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Read our interview with Carlos Bunga about his current Alexander and Bonin exhibition in which he contemplates the metaphor and meaning of absence through an installation that covers the gallery floor and ceiling with a thin cardboard piece.
“When we talk about art, something is always missing, and that missing thing is what makes us investigate. Only then we ask, “what is missing?” Then we start to look for it.” — Carlos Bunga
In his new exhibition at Alexander and Bonin, Barcelona-based artist Carlos Bunga contemplates the metaphor and meaning of absence through an installation that covers the gallery floor and ceiling with a thin cardboard piece. This mundane material also allows the Portuguese artist to create a series of abstract paintings that benefit from the depth and temporarily of cardboard. Read Artspeak editor Osman Can Yerebakan’s interview with Bunga about his current exhibition.
Osman Can Yerebakan: You mostly build works specific to their sites. You alter the architecture of the space for the duration of your exhibition. Do you consider this a guerrilla attempt for typical white cube?
Carlos Bunga: I try to make interventions that have physical confrontation while appropriating the space. In this exhibition, the intervention is very subtle. You can see it, but it is very minimal. What I find interesting is that sometimes you don’t know where the original space starts and the artwork ends or vice versa. There is a fluid space between these two. Therefore, site specificity is important.
OCY: Most commonly you work with mundane and somewhat cheap and attainable materials. How do you consider the dialogue between art market and art production as an an artist showing his work in major institutions and galleries around the globe?
CB: I think artists should primarily focus on the work. At the beginning, it was difficult for me to enter and exist inside the market. If one insists and continues working, things will happen. Market can assimilate; it is flexible. Rauschenberg worked with cardboards, too, and many artists use ephemeral pieces. Commercial galleries should accept risk taking. I look at the space as a lab and try to create a new experience, therefore, it is important for me and the gallery to accept the risk. The cardboard I use in my paintings is mostly the cardboard that I collect. Materials I use are very fragile. I am interested in passing of time and history. However, when I do interventions, I use new cardboard. It is a mental process. I call these installations models, the mental idea inside the space. I try to deliver the mental process of works. On the other hand, I use cardboards, but I don’t talk about cardboards. I am aware that cardboards symbolize fragility, temporarily, and commerce. But, when painters who use canvas and paint are interviewed, they are not asked why they use paint and canvas. There is still conservatism about the medium.
OCY: Some of your structures give the impression of home. The privilege of having a permanent home is an important topic these days considering the ongoing refugee crisis. As a European artist, what do you think?
CB: We live in a complex society. I have a lot of questions about society, especially Europe. This Europe does not represent me. I have doubts about it. It is difficult not to talk about politics and not put reflection. I try to bring these reflections in this exhibition. I feel it on my skin; my mom arrived in Portugal in 1975 as an immigrant. Cardboard allows me the temporarily and fragility. It feels somehow natural, and I have the possibility to talk and make reflections about what is happening today. I am able to say we live in mutant society in constant transformation.
OCY: Talking about spatial intervention, first thing that comes to my mind is institutional critique and artists like Daniel Buren and Michael Asher. In your work however you seem less critical about the institution part but rather use the institution as a means for your argument.
CB: Working with institutions can be difficult for many reasons. My work always puts questions about situations as I appropriate the space. Most artists work without models and plans. What happens is a little complicated in my case: what I have is the concept. I don’t work with models; I need to travel and feel the space in person. We live in a society where feeling something may sound too romantic. We are so full of images that we are missing the feel of being in a real space. I form the concept and decide everything in the real space after seeing and feeling it. My concept is like a plant growing inside my surrounding in real time. This process involves intuition. The work looks very precise in the end, but it involves accepting any problems that can happen on the way. I try to be rational, precise, and intuitive.
OCY: Could you talk about your Alexander and Bonin exhibition?
CB: Absence is the concept. When we talk about art, something is always missing, and that missing thing is what makes us investigate. Only then we ask, “what is missing?” Then we start to look for it. There are aspects from my personal life, because my personal life is full of absence like everyone else’s. I try to find an answer for how these concepts about work and private life balance. There is again one very big installation, but at the same time it is minimal. My older installations were massive. In this case, it is very minimal, precise, and in line with walls and floors. A thin cardboard line covers the ceiling and the floor. Three or four years ago, I was in Arizona on a residency in Tucson, and being on a desert in Grand Canyon really inspired me. Being on a desert makes you understand about scale. The contrast is that this time the installation is small. We also have paintings, drawings, and video. For the paintings, I use cardboard and latex. There are fifty-four drawings and they all talk about different narratives. Some talk about refugees and immigration and some look at nature.
The exhibition runs through April 22, 2017.