this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros), curated by Evan J. Garza
Among the work in the amazing William Cordova show at the Mills gallery at the BCA are two sets of drawings. One set is the series english is broken here (pa’ coco). These combinations of collage, elegant composition, and exquisite drafting are what I have come to expect from Cordova. He, like Vija Celmins, is able to breathe a certain kind of energy into his renderings of in animate objects. His sensitivity to touch and materials make the LP records he depicts seem more like walls of witnesses than stacks of records.
The other set of drawings was not something I expected to see and I have to confess that I found them overwhelming in their physical presence and visual power. The 22 framed drawings that make up untitled (look for me in the whirlwind) are an elegy for the fallen and an homage to an idea of the sublime that modernism promised but could never quite deliver. Each image is a collage of black and blue that alludes to the night sky or a shifting sea horizon. Upon closer inspection you can see a name scrawled into the surface of each of the 22 drawings. The names are members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
Steps away from the drawings is a massive floor piece called neurolinguistcosmos (I’m not an abstractionist, I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstacy, doom, and so on –M.Rothko). Part star map and part collapsed architecture, neurolinguisticosmos is a combination of polished stones, unreadable texts, and dramatic interventions in the surface of wall board. The work shifts between being a drawing and construction site. And Cordova’s invocation of Rothko in the title affects the way we respond to the blacks and blues of untitled (look for me in the whirlwind) – is impossible not to think of the 1967 paintings for the Rothko Chapel and to laud Cordova’s attempt to inscribe these fallen into the sacred space modernism. The work reiterates the question in the Fats Waller song (What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue?
The relationship between power and architecture is explored and exploded in the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark. Using the FBI’s floor plan as a model, Cordova has reconstructed, using only building studs, the site of the 1969 murder of BPP members Mark Clark and Fred Hampton. Claustrophobic and completely open, the work reveals the bones of modernist architecture not as a prefab solution to urban living, but the structure of an inescapable maze. Domestic space becomes political space and architecture becomes a site of mourning.
The other standout is the show’s titular work, this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros). Installed almost like a confessional or private viewing booth, the work takes the video from Peter Spirer’s documentary on Tupac Shakur and the audio from Federico Garcia Hurtado’s documentary on Tupac Amaru. In the hands of a lesser artist, this would be deservedly dismissed as some kind of digitized mash up, but Cordova’s use of VHS video is purposeful and shockingly raw and the audio is never a soundtrack, but rather an assertion over the images. The work manifests the attempt to link revolutionary movements or, in the BPP’s parlance, to internationalize the struggle. The connections and disconnections are beautiful and Cordova’s full embrace of the images of Tupac (Shakur and Amaru) throughout this exhibition reiterates the force of the video.
This marks Cordova’s first solo exhibition in Boston and it is the first time his work has been seen in its proper context. Curated by Evan J. Garza, this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros) presents Cordova as an artist taking on history and memory. Previous shows in Boston have concentrated solely on his connection to music and dj culture. This has allowed some incorrect assertions about Cordova as an artist that I have always felt were unfounded. With this show the work reveals Cordova’s concerns with global and international themes as well as the history of art and architecture. Garza worked with the artist to create an installation that reduces separations and allows the sound, as well as the physical facts of sculptures to frame the entire experience. Ideas of loss and attempts at reclamation build and are reinforced as the body moves through the space.
Steve Locke is an artist and Associate Professor in the Art Education department at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, MA. He has exhibited at The Boston Center For the Arts, Boston, MA, The Artists Foundation, Boston, MA, The Danforth Museum, Framingham, MA, Aramona Studios, New York and Gallery Peopeo in Beijing, China. In 2008, he exhibited a solo project at VOLTA 5 in Basel, Switzerland and will have a forthcoming exhibition with Samsøn, Boston, MA in May 2012. Locke is represented by Samsøn, Boston, MA.