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Reinaldo Laddaga:    Tunga ( III - end )
The day of the inauguration of the show, this group of columns or portraits resonated with two other mobile groups of women: the participants in two performances. In one Xipófagas capilares (Capillary Xipophagi) from 1985,) two girls were braided together by the hair as if they suffered from a relatively benign (for them) form of being Siamese twins, and simply walked back and forth. In the other performance, Sero te Amavi (Belatedly I Loved You) from 1992, three adolescent women wearing shirts, with thimbles, needles, and rings in their hands, assumed, frozen, a series of poses. In each one of the poses, each of the women, to all appearances indifferent to the others, would lean against the other two. (There was always something insufficiently erect in the figures, in the constructions they formed.) What idea regulated the composition of the poses of these three women? There is a topological figure called the Borromean knot which readers of the latest works of Lacan should be very familiar. A Borromean knot is composed of three interlocking rings such that should one of the three be broken the other two will also be freed. The same thing occurs with a braid of three strands: if any one of them is cut the other two will disperse. These three adolescents acted like a Borromean knot or a three-stranded braid: all it took was for one of them to fall for the other two to come down as well. Such that, at every moment throughout the course of the group´s performance, each adolescent made contact with the others and stuck to the others to the extent possible.

What is the origin of these beings? The inspiration for this work (and the wording of its title) comes from a passage from the Confessions of Saint Augustine. The model for this group, this conglomeration, or this braid is the Holy Trinity of Christian doctrine. But what might this artist, so little Christian to all appearances, find especially attractive in that traditional figure? What is there for Tunga that is so particularly fascinating in the Holy Trinity?

The first time I saw this performance, in New York, only a few years ago, the three adolescent women were at the far end of a long gallery. In the front part of the gallery was an acrylic box packed with paper through which three snakes slithered. What is the relation, I wondered at the time, between a bunch of snakes and three immobile adolescents representing (the word is probably inadequate) the Holy Trinity? No being appears more in the work of Tunga than snakes, in particular, intertwined snakes. One of their appearances is now a decade old. In 1987, Tunga produced the sculptures and concepts for a film directed by Arthur Omar with the title Nervo de prata (Nerves of Silver). In one sequence of the film, the camera focuses with evident delight on several snakes that are intertwining. The camera captures the rubbing of skin against skin. It is as if the snakes were being moved by a desire to make contact with one another as completely as possible even at the price of losing their own distinction in a pile or mass of indistinguishable parts. However strange the idea might seem, it is possible that Tunga finds the figure of the Holy Trinity fascinating to the extent that it reminds him of the fascinating spectacle of intertwined snakes. Is not the Holy Trinity traditionally a composite of three beings who make ecstatic and total contact with one another? In which are combined the maximum absorption on the part of each one, abandoned to the pleasure of becoming experience and the maximum communication with the other parts, equally abandoned? The reading is violent and yet, I believe, fitting. An idea of the Holy Trinity, the trio of adolescents, the braided snakes. The braids of metal that appear briefly throughout this piece are perhaps momentary appearances of a fantasy of total pleasure in the perfect absorption and of pure communication with others.

