Bruno Dunley: No Meio

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Bruno Dunley: No Meio

Bruno Dunley: No Meio
to Sat 11 Aug 2018

Galeria Nara Roesler | São Paulo presents No Meio (In the Middle), a solo show featuring 24 works created by Bruno Dunley between 2015 and 2018, alongside text by Tadeu Chiarelli.

Galeria Nara Roesler Sao Paulo Bruno Dunley 1

Galeria Nara Roesler Sao Paulo Bruno Dunley 2

Galeria Nara Roesler Sao Paulo Bruno Dunley 3

Galeria Nara Roesler Sao Paulo Bruno Dunley 4

Galeria Nara Roesler Sao Paulo Bruno Dunley 5

Galeria Nara Roesler Sao Paulo Bruno Dunley 6

The critic points out that artists react in different ways to the ocean of images that reaches everyone. “There are those who gladly drown in the murky waters of the internet, hunting for icons that can be processed into ‘works,’ and those who, like Dunley, although immersed in those same and driven to search them for food for their productions, resist drowning in the undercurrents of the innocuous which rule the depths of said ocean.”

Chiarelli discusses the show’s eponymous painting, No meio (2016), which can be understood as an emblem for artists who resist the naturalization of this imagistic overload. “presents itself as a mirror which apparently reflects nothing, carrying the inscription “no meio” (written, not reflected).”

The curator points out that the paintings Dunley has been putting out in recent years are replete with mirrors of this kind, which do not reflect the world, but mark a precise spot at the center of many of his creations. “By making these artworks, situated as they are between the affirmation of pictorial artmaking and the presence of signs from that ocean of images that has been definitively made into our new first nature, Dunley seems to find, in these blind mirrors he makes, the last fortress, or the last lighthouse to guide him, preventing him from submerging for good.”

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regarding bruno dunley’s mirror’s or seeking the lighthouse of the drowned
tadeu chiarelli

