Following a successful debut of Nuart Aberbeen first edition in Scotland locals have been very enthusiastic to say the least, and to quote the Press And Journal ‘ambitious plans are being drawn up to bring the Nuart street festival back to Aberdeen for the next three years- and expand it into the city’s suburbs‘.
Artists from across the globe came to the Granite City to transform walls across the city and I was excited to hear that Spanish Isaac Cordal was one of them.
Today I share our interview with this exceptional artist who with the act of miniaturisation and judicious placement, suddenly expands the imagination of pedestrians stumbling upon his sculptures on the streets. During our stay we could witness different reactions to his works. Carefully staged, his figures are placed in locations that can be very fiddly to notice but once you do they open doors to another dimension and meanings. Some might think his work can be depressing, in this interview Isaac delivers his sharp vision on today’s society with lots of humour and honesty.
I was pleased to be invited to this very first edition of Nuart Aberdeen and to be able to chat with Isaac about his latest residency and the current state of his sculptures.
Instagrafite: It was a pleasure meeting you during NuArt Aberdeen. Let’s start from your newest installations there. How was your residency in Aberdeen as it was the first time you placed your sculptures in the City?
Isaac Cordal: It was my pleasure. NuArt Aberdeen has been the occasion to discover a beautiful city and a very responsive community. It was my first time indeed in Scotland and I found it quite spectacular with its skyline of medieval towers. Local people I met were very friendly with a great sense of humour, which always makes me feel at home. It was great seeing artists, friends and meeting new people.
Instagrafite: Coming from a fine art university background, when did you decide to take your art into the streets?
Isaac Cordal: I started to doing things on the streets by accident, it wasn’t planned. The sculptures were made from cement and I began taking photos of my artworks in the public space as a project to reflect on the condition of the human being as part of the urban furniture, as a kind of metamorphosis in which the city became our natural habitat. Since then the project slowly evolved until what is has become today.
Instagrafite: Why opting cement as a medium and could you tell me a bit more about your Cement Eclipses project.
Isaac Cordal: Cement Eclipses is an analogy of the precise moment when buildings cover the sunlight. I wanted to use a symbolic material that represented our behaviour and cement, among many other materials, is our footprint left behind by our steps and represents our place in nature.
The project was intended to be a critical reflection on our idea of progress. I chose to stereotype middle-aged business man as a sort of declining David, and of what is left of this Greek athlete marble today. That beauty ideal has been replaced with multiple angelic faces showcased in department stores. Behind these synthetic faces appear the grey figures as a barrier to capitalism.
Instagrafite: Could you talk me through your process and workflow to create your sculptures? For a Festival like NuArt how do you prepare, is there some scouting involved?
Isaac Cordal: It depends on the project but normally I create my sculptures in my studio. For NuArt, due to lack of time in preparation I finished part of the sculptures at the hotel.
For me the location of the sculptures is crucial, a small forgotten corner becomes an autonomous universe, that insignificant space is suddenly a reflection of us. It’s interesting how hunting for a specific space can dramatically change our way to look at the city. My way of seeing the city has changed a lot since I started this project.
Instagrafite: As you mentioned earlier your work has evolved and you also tend to add more colours to your figures now. Could you describe how your approach has changed since?
Isaac Cordal: At first the sculptures were faceless and never painted precisely because of that idea of camouflage in the urban jungle. Progressively, and perhaps because of the aesthetic seduction of photography, I began to give them a little more shape and colour.
Instagrafite: Your art is all about thoughtful placement; at around 3m high it does take some work to spot your street pieces. Why is that and why opting for miniaturization?
Isaac Cordal: I think there are too many soldiers and equestrian figures attacking our cities, aren’t there? For some reasons unknown to me my art has been diminishing over the years until perhaps at some point it will disappear.
I place my sculptures at that height so they can become a permanent ornament of the city. They are for everyone not for a person to take them home. I think the casual encounter with art or semantic stimulation in the public space is necessary. One of my favourite pieces I saw in public space was in Nantes (France), on top of a wall, in an old stone ornamental corner; someone had replaced a virgin by a monster toy. To me it was something extraordinary that someone took the time to do that.
