Now on view until January 28th at SC Gallery in Bilbao, street artist/contemporary artist Isaac Cordal’s hapless little men are being subsumed into the machinery of our meaningless times, positioned in perpetual fog, adrift and submissive, unable to resist the march to a digital life that is in never-ending production mode. While the electronic prison walls of everyday existence appear to be closing in, perhaps Cordal’s dire scenarios are cautionary, not definitive, for our future.
His second solo exhibition here, he calls this collection “24/7”. As work life has implicated itself into every aspect of so-called “leisure” time, these color-drained scenarios present themselves as a series of connections without connectedness, trapped in their own cycles. In his essay that accompanies the exhibition, philosopher, curator and cultural critic Alberto Ruiz de Samaniego describes the insipid trappings of modern life as a disabling process of dumbing-down the everyman.
“His mode of existence is none other than stupefaction, a term that comes from the same root as stupidity. It is that of the individual who sees everything, but can no longer do anything.”
As ever, Cordal’s lead-heavy scenarios suggest that this is not a benign truth, but a profoundly catastrophic one. Using animals, machines, and dismally austere architectural forms that recall institutional incarceration, his balding concrete avatars are engaged with allegories that are inescapable. Yet de Samaniego suggests that the artist doesn’t want you to succumb, even as it appears there is no escape.
“We have to proceed from the astonished helplessness with which, like the man on the balcony of Isaac Cordal’s premises, we often contemplate and witness daily life,” he says, suggesting there is something more transformative at its root. “Each scene is a moment of crisis and describes the imminence of a tragedy, a catastrophe, a denouement – a catharsis, perhaps.”
Isaac Cordal’s “24/7” at SC Gallery in Bilbao will be open from December 17 to January 28 2022. Click HERE for more details.
The endgame of vulture capitalism. The implosion of the corporate culture. The subtle differences between public housing and private jailing. The melting of the ice caps.
However you have wished to interpret the work of Spanish sculptural street artist Isaac Cordal over the last decade, you probably thought he didn’t hold much hope for our future. Or us. But he says his work is more a reflection of what he sees, and he presents it will a subtle humor.
After a recent visit to his ceramic tiled and flourescent-lit artist studio in downtown Bilbao, we realized that his public art darkness is at least as hopeful as it is critical. All around the studio he has created a variety of rehearsal spaces, vignettes, and theatrical scenarios or displays with his figures interacting with other objects that he collects along the way.
It is at least as entertaining as it is educational. His sad characters and formal scenes of concrete dystopia are also humorous in their unlikely repetition, their utter lack of comfort, their repurposing of common objects as dire ones. His critiques of consumerism, environmental degradation, militarism, corporatism merging into fascism are sometimes couched by his own understated humor and attitude of childlike play as well.
Not that people were chuckling as they encircled the austere and degrading urban jungle scene he constructed in the Spanish capital for the Urvanity 2019 showcase in the courtyard of the Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid. The tribal clusters of bald men in suits were situated above, partially submerged in, or up to their chins in gravel from a bombed out lot, perhaps churned rubble created by a drone.
But did the art crowd also see the two
businessmen carrying a stretcher full of wheatgrass? The absurdity is a relief.
Are they rescuing a rectangular slab of nature? Possibly cultivating it for
farming? Blissing out on a wheatgrass juice cleanse to counter the martinis and
And what about these new human-faced pigs gathered around, looking for a trough? He presents the human/animal hybrids without comment under electric lights that glitter warmly across the compound. They could be a metaphor addressing attitudes or behaviors. They may also be a glimpse into a law-free amoral future where any new life-form you conjure can be sequenced and produced.
A graduate in sculpture at the University of Fine Arts near his hometown in Galicia, he also studied conservation of stone crafts and trained in London at Camberwell College. He was a founding member of a digital art community called Alg-a.org, a heavy metal guitarist in a band called Dismal, and a publisher of a fanzine called Exorcism.
As you learn these details about his life in the 90s and 2000s, you gain a greater appreciation for the powerful work of a guy who has emerged uniquely on the global street art stage with his Cement Elipses.
As hard driving electronic drums, bass, and cryptic lyric loops pounding from a radio on a shop stool, we witness the fastidious artist at work in the tidy studio area in this converted warehouse on a dead-end block. As he circles the center island in his overalls looking for the appropriate steel bit or resin mold he bobs gently to the beat, skillfully switching attachments on his drill and hand-designed vacuum device.
