A Conversation: William Cordova at the Boston Center for the Arts

William Cordova, the House that Frank Lloyd Wright built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, 2006 (installation view, Arndt & Partner, Berlin, 2006). Wood, books and suspended drawing, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist; courtesy Arndt & Partner Berlin

Born in Lima, Peru and raised in Miami, Florida, William Cordova is an internationally known artist practicing across multiple disciplines. Having earned his BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996 and his MFA from Yale University in 2004, Mr. Cordova has exhibited at MoMA PS1, the 2008 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial and Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston among many other national and international museums and galleries. Mr. Cordova was just awarded $25,000 as part of the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s 2011 Painters and Sculptors Grant Program.

The Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts is currently hosting William Cordova’s first solo exhibition in the city curated by Evan J. Garza—the Exhibitions and Public Programs Coordinator for the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  On view until April 15th, this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros) brings together new and recent works in sculpture, installation, video and works on paper that give meaning to the past in a contemporary context.

On Friday February 10, 2012 an informal conversation was held at the BCA’s Plaza Theater with William Cordova, Evan J. Garza and Jose Falconi, Curator for the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University.

Mr. Garza opened the conversation by briefly introducing Cordova’s the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, a structure made of two by fours that remakes the apartment layout of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, two Black Panther members killed by the Chicago Police. The work, which is included in the exhibition at The Mills Gallery, formed the foundation for this Boston show.

William on his process and the evolution of the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark:

There are different ways that that piece evolved. In general, I’m interested in architecture and how to represent ideas of resistance through architecture. I’m often gravitating to material history that can represent that or does represent that.

I’m trying to activate certain materials, certain histories for us to reconsider ourselves, how we sometimes are seeing it from a detached perspective. While it may not be happening to us, we assume we have no relationship to that history or that situation, but in actuality, we are probably a lot closer than not.

I tend to create a lot of parallels even in the title, “Frank Lloyd Wright,” “Fred Hampton,” “Mark Clark.” Those relationships may not necessarily be obvious. The way I wanted to approach these projects or art making, was not by limiting myself to making a representation of an image or a situation by making a painting and putting it up on a wall. I wanted to provoke or challenge the way we think and painting can do that, I don’t think it would have been enough for what I wanted to do.

I was thinking about building materials, structures, symbols that represent something in transition.

I am sure everyone is familiar seeing a house—half-way built before there are dry walls; before the electrical parts are installed; before the roof. What I wanted to do was show that first part where you have the foundation and stop there; suggest to the viewer, to provoke them questions. What’s next? Are you going to add something else? Why isn’t there something else in here? Why does it suppose to be revealing?  What does that have to do in relationship to the title, to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, to the individuals—the activists.

The piece in a way is a transitional piece, is a labyrinth, it’s also a monument, it’s a shrine.  It has different entry points; it’s also very layered. It isn’t specifically about one thing—it isn’t about Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Frank Lloyd Wright—but about many situations or histories.

The conversation then shifted to the idea of forgotten historical narratives and how we perceive monuments. This part of the discussion focused on the installation the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark. Cordova discussed his interest in language as it develops in his works, in particular in the title piece of the exhibition this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros)—a video-sound installation that juxtaposes audio from Federico Garcia Hurtado’s  1984 film Tupac Amaru and video from the documentary by Peter Spirer Thug Angel—about Tupac Amaru Shakur.

William Cordova on language, its meaning, and how titles emerge in his works:

I’m interested in language. I am interested in language and how we interpret it. How we communicate. I am interested in presence and how that is represented or how we represent with others. But I am also aware that in our society of the condition of trying to divide things, categorize and separate and so we might not be able to relate to one another because we’re conditioned just to have certain divisions, even though they may not inherently be there.

I’m more interested in the commonalities than the divisions. I am interested in writing and literature; that’s a big influence in my work.

Untitled (geronimo I & II), 2006-2012. Reclaimed paper bag, feathers, aerosol can. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Mr. Cordova on the lyrical quality in his titles:

I try to appeal to many different groups, many different audiences and a lot of it is through written word. Some of it is more abstract, some of it is more literal—in order to appeal to as many people as possible.

I incorporate popular culture imagery to a certain extent. I don’t want to promote it or rely on it when I question it and slow it down—how we consume that type of imagery or any type of imagery. A lot of times visual art is considered entertainment. It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, you get it?—and then you move on. It shouldn’t be about that.

Certain work rely more on certain titles, but I am not relying on the title to do the work for the visual art.

The work that I do is completely installation based, so all the works and all the components are in conversation and isolated they may not function the same way. It is really important that all the ingredients are in the same bowl. Otherwise certain things might not necessarily trigger the initial idea I had in mind, but it is all open for interpretation. It just depends on how we are conditioned to absorb, receive or interpret it.

this is not 4 U (I miss U already...), 2009 Aluminum foil, cardboard, reclaimed Plexiglas, tape 17 x 29.5 x 7 inches 43.2 x 74.9 x 17.8 cm. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Mr. Cordova on the concept of temporality and how he treats the life of the object he creates (there is a work influenced by the Nazca lines in the window space of the gallery that was created specifically for this show and for that space—therefore will not exist in any other gallery or museum):

A lot of times we rely on digital cameras or digital recordings and everything comes really quick. We don’t necessarily take time to value that moment. When we see something, we to start taking pictures with our phones—and there is something that is lost when we have so much access. It’s like always having candy in a bowl–you won’t desire it because it’s always there. I did this site-specific piece on the floor of the institution [Mills Gallery] and I wanted to represent something that is very close to me, but at the same time it is not something that can be transported and displayed somewhere else. I didn’t want to put any type of financial or superficial value to it. I wanted it to exist. It is not something that you see at every installation. It depends on the space.

