Interview with Luisa Cunha, winner of the 2021 EDP Foundation Art Grand Prize

Winner of the 2021 EDP Foundation Art Grand Prize, Luisa Cunha presents KMS on the cover of this month’s online edition of UMBIGO. For this reason, we asked the artist a few questions, whose long career has particular importance in the context of Portuguese contemporary art, with preeminent historical relevance.


Joana Duarte – How does it feel to receive the 2021 EDP Foundation Art Grand Prize after nearly three decades of work?

Luisa Cunha – Very unexpected. And quite gratifying.

JD– Luisa is a multidisciplinary artist. You rely on different media, such as sound texts, photography, drawing, video, objects, interventions, and performance. How do they intersect and/or relate to each other?

LC – Their meeting point is me. Because they are so different, the supports express the same language. This language contains a transformation that works through a space, a film, a specific reading, a landscape, or a conversation. The emotions felt are then translated with great synthesis, whether in photography, drawing, performance or sound text.

JD – In your work, verbal language is a fundamental element. There is a permanent game of construction and deconstruction of meanings, which deconstructs conventions and protocols. It is disconcerting and captivating at the same time. How important is language in your body of work?

LC – Although in the form of sound texts, the language is visual in most cases. In the works Ali vai o João (1996) and Biblioteca (2007), it is even photographic. In other examples, the texts reflect a sculpted outrage – like in Frydm!. In others, they speak of issues of the public/private, of the communication realm or even of the relationship between space and time in a given context, like 1680 metros for the São Paulo Biennial.

JD – And how does language relate to space and body, elements that mark all your work?

LC – The body has a body language, space a spatial language. An available body and mind travel through spaces and dialogue, they interact. Then, words with the characteristics of that person emerge. In my case, it’s humour, irony, the awareness of our precariousness, etc.

JD – Some of your works – or phrases that are part of some – are in Portuguese or English. Are there any criteria for choosing the language you attribute to the different works?

LC – None. Those works already have language and intonation when they emerge. It’s a question of sonority, I think. I don’t decide anything. English has the advantage of not distinguishing between female and male and of being very synthetic. I must have fitted those characteristics into my head, I don’t even need to reflect on them.

JD – Many of your works are created for a specific place. I remember the piece Até aqui for the exhibition O material não aguenta, at Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar, in 2018. It required a cut in the plinth of the building designed by the architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. Do you consider this and other pieces as site-specific or could they be adapted to other places?

LC – This and several others can be perfectly adapted to other places.

JD – In that same exhibition, you also put up the performance Mapa Mundi or Brown and Blue, in November 2018. A unique moment that left the public wanting more. Do you plan to do any performances in the future?

LC – I never plan anything, as I have said several times. The idea that demands a performance will have to be materialized in that medium.

JD – Tell us about the image chosen for the cover of this month’s online edition of UMBIGO, taken from the KMS series from 2008.

LC – A series of photographs also about the relationship between space and time and the mapping of stretches of road. I have always been drawn to these landmarks that would become “past” as I travelled by car. So simple, so totemic. This series was presented again in 2012, in Lisbon and Oporto, as part of the OUTDOORS project, on the initiative of Sandro Resende.

JD – Besides the monetary value of the 2021 EDP Foundation Art Grand Prize, the chosen artist is honoured in a retrospective and/or anthological exhibition. Is there already an idea for this? Can you tell us some details, particularly about the works to be presented?

LC – The pieces that I consider iconic will be present. And pieces that have been less exhibited in Lisbon. Then, I will select from all work between 2007 and 2022.

JD – Apart from the Prize exhibition, are there any other future projects?

LC – This isn’t a project, but a realisation: going to the opening of the São Paulo Biennial in September. In November, a solo exhibition in Santiago de Compostela. Until then, I must prepare this exhibition and the following ones.

Joana Duarte (Lisbon, 1988), architect and curator, lives and works in Lisbon. She concluded her master in architecture at Faculdade de Arquitectura of Universidade de Lisboa in 2011, she attended the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands and did her professional internship in Shanghai, China. She collaborated with several national and international architects and artists developing a practice between architecture and art. In 2018 she founds her own studio, concludes the postgraduate degree in curatorial studies at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa and starts collaborating with Umbigo magazine.

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