[“Prophets” (p.l.o. d.c.)(2009), gold leaf, graphite, watercolor on paper. “Laberintos (after Octavio Paz)” (2003-09), appropriated vinyl records from undisclosed ivy league institution in response to that institution’s refusal to return 200 Inca artifacts from Peru after it originally borrowed them in 1914. “Untitled (the Echo in Nicolás Guillén Landrián's Bolex)” (2008-09), mixed media collage. “Untitled (Sacsayhuaman, Mukden, Bayon de Libertat)” (2003-09), imitation gold vending machine chains.]
"Laberintos," an exhibition of new works by William Cordova, will be up at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. through December 5, 2009. Embodying a duality of rural and urban aesthetics that is central to his oeuvre, Cordoba’s work emphasizes unintended links between practices and people. Multilayered, elusive, and allusive, the work of this artist is inspired by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges’ novel “Laberintos” (1962) and the Nobel-prize-winning Mexican writer Octavio Paz’s collection of essays “The Labyrinth of Solitude” (1950). Borges (1899-1986) was said by J.M. Coetzee to have “renovated the language of fiction.” In the latter work, Paz (1914-1998) sought to put into perspective the encounter between pre-Columbian culture with Conquest and Colonialism in Latin America.
A brochure featuring an essay by Andrés Estefane, a noted writer and historian based in New York and Santiago, accompanies the exhibition—translated by Alex Branger. Estefane focused on “how Cordova’s drawings, collages, sculptures, and installations offer a preliminary answer [to] the questions raised by the Borgesian labyrinth.” He poses that—in our first imagination—the labyrinth is always a place of conflict. It is always a place where two moral forces that write the story of a victory and a defeat confront each other.”
Populated by landscapes, text, and collections of found everyday remnants, Cordova combines imagery from popular culture with gold leaf—with his pictorial space further enhanced by a juxtaposition of drawing and structural linguistics. Combined, these elements create setting with potential for new and inspiring occurrences. The works are sometimes interrupted by strips of electrical tape, blocked-out areas, drawings that extend a topological plane, or free verse from anonymous authors. The artist’s palette is reminiscent of the static found on a television screen—imbuing Cordova’s works with an unpredictability both unsettling and compelling. Tied to an urban ecology of obsolescence, disparity, and displacement, busted cars, trashed tires, discarded shoes, machetes, speakers, and yellowed books provide material support and iconographic program for Cordova’s drawings, collages, and installations. For Cordova, such material choices reference lived experience, as opposed to the spectacle of culture and mass-production for constant consumption. The fluency with which Cordova traverses media and remixes cultural signposts confirms his visual multilingualism.
“Laberintos” consists of five projects that include drawing, sculpture, and video. These indicate a shift towards a nuanced reinvestigation of the iconography in the artist’s new works. For example, in “Untitled (Huaca)” (2009), various objects (reclaimed wood, a primary school textbook, a feather, and two Polaroid photos) are assembled axially in a Constructivist manner that also reflects the syncopation of an Andean musical composition. The 100 drawing suite, “Untitled (The Echo In Nicolás Guillén Landrián's Bolex)” (2008-2009), acknowledges that the artist’s traditional linguistic elements—image, text, and materials—are only credible in the present when they are anchored within a preexisting social system of communication. In describing his work, Cordova states: “The stories that one tells somebody else around the family dining room table: Those are the stories you pass on and you learn that way, so that it remains sacred. That is one of the things I want to convey in my work: the concept of sacredness.”
As Estefane pointed out in his accompanying essay: “The limits of laberintos are tested as a political reflection. If the object is to negate the absence of presences, the negation of presences, and the imposition of narratives that exclude, Cordova’s wager seems to be effective… Perhaps, that is why the synchronic and the diachronic meet here with unusual gracefulness.” Indeed, impacted by issues of transformation and interpretation since his youth and transitions between cultures, nations, economies, and languages—Cordova has hovered around and landed in weighted issues like the summary murder (with two shots fired point blank into the head) of Illinois Black Panther Party deputy chairman Fred Hampton by Chicago police on December 4, 1969. Ironically Cordova’s show closes practically on the 40th anniversary of this outrage.
Born in 1971 in Lima, Peru, Cordova’s work has been exhibited at P.S. 1, the Fleming Museum (Burlington), Artspace (San Antonio), Threewalls (Chicago), Menil Collection (Houston), the Nasher Museum (Durham), the Whitney Biennial, and the Venice Biennale.
Laberintos: William Cordova
Through December 5, 2009
530 West 22nd Street, NYC 10011