Isabel Cordovil’s practice oscillates between poetics of different natures, technical regimes and heterogeneous materialities, in order to build an aesthetic that is, in most cases, autobiographically involved, through which the artist seeks to ironically evaluate, corrupt, invert the movement or simply manifest the points of contradiction of human symbolic and archetypal machines, long rooted in the logics of the cultural and linguistic apparatuses that mediate our relationship with the world.
In the artist’s work, we move, therefore, in the midst of historically formed images, instituted belief systems or dogmas, customary ballasts, utopias and ideally perfect bodies, which Isabel Cordovil does to subvert, explicitly or subtly, revealing empty horizons, impure, or a qualitative sordidness inherent in them. In this way, the fixity of the identitary structures she cites, the geometry of the “frame” [still the canon of a bourgeois politics of taste], or the minimalist appearance that most of her works intentionally preserve, contrast with a certain dirtiness, noise or gestural imperfection that activates a tumultuous, almost chaotic territory, where the intensity of sensitive experiences and the material background of the Real come out freely, disarmed, free, powerful.
In Matter is Sovereign, Isabel Cordovil’s first solo show at UMA LULIK__, it is precisely in this tension between what traps and what frees, between what imprisons, deceives, guarantees and everything that from there escapes, insurges or subtracts as imponderable remains, that the overall movement of the entire exhibition develops. Here, the artist summons different strong-images from Western mythography, religious narratives, heroic figures, saint-martyrs or outcasts, juxtaposing them to objects connoted with devices of violence against bodies [human and non-human], such as penitentiary flogging and the mortification of the flesh.
In the gallery space, we enter a lugubrious and visually gloomy environment, configuring itself halfway between a cabinet of curiosities, the torture chamber and a private room of sadomasochism. The atmosphere is heavy and everything seeks to exert pressure on our body, in an erotica that, more than metaphorical or spiritual, is materially concrete and sensually intelligible. The entire exhibition plot offers itself as a setting where different individual projections can be launched, in an indistinct course between precise points of contact and meaning, an intensely repulsive estrangement and an almost unconscious and secretly libidinous attraction. Sometimes because of the progressive awareness of our weight on the rubber floor, sometimes because of the somewhat misshapen reflections that this black and smooth surface gives us, sometimes because of the anthropometric character that most of the objects on display have.
However, while circulating through the gallery space, we cannot help but sense the existence of some external presence that evades us. That of a possible character who, not being here physically, or even in the form of any concrete reference, ties together the whole interior of the gallery as an indexical spectrality of a personal and subjective constellation. As if it was here that this ghostly and imaginary figure had kept its private images, the trophies that proved its actions, or its insidious instruments for training, hunting and holding its prey.
Knowing that it is, in fact, the figure of the artist, as an aggregating agent of all the presences with which we can relate to, it is precisely in this purposefully tensional meeting that elements from a family or domestic origin enter into a disjunctive but paradoxically productive short-circuit, both with the titles that name them, as with the other works present. On the one hand, the photographs taken from X-rays of her parents, the bronze that duplicates a worn-out pistol case she inherited from her grandfather, or the large photograph that shows a table in her house with the remains of a festive dinner. On the other hand, the saints who lose their sacred halo, sticking to their personal denomination, their earthly name before being celestial; the mythical figures of which only the material instruments remain that speculatively [here, in this exhibition] originated their stories; or even the imperialist ideals from which only the moldy and decaying detritus of their fortunes remain.
It is not, however, just a question of a critical effort that Isabel Cordovil weaves in the face of the circumstances of certain narratives and certain subjectivation devices [of which Foucault had already spoken]. Also not only to counteract certain movements of mobilization of bodies in relation to their metaphysical or transcendental aspirations that continually press their flesh. By re-signifying images, hierarchies, places, practices and normalized expectations, what Isabel Cordovil does is activate the negative background that all Western religion and mythology have always tried to deny. Everything that its secular substitute, under the name of Historical Progress, tries daily to suspend.
Following an artistic lineage that approaches, albeit in other fields of thought, the structural fissures of Doris Salcedo or the macabre and dismal aura of Berlinde de Bruyckere, Isabel Cordovil underlines an absolute radicality, indissoluble to the edifying structures of the world: a prevalence of matter and the forces and rhythms of the Earth in the face of all anthropological structures.
Even so, if this whole space is still charged with a strong sexual dimension and all its implicit violence, which does not fail to refer, for all that we have said, to a constant drive and supremacy of the flesh [our elemental matter], we must not forget, in this case, that all our most unconfessed desires have always gone hand in hand with all the most morbid fantasies in history.
– David Revés