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'Carlos Bunga: Something Necessary and Useful' Review - Whitechapel Gallery

21st January – 6th September 2020

FREE Entry


Carlos Bunga, Metamorphosis (detail), site specific installation at Miami Art Museum, Miami, 2009 © Oriol Tarridas Photography. Image courtesy of the Whitechapel Gallery's website.

“Bunga is interested in the idea of the house as the archetypal symbol of protection and familiarity. According to the artist, the house belongs to our collective consciousness as the signifier of inhabitation. By building this structure, and then un-building it, Bunga underscores the fragility connected with these associations…The ephemeral nature of Bunga’s work is a metaphor for the impermanence of life.” (Cecilia Alemani)

When I walk in, all I see is empty space, with brick walls and hangers, signifying the stationary but in-process nature of the apartment-like structure of the exhibit. It doesn’t get any more fixed from here. There is a ladder, various home appliances, large scissors, ropes, chairs upside down, all hanging. As if inviting us to take the space for ourselves, and make something out of it. Yet we cannot, because if we’d climbed the ladder, or tried to ascribe some sort of identity to anything in here, we would have been thrown out of the building. The space will remain empty, never fully belonging to the artist nor to the spectators.

But there’s a blue wall in here, too. Someone else has been here, they’ve already started designing the space, and they have chosen blue as the first thing we see as we walk in. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt, or a whodunit. Discerning a former identity of a house, wondering—can we step into those shoes? (And there are shoes there, too, wooden ones, hanging along with everything else.) Can we make the space our own?

In every “room”—even though there are no doors—there are stacks of blankets, possibly inviting us to make ourselves at home. Are we supposed to use them for sewing? There is a sewing machine, after all, glued to the wall, unassuming. If we want to fit in, should we start sewing, designing, creating? No one else is going to do it for us.

One could consider the room with the cardboard walls as the climax of this minimalistic display. In one of the books laid out as part of the exhibition, Bunga calls cardboard “the mirror of our skin.” It is usually used to hold our items, while we transport them from one point to another. Is the house itself meant to be transported, then? But, in this case, the apartment outskirts envelop the cardboard, the latter being at the centre. Are the walls meant to be torn down? Well, the exhibition is supposed to be altered over the course of its running, and eventually destroyed, so I guess that says it all about the artist’s intention. Everything is ethereal, and there’s no point in creating walls, since they will be torn down, sooner or later. We might as well be ready for it—more than that, we should probably invite such an outcome.

There is a narrow mirror cramped in between the cardboard walls—and then there is you. You become part of the cardboard; recyclable, transportable, expendable. Your figure is made to transport things, you are merely a vessel to be discarded. And then, when you step away from the mirror, you disappear. I can see myself amongst the cardboard, me and my double like a pair of slippers in a box, waiting for the owner to unpack us. How can I ever do my own unpacking if I’m stuck within a cardboard fortress?

On the other side of the abode, the wall is white. Has someone painted it with premeditation, or are we supposed to, as a response to that electric blue on the opposite side? Does the cardboard situated in the middle serve as a transient barrier between two resin-held actualities? White and blue. The clouds and the sea—and the inbetween? Inbetween, the used-up paper turned into walls, is what we choose to create. And it is what we later, inevitably, dismantle.

Once walking out of the exhibition, I see a chair. On the floor, not hanging. There is a jacket on it. Is it the security guard’s? Or is it part of the exhibit? Or both? Or, do we choose? Does it change anything? Am I overthinking this? If the space is ours for the taking and making, then what counts as temporarily significant is up to us. We give the objects around us their presence. We acknowledge or ignore them, we use and reuse, and later forget about them. We are the eponymous “necessary and useful.” Until we turn into cardboard, that is.

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor

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