Here is where you see the craftsman at work; carefully attentive, problem-solving industry in play, possibly more at peace while he is creating than when he is left to think too much. He picks up a pink pig figurine and begins the plastic surgery, the fine reconstruction; a gentle whirring, a whittling away of snout and a defining of chin-line.
The result is rough and unrefined, proportions not sweet. He blazes through these final actions and presents his new hybrid man-pig, a satisfied glint flashing by as he blinks. The drill whirrs downward and he sits on the stool for a minute to flip over the figurine a few times and inspect it.
BSA:I imagine sometimes that people must think that you are walking around with a cloud over your head – but you’re not really. You’re a happy person who thinks seriously about the world and its issues.
Isaac: It’s not that I am choosing the topics. It is something that came by default. It is my personality. Also I make this work because I do not like the kind of society that we have now. I think about all the improvements that we have from our new discoveries – and I don’t understand what the reason is that we have all of these situations and problems. We should be a smarter society and more just.
We can find water on Mars but we can’t feed people here – what’s the reason for this? Why is our only worry about how we can have more and more and more? In that sense probably in my work it is like that because I don’t understand what we are doing, or our idea of progress. I say ‘Wow, it’s incredible that we cannot work on a common welfare.’ So the work is probably a reflection of what I do not like.
BSA:Do you think your work is conceptual art? Isaac Cordal: I don’t think so because it’s pretty direct. It’s not codified. It’s very easy to understand and with conceptual art there is a semantic idea, meanings. It’s more of a movement of art.
BSA:So you been doing this project using cement for maybe 15 years? Isaac Cordal: I don’t know maybe the first one was in 2005. Maybe before because I have some others that I made in cement that maybe go back 1999 it’s crazy how fast time goes. Because it was in 1996 that I started to study fine arts at the university in my hometown in Galicia. I also went to stone-carving school for five years. We were like slaves there because we were working with big stones – but I learned quite a lot because I learned to do more in terms of carving and modeling clay.
It was quite an experience for me. Most of the school was nice because it was more conceptual or theoretical – and it was interesting for me to learn more about contemporary art.
BSA: How do you feel about this time of your life as an artist? Isaac Cordal: The future for me I think is a little uncertain because every day is like a new year. I’m laying in the bed hiding behind my covers just looking over the edge. You say, “Oh my God another day that you have to prove yourself, do your projects.”
There are different venues and situations for artists but I think it is a kind of battle, a combat that first starts inside of you and after splashes onto others – your family or maybe your girlfriend. It’s not easy. It’s quite complex. I’ve had so many friends who were studying with me and they were talented but they couldn’t live their lives in this manner. It is a little bit uncertain. People may prefer to have a proper job. For me, probably not.
BSA:Do you have a sense about how people see your art? Issac Cordal: We have to deal with so many fears that this society is selling to us and it seems that you have to think about them. I think the people can understand my work very easily as it is very simple and representative.
BSA: What perceptions or reactions do you think they are having when looking at the “Yard” installation, for example? Isaac Cordal: The “Yard” is kind of a reflection of ourselves on a small scale. The topics are a little bit pessimistic but perhaps people can see it as a sort of reflection. They probably think about the topic that is suggested behind the installation.
BSA:Did you feel a sense of tension, given your worldview about politics and power and privilege and all of the societal structures we work within – your politics are so strong. How do you decide what to manifest? Isaac Cordal: I don’t want to do real political art. I think it is quite complicated. You have to be very clean. When you do political art you cannot make mistakes. In my work I am more interested in creating a reflection of what I see through the window. Sometimes I think I’m only speaking about myself. We are a reflection of the society and the society is always growing and evolving so probably as an artist we have to grow too.
Springtime in New York! Crocuses, tulips, fire extinguisher tags! Ahh the joy of life! Happy Purim to the Jewish neighbors. Saal-e-no mobaarak (سال نو مبارک) Happy New Year to the Iranian neighbors. Yes, this is New York, where we disprove the notion that we can’t all get along. Every dang day. We also sing together on the train when its stuck.
So here’s our weekly interview with the street, this time featuring Ardif, BustArt, Clipper, CNO PCU, Drinkala, JPS, Mattewythe, Nanos, Nubian, Pork, Rock, George Standpipe, and The Postman Art.
