O Mundo de Dentro

Rodrigo Cunha

21/Apr/2012 – 19/May/2012

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  • Press Release

    Josué Mattos

    Dr. Simão Bacamarte, the protagonist in Machado de Assis’ short story O Alienista (1881), is presented by the author as a noble, well-read figure coming from the kingdom to the colony with the intention of caring for his patients' "soul health", whereby he qualifies his trade as a physician of mental illness. This notorious figure arrives in Itaguaí against the will of the king, who had left him in Portugal "ruling the university or expediting the monarchy’s business.” At the Casa Verde – where he will practise for the time life has reserved for him in this position – he finds the means to apply his research, all still somewhat unexplored in the colony. The author acutely shapes this character into human contradiction itself: after examining everyone in the region and defining his criteria of normality and dementia, the doctor decides to hospitalise a large proportion of the Itaguaí population, including neighbours, friends and even his own wife. However, it does not take long for him to realise his own dementia and, abiding to the scientific values that he champions, he decides to discharge everyone and admit himself to the Casa Verde. "The question is scientific," he said, "this is a new doctrine, the first example of which is myself. I reconcile within myself theory and practice."

    The profile of Machado’s character, at once alienist, alienated and alienator, is a way in to O Mundo de Dentro [The World Within] by Rodrigo Cunha. Opting for this alternative, it is worth indicating a few points in his work that draw him closer to the setting of Simão Bacamarte: in, at first sight, sober spaces, the paintings seem to prefigure the gap in the relation between those diagnosed as "demented" and their preceptors, susceptible to guiding them while striving to contemplate their own existence. The fact is that in the lassitude that passes while awaiting plausible responses, both Simão Bacamarte’s so-called demented patients and some of the figures that feature in Rodrigo Cunha’s paintings, all involved in situations of psychological instability and isolation, paradoxically continue to wait for pseudoalienists with formulae capable of solving problems of distinct kinds. This is what Paul McCarthy defines as "the loss of awareness of being alive, the loss of authentic perception of existence". In Soprando Tuba [Blowing Tuba] (2011), one of the few works in which silence loses its place in the artist's production, a man appears to blow the instrument with grief. Instead of harmony, he evokes screaming; noise resulting from a state of discomfort in the face of the reality he has constructed.

    The exhibition deals with intimate space with the same estrangement with which we face the unlikely, the insipid or the unknown. This is because we have not been trained to look inward. We externalise our sensations, naming them; we're required to take sides, to analyse, synthesise and perceive the world through our limited senses. We require of them better performance or include tools in the body, with which we are able to fight against the process of deterioration of our sensory faculties. But we almost never contemplate the world within, the universe that we carry. Consequently, upon each situation of introspection imposed by the passage of time, or resulting from unforeseen circumstances, the confrontation with our internal structure causes the resurgence of a tangle of complexity and we find ourselves drawn toward finding someone who can give us quick answers, adapted to our frenetic pace of life. Thus, the Bacamarte doctors emerge, promising to care for the "health of the soul" without first assessing the sanity of their own. A Doutora [The Doctor] (2007) is one such case. Her trade would be hard to identify if it weren’t for the title of the work and her clothing. The room she inhabits, somber and scarcely furnished, resembles the situation in which Simão Bacamarte found himself in his last days in the Casa Verde: on a lonesome search to resolve problems over which he seems to have complete control.

    In each painting there is a small matter enclosed in the title: Homem no Estúdio [Man in Studio], Mulher de Traje Azul [Woman Dressed in Blue], Senhora com Cãozinho Peludo [Lady with Furry Dog], Homem com Máquina [Man with Machine], Senhora com Chapéu [Lady with Hat], Homem com Criança nos Braços [Man with Child in Arms], Homem em Cadeira Reclinada [Man in Reclining Chair], Jovem com Meias Rosas [Youth Wearing Pink Socks]. Generics, variants of the same theme, each title hides an inquisitive tone that builds a unique mental landscape in the artist's entire oeuvre. While suggesting anodyne actions (Homens com as Mãos no Bolso [Men with Hands in Pocket], 2010), impending losses, slow or inexistent movements, frontality between the spectator and represented figure, registering the passage of time in the human body (Homem Velho [Old Man], 2007), the artist creates a visual and iconographic vocabulary that genetically manipulates the human identity, translating into visual codes the inevitable condition of living in today's world, with the problems and advantages inherent to the processes of mass culture, thought and language. That is why, although isolated, they all seem to come from the same place, the caricature appearance of the figures belies the tendency toward class division. Referring us to the domestic environment, the artist presents the almost-empty/almost-full space with sufficient neutrality for it to shelter a considerable number of individuals. In keeping with the corporeal, psychic or residential-architectural reality, one being the extension of the other, as Lygia Clark's masterpiece A Casa é o Corpo [The House is the Body] (1968) asserts, the spaces of O Mundo de Dentro bring to mind crisis and, meanwhile, seem to sketch the state of inner satisfaction. Dubious figures; they leave us without any answer when we ask if they are alienists, alienated or alienators. It’s that access to the world within is personal and untransferable.

    Thus the simplicity in addressing the interior. With just a few props, these places end up representing the antipode to the wonderland commonly conveyed nowadays in posts showing people as being almost always busy jetting off on beautiful trips, going out to the best places in town with the best friends, all grinning and happy. Be it the furniture, an animal, a small plant, an electric socket or a specific object, even with special mention in the title (Interior com Gramofone [Interior with Gramophone], 2011), all these elements divide the space of the canvas with one subject, whose introspective state disturbs those who intend to participate in his reality. With very few signs of reception, even the figures that face the spectator look completely involved in their own world. Before such cases, the provocative or distant look of these figures deliberately and defiantly transmits matters like "why did you come here anyway?" or "what are you still doing here?" Instead of individuals, Rodrigo represents realities. And in this kind of "private prison", which is how one anonymous character qualifies the Casa Verde, the portrait of human nature is attenuated with existentialist premises. Condemned to being free, man is responsible for the invention of man. From his private dome, he is the author of what he thinks and does, thus responsible for what he lives. The World Within is far from being pessimistic. Dealing with human contradiction, the artist critically questions general consensuses and situates his work at the edge of the mental and perceptible worlds. Putting all his faith in the representation of "genetically modified" characters, Rodrigo Cunha makes use of situations of confinement to evoke the ambiguity of his intimate genre scenes.

    Critical essay