Is it the insistence of this figure of pleasure which makes this piece so perturbing and fascinating? The remains of the performance can be found in Bard College in the room following the second of the rooms of small objects, opposite in the building to the Lizards room. Flexible rubber tubes extend from three corners of the room, the kind used for example in doctors´ waiting rooms or offices to encircle the arm about to receive an injection. The three sections of tubing knot together Borromeaneously in the middle of the room and on that knot are small (which is to say, normal-sized) versions of the objects magnified in Palindrome Incest: three thimbles (with a bit of red wine in each,) three thermometers, three needles that somehow manage to Borromeanously knot together. Several shirt sleeves hang from the tubing. Three enormous candles which are lit during the performance lean against one another and are bound together with additional tubing. The three shirts of the three adolescents lie on the floor, spread out in a circle and touching each other, stained with wine and bearing a few tiny fragments of red glass and rings. A mute record of the performance, the three adolescents fallen down on the floor: it is the following moment that we now witness after the inauguration in this room. The arrangement is manifestly ceremonial but is also that of the of the crime scene preserved intact. Is it the tenuous drippings as if of highly diluted wax on the walls of the room that make its atmosphere - which is a rarity in Tunga´s work - infinitely pallid? Everything in the room remains yet everything looks as if it were about to vanish. There is a text by Poe that seems to me to describe something of what takes place in this installation by Tunga. At the beginning of The Fall of the House of Usher the narrator of the story, standing in front of the old mansion mentioned in the title, is surprised by what he calls a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts and the crumbling condition of the individual stones and he compares the appearance of the whole, its extensive decay to the specious totallity of old wood work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. [ 3 ] There is something at once of confinement and of desperate fragility in these fragments and something deceiving in its apparent wholeness. It is a sight of final moments.

That fragility of the vestiges of Belatedly I Loved You does nothing to prepare the viewer for the installation in the final room, altogether occupied (over-occupied, one might say) by the massive presence of Cadentes lácteos (The Milky Fallings) from 1994. The last two rooms constitute in the show a sort of brief suite to the fall. What falls in the final work of the show are several enormous metallic bells. The gigantic scale of this work is similar to that of Palindrome Incest, which is located in its corresponding room. There are five bells in the room, three hung and two tumbled on the floor. Several objects resembling vessels are stuck to their surfaces which are additionally covered with a whitish substance that reminds one of semen, and which trickles down toward the floor. In a particularly splendid passage in Residence on Earth by Pablo Neruda, the poet communicates the following vision: And although I close my eyes and fully cover my heart, I see a deaf water falling in enormous deaf drops. It is like a hurricane of gelatin, like a waterfall of sperm and jellyfish. [ 4 ] Putting aside Neruda´s expressionist tone which Tunga doesn´t share, The Milky Fallings could be presented as a rather idiosyncratic illustration of the poet´s lines. The artist would probably appreciate the combination, the contrast between the literally hurricane-whipped violence of vision and the inconsistency of the materials that appear within it: gelatin, sperm, or jellyfish.

But Tunga would also find it immediately attractive that, under the title of Sexual Water (the title of the poem from which the quoted lines were taken), Neruda evokes a catastrophic state of the body. A recurring figure in the recent performances of the artist (performances that have not been included in the Bard exhibit) is a man carrying a suitcase. The suitcase suddenly opens and out of it falls a pile of selected limbs mixed with cubes of gelatin. Do these limbs belong to the disappeared adolescents in Belatedly I Loved You? We are not in a position to answer that question. But it is interesting that the Bard show would close with an image that indicates, beyond itself, some obscure disaster. It is not impossible that, at this stage in the viewing, he who has come through the exhibit might perceive that that voice that in Ão keeps falling into a stunned babbling, or the scene of a sewing room invaded by metals, or the Siamese lizards and tiny brains mixed with hair that extends itself without limit, or some bells tossed like dice and impregnated with a milky liquid, or the somnambulist collapse of a knot of adolescents, that all those figures refer to a threatened existence. (In a video which is shown at Bard in a side room, Tunga is constructing several pieces. His gestures are strange - it is as if, at the same time he is making his constructions, Tunga wishes to keep them at a distance to avoid who knows what danger.) A specific affection is capable, I believe, of producing this show: a pleasure, a euphoria, in total contact, entirely intertwined, in every one of its moments, with an uneasiness. The specific nature of this affection is, for this writer, new.

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larger image, details - 27 kb
Milky Fallings, 1994

3. Edgar Allan Poe, trans. D. Rolfe and J. Gómez de la Serna (Madrid: Cátedra, 1991) 169.
4. Pablo Neruda, Residencia en la tierra (Madrid: Cátedra, 1986).
For more information, please see:
Tunga at documenta X,   Kassel 1997
Extensive interview with numerous images, complete biography. Part of the

Special: documenta X
of Universes in Universe
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