ARTIST PROFILE: WILLIAM CORDOVA IAIR 08.2
Despite two years of heightened attention to his work and an impressive roster of solo and group exhibitions, no demystifying light has been shed on William Cordova’s practice, which remains as enigmatic as the works he produced during and before his residency at Artpace. Since his selection to the IAIR 08.2 residency, Cordova has shown in the 2008 Whitney Biennial and the 2009 San Juan Triennial, as well as several other group and solo exhibitions in San Diego, Miami, and New York. He also participated in residencies at the MacDowell Artist Colony in New Hampshire and the Edward Albee Foundation in New York.
Cordova’s material and formal concerns continue to hallmark his post-Artpace works. The artist’s palette consists of the refuse found in abundance in city streets. Laden with the associative histories of their prior uses, Cordova’s scavenged objects—speakers, vinyl records, televisions, and a police car, to name a few—acquire new meaning through juxtapositions with other found junk that Cordova stages in his installations. Cordova leaves his reclaimed objects largely as he finds them: broken and dysfunctional, but nonetheless distinct and distinguishable objects that demand to be imagined in the context of their prior histories.
Cordova’s found-object monuments make subtle, elusive and sometimes graceful allusions to the traumatic ruptures and violent contentions of radicalism and rebellion that are too often suppressed by dominant histories. In his Artpace show, a floor-to-ceiling stack of unsheathed vinyl LPs titled san antonio’s greatest hits (4-claude black, mario marcel salas, rosie castro y jose angel gutierrez) (2008) would be entirely illegible without the telling parenthetical dedication to San Antonio’s most prominent civil rights leaders. As they are, the more than 4,000 records make for an imposing vinyl obelisk, a captivating but impenetrable monument that confounds interpretation as much as it memorializes its heroic subjects.
Cordova’s quiet, coded references inspire confusion and curiosity in equal part, encouraging viewers to decode the cryptic ciphers embedded in the material components of his work and their elliptical titles, each of which unfold into a multitude of possible references and meanings. The results are edifying, though also exasperatingly obtuse and unsatisfying. Cordova’s works frustrate because they recapitulate the very questions that spurred their creation: How can we understand history while also acknowledging loss? How can we recovery histories that have disappeared beneath oppressive master narratives? More simply: how do we recover what we have, by intention or forgetfulness, cast aside?
Neither Cordova’s Artpace installation nor his subsequent works answer these questions, but that is not their purpose. Instead, his new projects demonstrate a still evolving proposal for recapturing and contextualizing lost histories. The solution is not, as it may seem, simply to dig through the collective and metaphorical trash heap of humanity. Indeed, many of his works—notably his Whitney Biennial installation—contain little or no reclaimed objects whatsoever. All, however, build on the notion that a thing, idea, culture or history—old or new, abject or upheld—makes more sense when compared to another thing, no matter how disparate they may seem.
-Elliot Reichert, Curatorial Intern