Patti Smith begins the roll call for BSA Images of the Week in this portrait by Huetek. The punk term is loosely tossed around today, but it only applies to a certain number of people truthfully. In so many ways she is one. But she is also an author, poet, activist, and champion of the people – who she says have the power.
So here’s our weekly interview with the street, this time featuring Adam Fu, Bella Phame, BK Foxx, Bobo, Deih XLF, Exist, Huetek, Isaac Cordal, Koralie, Koz Dos, Sixe Paredes, Smells, SoSa, UFO 907, Velvet, WW Crudo, and Zoer.
Unearthed by Artsy this week, the paper is ricocheting across social media with shock and dismay uttered by some artists who lament the hollowness of the modern graffiti/ Street Art/ Urban Art world, purporting to be distinct and above it all, yet posing in countless photos on their social pages with myriad peers and professionals and potential clients cheek-to-cheek.
It may be time that some hardcore Graffiti and Street Artists can shed some of the charades about how the globe turns, even if you are a graduate of the “School of Hard Knocks”. This movement we are witnessing toward self-promotion and marketing has always been true: This research paper doesn’t even use modern artists as a model for study – the subjects were part of the 20th Century abstract art movement and most died years ago.
You’ll recall that a central tenant of graffiti is that writers spread their names on every wall in different neighborhoods and cities to get “Fame”. As the authors of the paper Banerjee Mitali and Paul L. Ingram say, “CEOs, activists, scientists and innovators all benefit from fame. Meanwhile, the struggle for fame is becoming ever more intense and complex in a digital economy.” Download the paper here.
Yes, networking helps your career. In other breaking news, puppies are cute, the Pope is Catholic, and boys like short skirts.
This week our Images of the Week are coming to you directly from our latest visits to Madrid, Bilbao, and Bayonne. We’re excited to share what we found with BSA readers.
So here’s our weekly interview with the street, this time featuring Anna Taratiel, Artez, Aryz, C215, Dan Witz, Eltono, Invader, Monkeybird, MSW, Stinkfish, and Suso33.
Bilbao Spain is known for its Basque nationalism, its Basque football club, its pintxos and beer outside pubs in small streets, its Casco Viejo. It is also today closely identified with the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum, now opened just over two decades.
For mysterious geopolitical, personal, and financial reasons, we have not seen this city since 1994 when the new museum was just being constructed, so amidst the organic graffiti/Street Art hunting and the Bilbao Arts District mural mapping, we knew that we had to get inside the undulating metal building that has become an audacious architectural landmark.
Not that there weren’t other intellectually stimulating exhibititions and programming on offer in this historic yet cosmopolitan northern Spanish city of a million just 10 miles south of the Bay of Biscay. At Azkuna Zentroa there currently are workshops and classes that introduce you to experimental music and sound art and there is a well-regarded ‘Culture Lab’ digital laboratory.
You can also check out Museo de Bellas Artes for a new
exhibition that highlights the momentus cultural changes of 1968 and the five
decades that followed as seen through the perspective of Basque art. Their
permanent collection includes El Greco, Goya, Tapies, Mary Cassatt, Paul Gaugin
and Francis Bacon.
Our own experience of the Guggenheim somehow felt more profound because of Gehry’s well respected visual vocabulary in the public expression of architecture as art. Over two days we made sure to take a personal stroll outside and inside to measure the experience.
The resulting personal observation is that being outside on the street, witnessing the buildings’ dialogue with its surroundings as well as its own powerful image along the Nervion River which runs through the city of Bilbao to the Cantabrian Sea, by far impressed us as visitors.
Perhaps it was because a few of the exhibitions inside were closed or being installed, perhaps because the current exhibition from VanGogh to Picasso felt incongruous with the superstructure, or because the galleries themselves sometimes overpower the art-viewing experience, but inside didn’t stand a chance against the experienciaafuerda.
Set aside the sprawling Richard Serra sculpture gallery with its slinging sloping slabs of rusting iron bending your very perception – and the amazing soaring electronic text installation by Jenny Holzer. Both of those meet the challenge set by the outsized personality and promise of their common home.
Here we present some of our visual impressions of the Guggenheim Bilbao experience, one that surely speaks to many of our readers – with gratitude to the museum and the city for their hospitality and inspiration.
We wonder how long the street art and graffiti will persist here now that the masterplan of Zaha Hadid is nearing another phase of completion. We’re guessing that you still have time to catch some of the best stuff if you are willing to scout it.