We should take into consideration that the real strange thing is that we don’t interact more with the city.
Instagrafite: For those eager to find them all, how many artworks have you placed in Aberdeen?
Isaac Cordal: I am not sure, around 20 sculptures I believe.
Instagrafite: What is also exciting about your creations is that you make your sculptures relevant to today’s news. For NuArt a representation of Donald Trump was wandering around the city with one his toys; how society influenced you?
Isaac Cordal: Even though they are not in the same kindergarten all children in Aberdeen know who Donald Trump is. I like that idea of Neil Postman that “the news of the day don’t exist’’, they exist because there is a medium that amplifies them. It started with the Telegraph and now we have adulterated information, like drugs, in a small format and disposable in your pocket.
This huge amount of information forces us to position ourselves and visualise the valley of reality. Society is like an omnipresent mass that constantly tries to model us: our families, schools, and governments … but hey, we can also model it, either gently or with force. The social element is still one of the central themes in my work today.
Instagrafite: It is amazing how a material like clay can have so many meanings. Which piece has been the most meaningful to you so far and why?
Isaac Cordal: Yes, it still surprises me how much meaning can a portion of modelled earth have. In theory we are in mortal sin by playing the autopoiesis. I wouldn’t be able to tell you which of the little characters I’ve made is the most significant. Maybe that little man coming out of a pipe, he represented quite well my mood that day. Very much like how you feel after a long journey through the depths of the metropolis.
Instagrafite: What happens to these middle aged men sculptures, do you revisit them and do they live on forever?
Isaac Cordal: Many of them unfortunately disappear because people think they need a home. They don’t. They are well where they are. In some cities, sculptures have a longer life than others.
In some places the sculptures are well camouflaged and can spend years without even being seen (that is when the sculpture develops an existential trauma). In other places, they disappear quickly. Their predators are: art lovers, lovers of lovers, spiderman, cleaning services, annoying neighbours… The life of a sculpture as we can see is very hard (it’s not easy to stand still for so long). Anyway, when you do something in the public space everything becomes uncontrollable.
Instagrafite: I can remember the Scottish crowd reacting in many different ways when stumbling upon your artworks. Did you get the chance to interact with the viewers and do you think it is related to the change of scale?
Isaac Cordal: There were some funny moments, especially with some ephemeral installations. I believe that in a context such as a festival, the change of scale, and the invitation to look at things differently can turn the city into a playground, and I appreciate you can have a fun day hunting for these little men.
What I do enjoy most is when there is the element of surprise when passers by stumble upon them by chance. For me each of these sculptures is very similar to a tagging approach, a mark that reflects on the instability of our existence.
Instagrafite: Do you have an example of how you got the message across with your interventions in public spaces or do you want to leave freedom of interpretation to the viewer?
Isaac Cordal: Everyone should interpret what they want. The perception of Art is something too personal, intimate, natural, we are like a kind of semantic filter that is excited or apathetic about what it is observed. Many people tell me that my work is a little depressing, but I see it from a sarcastic and humorous prism. We don´t slash our wrists every day. We are closed during the weekend.
Instagrafite: In the past you unveiled one of your most ambitious installations to date, Follow The Leaders, a critical reflection on our inertia as a social mass and on the passivity with which society has faced climate change. Is this something you would like to pursue more moving forward?
Isaac Cordal: My idea with this project was to present different situations where our political leaders direct us with their decisions. I made an installation with 2000 little men surrounded by ruins. There is almost nothing left that is not touched by politics today; because politics is deeply rooted in the economy and having an affair that gave birth to capitalism, which created a sickening infatuation.
I wanted to isolate some situations about the side effects of progress through my installations. Follow the Leaders is a project still in progress. My idea would be to continue working on the same scale so that, in years to come, I can present a massive installation on human stupidity.
Instagrafite: It has been great meeting you and discussing with you. What is next for you in 2017 that you can share with us?
Isaac Cordal: It was my pleasure. Thank you. My idea is to try to evolve as an artist. Trying to do more studio works. Take more time for each project. That is quite important right now I believe.
Probably produce less. Read more. And never stop dreaming that a better world is possible for everyone. Cheers!
Interview by Julie