Iván de la Nuez
(Pubilshed in the monograph “RAÚL CORDERO: 73 Kg”. Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, Spain. 2012)
ONE, AND SOME TIME AGO
Umberto Eco suggested pricing books based on their weight. The more grams -or kilograms- the book weighs the more money we would have to pay to take the book home with us. Obviously, Eco’s proposition has not much echo. At least not enough to change the traditional way of putting a value on literature. That is just how it should be, given that this idea has nothing to do with quality (Borges would lose out to any third rate best seller with more than 500 pages) or any other traditional approach to assessing literature, like critical legitimation or expected sales. Nevertheless, however crude it may have seemed back then, and still now, that way of evaluating a literary product has its logic, putting aside the fact that it was nothing more than a boutade.
What’s more likely is that Eco had his own interests in mind, given that many of his books reach a considerable weight. It is also possible, however, that his goal was nothing other than confronting Culture with comprehensible measurements -in this case weight- in the same way that measurements are used in other activities and trades, such as by butchers, fishermen, drug dealers or live stock appraisers. Even though it’s a vulgar practice we typically avoid engaging in -like anything whose value may be appraised- nearly all the works of art and literature throughout history, from a Van Gogh painting to a Kafka manuscript, have been passed around as nothing other than figures, record prices, in uncomfortable sums for hermeneutics.
TWO, AND 73 KG
Here we have the title of Raúl Cordero’s exhibition in which he deals directly with those volumes, which for “serious” art, it is not in good taste to bring up. Rather, it’s something art considers bad taste to say about itself. Art allows itself to talk about the stock market and oil prices, political corruption and the crisis. And to concern itself with hell, if and when, as Sartre said, the ones getting burned are “the others”, or they at least function like abstract entities (like the market, for example).
This being the case, if the biography seems crude or lacking glamour it can be covered up with the neutrality of the curriculum vitae. And if a work of art has an obscene price, there’s nothing better than to camouflage it under than the rubric of social importance. And if labour -translated into hours, administration, border customs, other interests- gives little insight into aesthetic discourse, it’s better to push it under the elegant rug of the Work of Art.
73 Kilograms is the phrase that names this exhibition because it is, consequently, the weight of the show.
The first operation of this project thus revolves around its transparency. Hence, with its very title it makes one conscious of other measurable magnitudes and draws back the curtain bringing to bear the excuses with which art is, still, justified.
In 21 grams, Alejandro González Iñárritu explores the loss of body weight we experience when we die. The weight of the soul, supposedly. Roland Barthes finds recourse in the number zero to give form to the way he exploded literary criticism in Writing Degree Zero. There is the novel 13.99, in which Fréderic Beigbeder shakes up the world of appearances that advertising is based in. Revolution Number 9, by the Beatles or The 39 Steps by Hitchcock contain numbers in their titles that give shape to the works, or some enigma they intend to elucidate upon. All those titles could be called “numerical”, and they are all in a tradition(?) that includes 73 kg, and a lot of other issues Raúl Cordero is concerned with, such as his apprehensiveness about the art system which, for some time now, no longer even talks about “art” or the “art world”. They are alarms about the measure of art.
THREE, AND MEASURE FOR MEASURE
In the comedy with this title, Shakespeare constructs a world populated by complex characters who seek compensation for sin, injustice, redemption and dogma. The fact that the play revolves around fornication mustnít be ignored, nor that in it, a pregnancy before marriage is set against a death sentence. The entire play takes place in the midst of a plot of wrongdoings, (all of which are measurable although not all are confessable), which involves all the main characters. However, when all is said and done, Measure for Measure is a play about transactions. And for that reason it needs to pursue the truth, transparency even, so it may calibrate the true value of attitudes, which are also negotiable.
-All difficulties are but easy when they are known.
So says the Duke who is a protagonist of Measure for Measure, which is a text from 1604 that has been classified as a comedy and that was written at almost the same time as Othello. Tragedy and comedy, hypocrisy and jealousy, buying and selling… Arenít these the subplots of art? And, is it not the distaste for all this that might lead someone to lay bare the skeleton of a system that is intrinsically worn out but at the same time is trying to keep up appearances as if nothing were wrong?