I’d like to start off this text with a fact: 34-year-old Bruno Dunley’s career as a professional painter goes back eleven years (his first solo show happened in 2007). Thus, one could argue that as he came up as an artist, the internet and its devices were already part of most people’s lives, broadening and completely changing our perception of art and reality[1]. This new scenario exponentially heightens the presence of second-generation images in our daily lives, a condition which a considerable part of global society had already been experiencing since at least the end of World War II. Throughout the 1980s, this scenario would see its first heyday, especially in art production.
In that decade – that is, some 30 years ago –, some artists and critics emphasized a phenomenon which characterized much of the art of then: the “return to the museum.” They argued that art from that decade (better known as the “painting revival” years) found itself in a peculiar situation: many artists were going back to the museum. This, however, did not entail a return to actual museums, whether older or newer. Instead, it was a going back to the virtual museum, the museum of images from art history, archaeology, anthropology and other fields of knowledge, all duly homogenized and de-hierarchized in publications of the cultural industry (books, magazines, catalogs, etc.).
Even then it seemed evident that many artists found their motivations by examining this image bank, where reproductions of artworks by that famed cubist artist could be found next to a pre-Colombian era artifact, or the image of a neoclassical painting next to the reproduction of a soda bottle, and so forth.
Working with these stimuli, which were usually thousands of miles apart from their original versions, artists would then create their new picture, featuring those references either in localized quotations (a painting that looked like it had been recently done by Derain, for instance) or by alluding here and there to certain stylemes drawn from cubist, baroque, futuristic or other artworks.
This phenomenon manifested itself as an overflowing of certain formulations which emerged with pop art in England and the United States as the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, and which eventually spread around the world, incorporating a few localisms in this or that country. A feature of pop art was that it worked primarily by appropriating images from the cultural industry, even though it did not completely waive images from art history as well (Lichtenstein and, a bit later, Warhol). In much of 1970s art, artists would equally deal with the former image bank, establishing connections between art’s present and past through artworks removed from painting tradition (noteworthy artists on the Brazilian scene would include Marcelo Nitsche, Anna Bella Geiger and Regina Silveira).
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, in the wake of the “painting revival” explosion –so dearly held by the art market as a whole –, the manipulation of data from the abovementioned image bank seemed to wane, giving way to creations and propositions that worked with possibilities of breaking the boundaries between art and life. This waning, however, seems to have been illusory, and proper study is still required into the persistence of appropriation and quotation strategies in art output from the 1990s, a time when the world verged on the situation that we are now definitively immersed in[2].
Countering those who believed “appropriationism” was merely a passing fad, many artists kept doing it (in the realms of installation, photography, video and also painting). These artists had come up in the 1980s (Brazilian cases in point including Paulo Pasta, Emanuel Nassar and Rosângela Rennó), or in the final decade of the past century.
Much to the market’s joy and the chagrin of critics who deemed it fleeting, the appropriation and quotation “fad” (and, within this realm, the continuation of the “painting revival”) proved to be, while not exactly the last of “isms,” a condition which, to my eyes, seems to define some of art output from the past 30, 40 years, and which was enhanced by the advent of the internet and its search platforms.
Nowadays one can tell there are two types of artist, as they swim deep in an ocean of images: those who gladly drown in the murky waters of the internet, hunting for icons that can be processed into “works,” and those who, although immersed in those same waters and driven to search them for food for their productions, resist drowning in the undercurrents of the innocuous which rule the depths of said ocean[3].
***
No meio (In the middle), a 2016 painting on canvas by Bruno Dunley, can be taken as an emblem of this situation. Or better yet, it can be taken as the emblem of the action of those artists who resist succumbing to the naturalization of this image ocean we all drown in. No meio presents itself as a mirror which apparently reflects nothing, carrying the inscription “no meio” (written, not reflected).
The paintings Dunley has been putting out over the past few years are replete with mirrors of this kind, which do not reflect the world, but mark a precise spot at the center of many of his creations. By making these artworks, situated as they are between the affirmation of pictorial artmaking and the presence of signs from that ocean of images that has been definitively made into our new first nature, Dunley seems to find, in these blind mirrors he makes, the last fortress, or the last lighthouse to guide him, preventing him from submerging for good.
The mirror, be it as a physical or a metaphorically-charged object, has been tapped into by some Brazilian artists to negate the notion of painting as idealized reflection of the world, as the ideal duplicate of reality, as a tactic against the alienation of art and spectators in a society which, especially since last century, knew how to make art into consumer culture like never before.
In Nelson Leirner’s Você faz parte (You are part of it), from 1964, one sees an object hanging from the wall like a painting. Its surface is divided into sixteen modules, fifteen of which emulate keyholes with their respective keys. All but one module feature one such device. By establishing similarities between the act of looking at traditional painting (seeing “through” the painting) and the act of looking through a keyhole, the artist bets on the curiosity of viewers to bring their gaze towards the hole seeking a revelation. Behind the keyhole, however, a mirror throws viewers back into the reality of the exhibition venue, frustrating their voyeuristic drive. This piece by Leirner seems to make clear that art and art as institution are one thing, and there is no escaping it[4].
One gets a similar feeling by pressing the little red button in Waltercio Caldas’ 1974 piece Espelho com luz (Mirror with light), a mirror framed like a painting. By pressing the button coupled with the piece, a small lightbulb (next to the button) goes on immediately, but this doesn’t affect the mirror, which retains its logic – of reflecting its surroundings – and thereby also frustrates viewers, who find themselves at the venue, whereas their wish (in activating the electric device contained in the “painting”) would be for it to carry them away towards a different type of experience.
But it is with Cildo Meireles’ Espelho cego (Blind mirror), from 1970, that Bruno Dunley’s mirrors converse the most. In Meireles’ piece, where one would expect a reflected image of the surroundings to be, one sees insulation material instead, like a parody of non-figurative painting, specifically of the “expressive” kind, the kind that’s stuck with the rhetoric of painting taken not exactly as duplicate of the real, but undisputable manifestation of the author’s “self.” Without the faithful reproduction of the “artist’s personality” and deprived from their own reflection in Espelho cego, viewers are forced to think about themselves and the artwork sharing the same space.
Dunley’s blind mirrors prompt eeriness with those huge, almost always oval shapes at the center of the canvas. Some of these are monochromatic areas with inscriptions. Others are populated by the artist with shapes emulating portraits or landscapes. At any rate, all these oval (or rectangular, in other cases) demarcations sort of push portions of the paintings towards the edges, mimicking frames. Faced with these at once simulated and actual paintings, viewers also find themselves facing a kind of blind mirror, or a painting which – in its ironic replication of the painting/frame setup – reaffirms the objectual dimension of the artwork, (the painting is a real object that the painter acts upon), while emphasizing its illusionistic status.
This ironic duality of Dunley’s mirrors differs from the one featured in the works of the older artists mentioned earlier. Younger and involved in the overwhelming presence of the images that drown us via the internet and its devices, Dunley points to the fact that the truth in painting today, or the truth in his painting, is right there, in the middle, amidst the concrete action of painting and the entire repertoire of images stored in the internet.[5] However, while the artists mentioned earlier – during the 1960s and 70s – managed to somehow distance themselves from the growing presence of image from the cultural industry in order to criticize it, Dunley’s effort seems to be one of another sort, since he must create whatever distance he can in a situation where one can no longer clearly tell real from virtual.
If we look at his output up until mid-2015 or 2016, there prevails a type of painting built upon its own making. Their goal seemed to be to render themselves explicit as pictorial action itself, an affirmation of the very act of painting a flat surface with ductile material, often presenting themselves as one big monochromatic area. To be sure, more so than ever, this emphasis on action over matter was contaminated by art history, since it was already an image unto itself. Still, there was a sincere effort, probably fueled by the artist’s youth. Onto that strict painting, Dunley would finally add a sign of any source, an index (whatever it may be) of that great ocean of images made more than accessible via the internet. Quotations might be isolated (referencing a given image) or an index of exterior reality reinvented by the artist himself (Esquema óptico [Optical scheme], 2013, property of MAC USP, is a good example of this). Those pieces were, in and of themselves, demonstrations of the artist’s struggle not to succumb to the liquid of images that involved him[6].
***
At a more recent moment, the artist began making gradual modifications to this system, circumscribing the blind space from his earlier paintings to the center of the canvas and transforming, as mentioned earlier, the lateral spaces into ornamental frames-of-sort, or else into areas depicting simplified landscapes with references to renowned artists (Guston, Catunda) or to procedures, stylemes by then duly repertorized (“a little dripping here, another one there…”).
One can tell that this strategy of emulating picture and frame, and at the same time institutionalized artists and/or picture-making procedures, is one of Dunley’s responses to the need to take a stance regarding this dilemma: how can one keep making paintings when this modality – and the rest of the world’s image production – seems completely crystallized, contained and somehow classified on the internet?
To assert that the condition of image today has been crystallized, contained and classified is to recognize it as an element of the great virtual archive, whose materiality ceases to matter (or matters very little) when it comes to accessing it. As a consequence, once said image has been converted into an archival element, the meaning which originated it tends to become simply residual (if existent at all), replaced at each moment by other possibilities of meaning, due to the mechanisms now at the reach of a finger on the internet which enable the chosen image to be associated with others from completely different realms. In other words, now, more than ever, it is perfectly possible to associate the image of a reputed artist and a child’s scribbles, thereby reorienting its original meaning.
Of course, this situation is convenient to the market, for whom little does it seem to matter where these images popping up in paintings over the last few decades originated. What really matters is for them to go on infesting the environment, because it keeps sales strong. However, this scenario does not delegitimize the fact that, for artists like Bruno Dunley, the problem poses itself as drama. How can one go on painting in such a scenario, how can one create paintings that can make a critique of their own status in our times, without giving in to the easy pitfall of becoming, since birth, yet another object of culture, another object of consumption?
What Dunley’s mirrors – or lighthouses – achieve is the problematization of the often-easy procedure of quotation pure and simple by demarcating, within the space of the painting, the symbolic difference between picture and frame, a territory which does not nullify the whole of the artwork as premeditated action by the artist upon the two-dimensional support. But this is but one of the artist’s strategies for answering the question above. Still in the early years of his career, Dunley seems prone to creating new strategies in order to continue making art, whereas many just make objects of culture.