The conversation ended with the concept of constellations and how we form our own ideas of representations. Mr. Garza commented on William’s ability to take points that exist in different points in time and in space and connect them to create bridges between them. These connections and bridges are observed throughout this exhibition at Mills Gallery.

This talk  illuminated many of the works in this exhibition and allowed those in attendance to search for a deeper meaning in Mr. Cordova’s works. William Cordova provided a framework to not only better understand the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, but also invited us to draw our own parallels with this and other works within the exhibition. William Cordova: this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros) is on view until April 15, 2012.

Review: Close Distance

Raul Gonzalez, Wake up Call (On My Last Nerve), 2011 | Ink and Bic pen, 45 by 65 inches acrylic. Courtesy the artist and Carroll & Sons Gallery, Boston.

I may be too young to remember when was the last time Boston experienced an exhibition that featured the work of Latino artists living in this city or its surrounding towns. I may also be too young to remember Grupo Ñ, an experimental but now dissolved Latino art collective from the 1980’s that became an instrumental force in Boston’s underground art scene.

“Close Distance,” at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery is the first exhibition in nearly thirty years featuring the works of six emerging Boston area Latino artists “practicing across diverse media and national borders.” Curated by Liz Munsell, a local curator with DiscordiaFilms and a Curatorial Research Associate at the Museum of Fine Arts, “Close Distance” is engaging, provoking and riveting.

The exhibition is as culturally diverse and distinct as are the artistic vocabularies presented. From the site specific work of Daniela Rivera, a 2010 Foster Prize finalist to Raul Gonzalez III and others; religion, identity, pop culture, politics, and institutional oppression are all explored, commented upon and richly juxtaposed throughout the gallery and within individual works.

Vela Phelan, Witch Doctor Wrestlers, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Vela Phelan’s site specific performance-installation Deviant Idols in the Black Divine, a work  modeled after a temple and composed of “spiritual idols for a modern world” struck a chord with me. A performance artist, Mr. Phelan’s installation opened up a world of memories growing up in the Dominican Republic. Having experienced the mysticism and the commodization of Santeria and Voodoo practices on a personal level, this installation moved me in ways only the pulsating beats of African drums at a palo ceremony have.

Because of the spiritual relationship that evolves between the viewer and the artist, Mr. Phelan has decided to carry out a 5-part performance that will take place almost every Thursday at Mills Gallery. “What will happen is a bit unknown to me (and to him),” says curator Liz Munsell “but it will be a journey that takes us outside the gallery walls – physically and metaphysically.”

Referencing minimalism and the literal collapse of institutional spaces, Daniela Rivera’s Fatiga material allows for an exhilirating experience as juxtaposed with the dexterous, signature “self-taught” style drawings of Raul Gonzalez.

Anabel Vazquez Rodriguez, Visión Doble, Super 8. 2011. Film. Courtesy of the artist.

In the film Visión Doble (Double Vision), multimedia artist Anabel Vazquez Rodriguez juxtaposes paradise-like images of Puerto Rico with political demonstrations held in and around Boston’s Copley Square. The film is an autobiographical journey that transcends borders and cultural boundaries.

While Boston may not have a tightly knit Latino arts collective like New York, Los Angeles and Miami do, “Close Distance” gathers together local Boston artists who for the most part had known each other prior to this exhibition at Mills Gallery. “Because these artists are all floating in the same “alternative” spaces or artist institutions as other Bostonians,” says Ms. Munsell, “I would say that they have much common, including language and culture, that brings them together.”

With “Close Distance, I hoped to bring them together a bit more” says Ms. Munsell, whose approach to curating is not solely interesting on a formal or aesthetic level – but has social context or a theoretical framework as its backdrop. “I can already see that has happened in a major way, but the show has just begun!” she added. “Close Distance” is rich in talent and abundant in excellent work.

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Artist and Curator Talk Wednesday, August 3 | 6 – 9pm
Performance with Artists Yassy Goldie and Bru Jø Wednesday, August 17 | 6 – 8pm
These artists’ work touches on the construction of cultural identity. Their guerrilla tactics have been known to simultaneously intrigue and disorient audiences.

Vela Phelan explores the duality “ego/spirituality” through objects and actions found in his performance-installation Deviant Idols of The Black Devine. In his words “a Quest to expand the Shadow my EGO CASTS,” this five-part performance will take place at Mills Gallery Thursdays July 21 & 28, August 11 & 25 at 7pm, and as part of the Artist/Curator talk on Wednesday, Aug 3rd.