FOUR, AND THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ARTIST’S CV
If art persists as an ancient trade that refuses to give up, it is not because its story is more or less real or even more or less true than that of other trades that have existed at one time or another. It’s because it can still lay claim to being exceptional. Hence its insistence on maintaining “special” spaces and life styles that are prohibited in other spheres. However, this resistance, which is still romantic even though few would admit it, is not an exclusively spatial matter. In some way, art’s story about itself is afflicted by a temporary disorder marked by an unhealthy horror of the future; the terror of not surviving.
If there is still any doubt about this it can be dispelled by opening up any exhibition catalogue and taking a look at the artist’s CV. That Freudian artefact that describes, unambiguously, a voyage to the maternal womb. There is no serious CV that does not start with the present and go backwards to the date of birth, real or artistic, of its subject. Leaving aside Freud, this “backwards” curriculum vitae is more related to fiction than theory or criticism. It’s closer to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Journey to the Seed, by Alejo Carpentier, than any piece of writing by Arthur Danto or Brian Holmes. Those two stories illustrate a move towards a zero dimension from a point of departure in present that turns its back on the future. This is why the CV is not a reliable instrument. Especially because of the notable difference between it and the biography.
In the CV accolades take centre stage. While the biography draws upon somewhat more provocative material. A CV -in order to serve its purpose- covers up, while a biography, if it’s honest, exposes. In contrast to the aseptic professionalism of the curriculum, it’s the vices and obsessions, vanities and grudges that emerge to populate the novel of art that has been growing so steadily in recent years. One goes backwards, while the other follows the hands of the clock, moving forth towards decrepitude and the end.
FIVE, AND THE MARK WE MAKE
That “natural” journey is what 73 kg proposes. The exhibition it is not a comedy but, “measure for measure”, it does contain large doses of irony.
These transparent paintings directly allude to weight or the time it took to make them. For example, we’re informed that one of the paintings was made on 12 August, 2012 between 9:45 in the morning and 8:55 in the evening. And, that another one weighs 2.2 kg. And that yet another one measures 100 X 119.5 centimetres, which is a tribute to Freddie Bartholomew that cannot be understood without repeating the size of the original work. This numerical obsession is not, however, a matter of “mathematics”. It deals with making the invisible visible, and naming the unnameable. It’s about making the works’ process transparent and making us see, for example, that what we conventionally conceive of as a “fact” can become a title, even at the very core of an artistic situation. This is painting in the age of transparency, when everything is exhibited and everything is known. It’s painting in the era of Facebook, Twitter and Wikileaks.
Thus the measurement of art carried out by Cordero dissolves the reverie of art’s mystery. It’s no longer the place of secrecy and privacy or of age-old truth that can only be found in that which is deeply hidden. Nowadays, on the contrary, that interiority comes right out to meet us. That’s why these paintings don’t champion Painting, but rather the physical -or physiological- act of painting. Painting is a matter of getting the right measurements; thickness, density, colour proportions. In fact painting is not even exclusive to the domain of art. It’s independent of it, and it will most likely continue after the end of Painting.
SIX, AND A FINITE TRADE
Since the birth of the image -bestowed many years later upon the figure called the “artist”- human beings have tried to “make their mark” on the world. That phrase, which puts mark making (painting) on the same level as life, is not incidental.
Avant-garde movements stressed the boundary separating art and life and the need to breach it. However, something tells us that its failure to do so comes precisely from the sublimation of art. And from the fact that for the avant-garde life -finite and small- didn’t “make much of a mark”.
The die hard defenders of art as an eternal entity, as much as the ones dedicated to digging its grave, might both have wasted their time. No decree will make art disappear. And nobody will manage to give it the seal of immortality. If it continues, it doesn’t seem possible that it can do so as it has done up to now, running in the opposite direction of time, and with the artists narrating away their lives towards purity.
This show is not neutral. You can intuit from it that art is an impermanent trade, like hundreds of trades that no longer exist. In 73 kg the measure of art is, ultimately, that of the time it has left. Whether it’s a matter of days, years or centuries, we can only find out by setting our clocks ahead. Marking, into the future, the measure of art with our own mortal calendar.