[1] – A few relevant dates: the internet began to popularize in the 1990s; the first time an image was ever sent with a mobile phone was in 1997; Google was created in 1998.
[2] – For a summary on the questions of appropriation and quoting, with an emphasis on 1980s Brazil: “Imagens de segunda geração” in CHIARELLI, Tadeu. Arte internacional brasileira. 2ª. São Paulo: Lemos Editorial, 2002.
[3] – I am aware that the advent of the “digital age” and the internet, and the popularization of the devices which define them (the personal computer, the mobile phone, etc.) signify an important shift in the field of material culture in this early 21st century, therefore one cannot say for certain that in the art field, the sole result of this new condition was the exponential growth in usage of second-generation images by artists. However, I am aware that these changes may even have been greater, and that they may even have led to a true collapse of what we take art to be. However, at this point in my studies on the issue, and for the purposes of this text, I have chosen to consider the use of these new technologies by visual artists as an enhancement of what was experienced in the 1980s. Which means to say that right now, I believe this practice has simply become even more present in the day-to-day of artists, due to the arrival of this new era.
[4] – That is, not considering the point in time when Você faz parte was created, which inextricably ties it to the disruption the country experienced in the year of 1964 with a civilian-military coup d’état.
[5] – It doesn’t seem random to me that, in the recently published book on Dunley’s output, the lower portion of the front and back covers and the first and last pages are replete with images from myriad sources, or that both feature reproductions of The mirror, a painting from 2016. (See: RICCIOPPO, Carlos Eduardo (org.). Bruno Dunley. São Paulo: APC – Associação para o Patronato Contemporâneo, 2017.
[6] – This superimposition of painting and sign does not hark back to the dichotomous figure-ground factor, which is so widespread in traditional painting. In these works, Dunley manages to articulate said duality in such a way that those two elements incarnated one another, emphasizing each artwork as a unique pictorial fact.

Courtesy of the artist and Galeria Nara Roesler
Courtesy of the artist and Galeria Nara Roesler
 
 

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