Walking around the main cluster of sculptures in Tunga’s exhibition, you immediately get the sense of something dreamlike, of some sort of esoteric, magical scenario. There are spindly metal structures supporting primeval-looking urns or bell-like forms, as well as a frankly enormous white crystal. There are objects that resemble oversized, weirdly morphed body parts – such as pink, puckered lips, or a long blue pole that’s a sort of double-ended finger. And there’s a hammock, as if to suggest the conjuring up of this dreamscape by someone’s fevered, sleeping imagination. It all feels like a stage set, with everything artfully, yet mysteriously, arranged.
There was, indeed, a performance on the exhibition’s opening night – involving three women in various stages of sewing pearls on to corncobs. You can still see the residue: the shucked kernels littering the floor, the sewing implements in a bowl, the final, pearl-encrusted cobs held aloft on mirrored platters. Tonga’s art is all about the symbolism of dreaming and psychoanalysis, about notions of transformation and alchemy – the corn, in this case, changing from fiery and sun-ripened to silvery and moon-like; from male to female. And such Jungian, quasi-mystical ideas also extend to the various looping, abstract drawings hung about the walls.
Still, it’s hard to shake the sense that, without the actual performance, the central installation lacks something – that for all its notions of change and alteration, this literal rendering of dream imagery feels oddly static. And actually it’s the smaller, singular works in the gallery’s basement that, arguably, better evoke the Brazilian artist’s ethos. Again, there are metal armatures, crystals, containers and biomorphic forms in silicone and ceramic – but here each sculpture feels like some sort of self-powered, self-sufficient machine; like something belonging entirely to another realm, somehow existing independently of human consciousness.