At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Isaac Cordal’s miniatures are photos of actual people. The clay figures that pervade the Spanish artist’s barren Cement Eclipse landscapes are by no means created to mimic the details of reality, but there is something oddly lifelike to their grey, stagnant, dour solitude.
Hailing from Galicia from the north west region of Spain, Cordal studied sculpture at various art schools before making a name for himself in the street art scene with his Cement Eclipses series. This particular project started in art school in 2002, but he did not start placing them on the streets until 2006, making their first public appearance in the city of Vigo, Spain. The artist is not wordy in his expression, his responses to interview questions are short and to the point. It’s not from a lack of opinion either, in fact, Cordal gives the impression that he has so many thoughts spinning in his mind that it would be difficult to verbalize them, and so he prefers to point the questioner to his art and let them realize the immensity of opinion from that, by themselves. “My art depends on my mood,” he says, “and my mood is affected by the world around me.”
True to the name ‘Cement Eclipses’, Cordal uses cement as the main medium in his art; “Cement is one of the materials that betrays us against nature,” he asserts, “so there there is no camouflage possible to integrate us anymore into the natural landscape.” Normally considered a dull and utilitarian material, the artist has managed to use cement to devastating emotional effect. The miniature sculptures have since made appearances at many major European cities including London, Amsterdam, Milan, Brussels and more. They are small and getting smaller with time, even as the scale of installation increases. “Small interventions in big cities” is the phrase Cordal uses to characterize his Cement Eclipses. In an interview with Agenda Magazine, he explains: “Our gaze is so strongly focused on beautiful, large things, whereas the city also contains zones that have the potential to be beautiful, or that were really beautiful in the past, which we overlook. I find it really interesting to go looking for those very places and via small-scale interventions to develop a different way of looking at our behaviour as a social mass.”
Cordal’s work is more than just the whimsy that comes so naturally to many street artists, instead there is a gloom to them that lends a weight to the social issues his pieces reflect and criticize. He explains: “Art should be one of the mirrors of society. My work is intended to be a reflection on our model of life which is not healthy due to its love affair with financial markets.” The little grey men in suits represent a social stereotype, which, in Cordal’s mind, is a representation of economic and political power. The people are contemporary human beings that are no longer individualistic and vibrant in their humanity, but humans that have been converted into a part of the urban furniture… like a fossil in the tapestry of the city itself.
In Cordal’s latest work, an installation at Blanca, Murcia in Spain, he uses clay from the local Segura River to build a small cottage in ruins that is displayed as a banner of abandonment. “Nature seems to have become something we see briefly from one city to another,” Cordal says, “I am interested in the idea of creating a delicate plant which disappears over time without a trace off the asphalt.” The disappearance of nature from our everyday lives weighs heavily on the artist’s mind. Many of his works deals with climate change and the inertia seen in governmental bodies in their approach to dealing with it. His “Waiting for Climate Change” series, installed in Belgium, feature little clay figures on top of poles driven into the sand, or standing on the ground, at several locations across the Flemish coast. Static, doing nothing, the little men seem concerned but helpless as the tide washes in.
Social inertia is one of the biggest themes that string together all of Cordal’s Cement Eclipses. In his iconic and ambitious “Follow the Leaders”, a massive installation consisting of 2,000 pieces and several concrete buildings akin to a city in ruins, the artist spent three months creating a metaphor for the collapse of capitalism and the side effects of “progress”. Up close, it looks like an earthquake has shook the city, but it looks as though the inhabitants are not panicking, rather they are melancholic and alone; pained by the collapse of their constructed environment and yet helpless or unwilling to change it. The work is also very much a critical reflection of our inertia as a social mass and how we’ve blindly handed over power to the politicians and businessmen at the top, people who don’t always have our best interests at heart. The work was created some six years after the initial rumblings of the global financial crisis, but it shows that the aftershocks are still being felt on both a societal and personal level.