MCA Chicago Plaza Project: Alexandre da Cunha

Brazilian artist Alexandre da Cunha (b. 1969) is a poet of found materials. Rarely making objects from scratch, he instead finds wondrously creative ways to repurpose already-existing items. For the MCA’s ongoing Plaza Project series, da Cunha presents objects of an urban scale to address this particular site, including Mix (Americana) (2013), a full-scale cement mixer liberated from its typical location on the back of a delivery truck, and precast concrete sewer pipes—like those coursing underneath Chicago—in order to reveal their inherent if overlooked beauty.

The kind of sculpture I make is mostly made of everyday objects, and either found materials or industrialized materials, mass-produced materials or objects that I change slightly and present them in another way.

It starts, for me, collecting things. Very often, I collect—start collecting—objects, or types of objects that I’m intrigued by, or curious about them. And, not necessarily all the time, they become artworks.

I’ve only recently started working on a large scale. Most of my sculptures, they are made of quite domestic, small-scale objects. I like the idea that I’m basically using the same procedure, the same thinking in terms of found objects. Because what they are—they are actually large found objects. So the method that I use making smaller works, is very similar to making this on that much bigger scale.

Making it public—it’s a different story because you present the work to a different platform. I think the work becomes more vulnerable—you have less control—and there is this sense of responsibility as an artist interfering in a landscape, in a city. So I find it equally exciting and challenging and quite scary because you don’t know the responses. They operate in a different way that is not the same as being in a gallery.

So in a similar way, the historical context with those concrete pipes—the first ones were made in Brazil—and it was a lot to do with seeing these sewage pipes being abandoned and then they become this sort of incidental sculpture in the landscape. I believe the context of Chicago and the industrial aspect of the work has a lot of conversations with the city.

What I basically try to do in all my work is to actually isolate something that is a banal object, and be able to look at that thing that we are familiar, but never inspect, and with more detail. I find that process very stimulating. To be able to be part of a process—not only making the work, but when the work is still changing, and the responses are changing, and how people are relating to the sculpture can also change; the weather is going to change, the light is going to change. and it is now just being presented as a fixed idea.