The grassroots handmade art movement has occupied the rundown and neglected sector for years, as well as the concomitant artists performance spaces, quirky small businesses and tech-forward digital art studios.
Yesterday with a local expert named Javi we scaled some of these neglected spaces to get a sense of this particular margin and discovered that old skool aerosol colorful letter styles and the new flat brush & roller tags are flourishing amongst the occasional political screed.
The new island, created by excavating the existing peninsula, may not be on time but the existing neighborhood is still popping with pop-ups and late night excursions into experimental music and scene making.
While vast swaths of smoothly graveled land await the new towers of developers dreams to punctuate the skyline, you are invited to pass through the fence and climb a small mountain of old furnishings, coats, furniture and building rubble.
This Bilbao based site-specific survey reveals a varied selection of traditional graffiti, post-graffiti; abstract, conceptual, figurative, activist, and some that is just plain smart.
A new sharply political campaign championing the freedom of expression has caught fire in Spain in the last few weeks under the hashtag #NoCallaremos, and Street Artists are now adding their talents to the protest. Rather shockingly for a modern European nation, a rapper’s prison sentence for offensive lyrics was upheld in Spanish Supreme Court in February (Billboard) and that decision along with other recent events has sparked a number of creative protests across the art world in cities across the country. Today BSA contributing Street Art photographer Fer Alcalá shares his opinions and new images of the murals in progress with BSA readers.
THE NO CALLAREM PLATFORM
~ by Fer Alcalá
…or how some of Spanish top artists react against censorship and repression of the freedom of speech from the central government…
It’s now known worldwide: the Spanish government is imprisoning hip hop artists like Valtonyc and Pablo Hasel because of their sharp and truthful lyrics as well as sentencing people like you and me because of their critical posts on social media.
As a reaction to these acts against the freedom of speech that are more in tune with a well established dictatorship than with 40 years of democracy, some projects like the No Callarem (we won’t shut up) platform have raised their voices.
One of the direct actions organized by the platform for fighting against Partido Popular’s civil rights oppression was to film a video clip featuring some of the most renowned lyricists on the scene as Frank T, Elphomega, Los Chikos del Maíz, La Ira, Rapsusklei, and César Strawberry, among others, at the old La Modelo prison. The location is an accurate metaphorical scenario when you are seeing that your liberty is being cut off thanks to laws like ‘Ley Mordaza’.
The song ‘Los Borbones son unos ladrones’, which alludes directly to the Spanish monarchy, includes some excerpts from some of the songs created by rappers serving a prison sentence. The video clip for the song, which you can watch at the end of this article, has become viral and almost all media outlets in the country are speaking about this big shout-out in the name of freedom.
I was invited to witness the filming and painting session by local artist Javier de Riba, from Reskate Studio, who invited some fellow artists to paint at La Modelo walls as a part of the whole process. Franco Fasoli JAZ, Twee Muizen, Txemy, Joan Tarragò, Enric Sant, Milvietnams, Werens and Fullet gave a new voice to the walls surrounding that backyard, providing 2D images that perfectly matched the spirit behind the beats and the rhymes.
This is what Javi has to say about his collaboration with the project:
“Our involvement with No Callarem happened thanks to the Catalan rap artist Pau Llonch. He lit the spark for recording a clip against the Valtonyc and Hasel sentences. They wanted to do it at La Modelo no matter what and the No Callarem platform supported the action. We helped to spread the word for putting together a team with different languages together to visually enhance the video clip.
At the beginning, was what meant to be an ‘atrezzo action’ turned into a bunch of pieces that can be visited in the backyard of Gallery 4. In fact that backyard is not open to the public, but you can see it from the watch guard pit. We think that, from a conceptual point of view, it’s very powerful to keep those pieces locked – especially when thinking about how things are going in Spain regarding freedom of speech.”
Additionally it’s worth mentioning Reskate’s initiative about shouting against the suffocating atmosphere that we are experiencing here for some time: ‘Our idea is that every artist post one piece / illustration / painting / picture (old or new) supporting our initiative promoting freedom of speech in order to criticize the lack of democracy within the Spanish government.
Some of the hashtags that we will use are #NoCallarem #EzGaraIsilduko #NonCalaremos #NunVamosCallar #NonCararam,#NoCallaremos being the main one.
