Disheveled teeth: Enigmas and clashes in Tunga's art works

October 10, 2010

The critic Felipe Scovino once went to Tunga's house, in Rio de Janeiro, for an interview. He ventured a long first question full of terms like “art”, “life” and “violence”. The artist replied: “I don't see a question in your statement, but a succession of meanings and appreciations that you make both for life and for the cultural world. I wouldn't know what to answer.” Scovino wanted to know if he considered contemporary art “a conjunction of chaotic experiences”. Tunga disagreed: “What you are calling contemporary art is a phenomenon that takes place within Western society, in a specific circuit of a culture, which involves museums, collectors, critics, the press. This is a grain close to what is the exercise of subjectivity in contemporary Western society. Talking about man and existence from this small grain seems restricted to me.” In the other 25 responses, Tunga always responded aggressively and emphatically, with phrases such as “I am perplexed because I have never seen this history of art that you are telling me” and “you make assumptions that I don’t necessarily agree with.” Scovino spoke with Tunga for his book Contemporary Archive. Launched last year, it gathers interviews with thirteen Brazilian artists – all of them much more cordial than Tunga.

Nine months after the meeting, Scovino recalled: “Tunga put me in a position to think about my own criteria. He has an ability not to answer your question, but still speak pertinently.” For him, a conversation with the artist is “an allegory of a game of chess. You choose: join the game and duel him, or give up and listen to what Tunga has to say.”

* Free translation of part of the profile of the artist Tunga that I wrote in 2010 for the Brazilian magazine piauí. I wanted the text to start like this, but the editor changed it at the last minute. From August to September of that year I also went to artist Tunga's house several times to interview him and participate in his game.