Isaac Cordal is a Galician artist (Pontevedra, 48 years old) who creates little cement men who he places in such everyday places as a puddle or the rebellious bushes that grow out of a tile to show us his vision of the world. His figures of middle-aged, bald, dejected-looking men in gray suits question our idea of progress and represent “that collective inertia that leads us to think that our behavior cannot change anything.”
These figures are part of a project called ‘Cement Eclipses’, which since 2006 has toured various cities around the world. His little 18-centimeter humans also dramatize Cordal’s concern about climate change. In his work ‘Politicians discussing about global warming’, which was part of his ‘Follow the leader’ project, the gray men, some carrying briefcases, appeared to be gathered at an important summit with water or debris up to their necks.
Cordal, who trained as a sculptor, conveys with disturbing humor an unhappy image of society, including the threat of global warming. “We live in a society full of uncertainty; I am interested in using creation as a fighting strategy to try to understand the world we have created, and if possible, change it”.
He says that his work ‘Cement Eclipses’ criticizes our behavior as a mass. Do you think that art can encourage citizens to become aware of the problems of climate change and move them to action?
I think so, it obviously has its potential. There we have advertising, which uses strategies related to creation to sell us products. Art can be more subtle, less obvious, but I certainly believe that there are proposals that make us think and reflect on our daily tasks. Art tries to trip the relentless course of time and history. We need to have different models that make us change the current inertia. Imagine that it becomes fashionable to help others. What would happen?
What attracts you to those little gray men?
In a way it is to place a mirror on modern society. My characters, even if they are the opposite, remind me of Bartleby, Herman Melville’s clerk character. Although my sculptures have more to do with submission, obedience and his mantra of questioning nothing. I’m interested in that cloned character, the industrial repetition of him, as if we all came from the same assembly line, from the same factory, from that mother mold called neoliberalism.
Why do you choose the street as the setting for your figures?
Public space plays an important role in my work, since on many occasions it is the chosen location that gives all the meaning to the sculptures. I tend to choose semantic spaces that confuse the scale; I am especially interested in those in which the passage of time, our decadence, are perceived, which speak to us of our own imperfection.
But I think communication with the public works more in social networks than in the public space itself, since the sculptures are small in size. [unos 18 cm] and, therefore, you have to pay attention to find them. Let’s say it would be a casual meeting, but perhaps it is with photos on a specific topic that more people are reached, and that happens through the Internet. My sculptures are not monuments besieging cities. If you look, you see them and if not, then nothing happens. I use windows, cornices, cables, walls, holes… a residual architecture that serves as a refuge for them.
Why have you chosen to talk about climate change in some of your works? What message does she want to convey?
There is a constant trickle of events that become the raw material for my work. It seems important to me not to lose the capacity for self-criticism about the present, about that spectrum that we call modernity. I am interested in going back to contemplate everything that we have created under the premise of progress and investigate its collateral effects. The energy and climate crisis will modulate the coming decades. Following our leaders we have felt immensely comfortable in the comfort society and it seems that now, that we have already reached for the instruction manual, everything begins to break down.
What reaction have works like ‘Follow the leader’ or ‘Waiting for climate change’ caused in the public?
They have had more repercussion on the Internet, since they last over time, especially the popularly called ‘Politicians debating climate change’, a photograph taken in Berlin in 2011. It shows a group of men half-sunken in a puddle. Many people still write to me to find out where they can visit it in Berlin and it is not possible because it is an ephemeral installation.
What role does humor play in your social criticism?
I’m interested in using humor and irony in a dosed, ambiguous way, at the limits of drama, at that point where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It is somewhat difficult to find a balance because we always tend to joke and I am not interested in that sense. Humor seems to me a balm for existence.