Visual artists from Madrid, Zaragoza, Almería, Oviedo, Valencia, Vila-real, Barcelona, Bilbao, Valladolid, Tenerife…are supporting this initiative. Some of them are: Malakkai, Escif, Paula Bonet, Aryz, Ricardo Cavolo, Enric Sant, Twee Muizen, Franco Fasoli, Hyuro, Javier Jaén, Boa Mistura, Conrad Roset, Jordi Borràs, Danjer, Cinta Vidal, David de las Heras, Juan Díaz-Faes, Chamo San, and Marina Capdevila, among others.
La Semana por la Libertad de Expresión (Freedom of Speech Week) is happening now, with different activities taking place all over the country. The funds raised from these activities will go to a resistance fund for the platform in order to defend all those people chased and brought to justice because of censorship and repression. You can check the whole program of the week HERE.
So, yes: we have a fight going on. Comedians, actors and actresses, musicians, journalists, visual artists, the guy / girl next door who is active in social media… It’s kind of a Russian Roulette game where, if you are critical with the established system and you are using 3rd grade humor as a weapon, you can end in jail. And all of it is happening in a country whose government is accused of being the most corrupt on the whole continent.
I have a very well informed friend who has been kind of disappointed with the absence of critical vision and combative behaviors from most of the big names in the local street art / graffiti scene. Thanks to initiatives such as No Callarem and the impulse of people like Javi de Riba, she is reconciling herself with this small, but powerful little world whose images have the strength for making important things happen.
Finally, I’d like to recommend that you check the publications under the hashtag #nocallaremos that are out, as there will be some fine and unique art being produced for the occasion in the upcoming days.
As it’s being said in Los Borbones son unos Ladrones:
– rap music is not a crime
– we need scratches, we need paintings
– I don’t dream about Versace, I dream about barricades
– …because of the poetry that still sleeps in the ditches…
Big props to Javi de Riba, Xavier Urbano and all the artists behind the No Callarem movement.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening :
1. Rone: The Alpha Project 2. FKDL – Petites Chroniques Urbaines 3. Irene Lopez León: 12+1 Contorno Urbano 4. The Batcave, Henry Chalfant, on The New York Times
5. Isaac Cordal “Giza Komedia”
BSA Special Feature: Rone: The Alpha Project
In this new revelatory video Street Artist Rone appears to unveil romantic and healthy figures from beneath a veil in isolated patches. The austere minimalist soundtrack contributes to a disorientation, a feeling of suspension while a visual wonder appears before you. The ruins of industrial production are legion in parts of the West as manufacturing is now done in the East, so our artists again have discovered enchanting ways to make something remarkable with the tools at hand, even transcendent.
FKDL – Petites Chroniques Urbaines
Mon Film, La Femme Chez Elle.
Only two of hundreds of magazines collected from the fashionable Parisian ladies of the 1950s and 1960s that FKDL flips through. In his studio you find his materials carefully archived and labeled, a well of pleasant and smartly chick ladies to select from and to collage together. A painter before he was a street art, his muses have been many and now he takes his stuff to the street with part illustration, part collage, often upon a bright blue or phosphorescent pink thin synthetic backing. Here he shares openly with you how the process goes, how he first loved these ladies and how he came upon his style for the street, now for a decade or so.
FKDL recalls a moment of epiphany with clarity; “Right. I got it. I’m going to dress up my collage characters with more collages”.
Irene Lopez León: 12+1 Contorno Urbano
See the direct relationship between the studio practice and the mural painting here in this video with Spanish artists Irene Lopez León for the 12+1 wall.
The Batcave, a Graffiti Landmark in Brooklyn, Grows Up
The New York Times discovered the Batcave just as it is about to be developed, and invited Henry Chalfant, whom writer Matt A.V. Chaban regards simply as “a graffiti expert” to come along and speak about the rather hallowed site. The experience is multidimensional in this gorgeous video, with an opportunity for you to drag your mouse across the screen to glance around the room and ceilings while Henry talks.
“Though few individual pieces in the Batcave are particularly notable, Henry Chalfant, a graffiti expert, remarked on a recent tour how the totality of the art is what makes it special, a reminder of the “outlaw spaces” that once populated much more of the city.”
Follow Street Artist Isaac Cordal as he stages small scenes outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, where he has his current solo show at SC Gallery. The corrugated metal shelters mimic closely the undulating shapes of the Frank Gehry designed architecture of the formal museum across the street. We need to get this guy INTO the museum, instead of being kept outside. We will.