist regards as his first home, a place from which he travelled to Portugal. This nomadic, and somehow disenfranchised nature, commonly shared by many emigrants and post-colonial war returnees, is found throughout his work and artistic reflection. At Fundação Carmona e Costa, in humour-drenched creations, we see the sketches of the different houses where he lived, including in his adult life. Bunga moved from one place to the author, with his house on his back, in Autumn Red #7 and had it on the top of his head in the Nomads series. These drawings are envisioned dwellings that function as heads to human bodies in different positions.
More than someone’s in-person report, this account is shared by a whole generation (maybe two) that was forced to leave their home country to arrive in the colonizing country. Prisons and hotels were opened with rooms and cells shared by these individuals, who simply wanted to see the rest of their families arriving as well, and then return to their country of origin, in everything so different from ours.
Therefore, Bunga works on a personal experience, historically framed and replicated: the common occupation of buildings, the construction of one’s own dwelling, often ephemeral, social housing, borrowed housing. This nomadism, experienced by so many artists throughout our recent history, forcing them to delve into the subject of housing, like Ruy Cinatti for instance, is also somehow present in Carlos Bunga, who now wanders around the world in different artistic residences, included in his work and the questions he raised about one’s own experience in a space. But, this time, surrounded by the family.
And, if this preamble almost takes the whole space provided to write about this exhibition, it is because an in-depth understanding of the artist’s work is essential. After all, if in Where I Am Free the drawings reveal this reflection, found throughout his work, at MAAT we can lose ourselves in the experience of his installations, without feeling that we need to thoroughly know the questions raised by them.
Carlos Bunga is deeply devoted to ephemeral materials: cardboard, glue, adhesive tape, which he uses as support of sometimes large installations, or simulations of habitats, elements that he destroys (recording that moment) with as much commitment as he puts during the edification. At MAAT, we can watch some films that testify both the construction of his large-scale works (monumental in their relative scale) and the destruction of others. The films are mainly focused on destruction. Carlos Bunga works the architecture and the construction from the reusing standpoint. Such is the ephemeral: it is taking advantage of existing materials, they are built to be used and they are destroyed in the end. This is what the nomads do, and wars forced them to.
Light Inside (2019), a site-specific work is an installation built on cardboard, glue and paint that, with a quite high base and light cracks that create luminous and angular reflections, takes us to the central nave of a Romanesque cathedral. At the same time, it could be one of those children’s games in which we stack geometric shapes and simulate houses. Alternatively, the color and light of this work (similar in Polychromatic Environment) is quite close to a painting and some sort of cubism or abstract geometry, with color and unfurling the space’s geometric refraction.
Cardboard also allows Bunga to work with small sizes, such as mock-ups or he even uses it as a support for paintings.
Carlos Bunga doesn’t fear size. He works the scale only as a means of expression. Like the support, or the different tools he needs, size for him is something that induces in the viewer a message or a specific artist-manipulated fruition. And this is present in the two exhibition areas that his work occupies as we speak. As a matter of fact, both spaces follow this logic: MAAT, a large-sized open space with works exhibited more than 2 meters away from the floor, and Fundação Carmona e Costa, whose spaces are more controlled, more intimate, where we are also closer to the works.
Carlos Bung works on architecture, but purposely neglecting Vitruvius’ three principles for good architecture: firmitas, utilitas and venustas, using one or another in the construction of his works as much as he wants.