Bad-boy cool

By GREG COOK  |  March 24, 2008
seems to enter into the chalk-and-oil stick
drawings that he graffitis onto walls and streets.
The Peru-born, Houston-based William Cordova makes drawings, collages, sculptures and videos often featuring graffiti and strange accumulations of tires, stereo speakers, shoes, or bottles. His drawings here are okay, but his Oradores, Oradores, Oradores (p’a Audrea Jones, Ana Maria Rodriguez y Betsy Tregar) (2007-’08) is a striking block of more than 100 stacked-up old stereo speakers set on a wood platform and surrounded by bits of broken wood and shattered records. It looks like a monument or crypt, like the Kaaba at Mecca, the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a thrift-store storage room rolled into one. Peering through gaps between the speakers, you find the structure is hollow, and set inside are Santana albums, Toni Morrison’s book Sula, a book on Pinochet’s oppressive regime in Chile, and a record of a speech by Adam Clayton Powell. Walk around to the back corner of the sculpture and you find that the speakers are stacked lower and painted with names: Seale, Newton, Mao, Chavez, Cleaver. The people mentioned in the title are among these names: Jones was a leader of a Boston Black Panther branch in the ’70s; Rodriguez and Tregar were teachers who formed the Roxbury social-service organization La Alianza Hispana in 1968. (The art world has ’60s nostalgia bad these days, as if everyone were looking back for some good old activist days because today’s troubles are too scary to engage directly.)

All these people — activists and radicals — are either old or dead. “Oradores” is Spanish for “orators,” and there’s the double meaning in English of “speakers” as both orators and stereo equipment (stereo speaker being “altavoz” in Spanish). The dead speakers are a wall of sound that has been silenced. But Cordova also seems to be punning on “orar,” Spanish for “to pray” — turning the sculpture into a shrine while suggesting what options we’re left with.

Also on view at the ICA, organized by assistant curator Emily Moore Brouillet, is “Momentum 10: Ranjani Shettar,” which presents her new sculpture Sun-sneezers blow light bubbles. Shettar, who is based in Bangalore, was enamored of the filtered natural light in the galleries when she visited the ICA last year, and that led her to consider the apparently widespread condition that causes people to sneeze when exposed to bright sunlight. Whatever, the result is charming, a trio of gold-looking muslin-wrapped lacquer and tamarind-kernel powder-covered globes and wings assembled from accumulated rings and hoops that hang from the ceiling. The light, airy, open forms resemble bubbles and maple-tree seed pods and chandeliers floating and delicately spinning in the air.

Looking for the opposite of street art? Check out the eight long, time-warping videos by Belgian artist David Claerbout at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, a show organized by the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Bordeaux Piece (2004) is a weird soap opera about a father and son who seem to be vying for the same lady. The gimmick is that the same 10-minute scenario was shot over and over between dawn and dusk, so each time it repeats, the light changes with the passing of the sun. The whole cycle takes nearly 14 hours. Much of it takes place in bright daylight, when the changes are practically imperceptible.

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