Living between several major cities, William Cordova is an artist and curator who works with themes of transition, displacement, language, and culture. His drawings, installations, and sculptures, include ephemera that re-imagines their original historical presence and found consumer goods.
His most recent curation project includes, transmissions: algoritmos, polyrhythms, karuraqmi puririnay, an exhibition at The Franklin in Garfield Park, which opened April 2 and runs through June 25. It features three artists who work in Miami. I conducted an interview with Cordova via email about his process as a curator and the decisions that go into creating a successful show.
You currently live in Peru and studied at SAIC in 1996. What keeps you coming back to Chicago and how do you keep your connections here alive?
Actually, I live between Lima, NY, and Miami. I have family in Peru, involved in various projects and exhibits at 80M2 Livia Benavides Gallery in Lima. I own property in upstate NY and have family in NJ. I am also represented by Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in Manhattan so that keeps me going up and down the state. Miami is the bridge connecting me to both Lima and NY. I also own property in North Miami Beach and have a studio space but I don’t actually live in any one place for a long period of time.
I did receive my BFA from SAIC in 1996 and lived in Chicago till 1998. I returned to Miami there after and eventually went to grad school in 2002. (Yale MFA 2004).
I studied film/video with Mary Patten at SAIC and it’s a medium that often requires working with
others which includes participating in a very creative process. I applied that model towards my own practice and it has cultivated a healthy ongoing collective approach with practitioners from all different types of disciplines beyond that of visual art. Art residencies also became part of my practice when I graduated (MFA 2004) and its given me an opportunity to build and maintain community connections in so many cities and states including Chicago. I also curate 3-4 times a year so including SAIC alumni is also part of my mission. These alumni include Yanira Collado, Shoshanna Weinberger, Edra Soto, Kristen Thiele, Rashayla Brown, Star Padilla, Samantha Hill, Luis Gispert, Brian Holmcomb, Carlos Sandoval de Leon, Wayne Hodge and Peter Hosfeld.
I have always been drawn to Chicago’s grassroots organizing. SAIC professor Michael X. Ryan had a class in the 1990s that really gave students an insight into the process of producing an exhibition proposal, documenting works, curating, and installing an entire exhibition. I have not seen this method of teaching anywhere else since. I always thank Michael for creating this opportunity because it also gave students an insight into a type of “trade secret” that art programs often exclude from the curriculum. More importantly he exposed us to the pedagogy of ethics which challenged us in constructive ways. Every program in any institution of higher learning includes ethics as part of the process except art schools. I think this may be why there is so much gender and racial inequality in the arts because it manifests itself in the actual institution of higher learning.
I met Edra Soto in 1999 while walking through the SAIC graduate program studios. We stayed in touch since and have been trying to figure out a project for the Franklin now for the past year.
The Franklin was a nice welcome back of sorts for me because I used to live near East Garfield Park where the non-profit is now located. The exhibition space was about 10’x 10′ in size and located in a backyard. We were exposed to all the elements that Chicago Spring could embrace us with. It rained, hailed, and snowed a few times and the cold winds tore right through our work clothes. Then there is the other extreme example of installing a video installation in a 100˚ plus raw space in Cuba during the last Havana Biennial or mounting a wall piece in the gutted out Espirito Santo building a month before its demolition in Miami.
The exhibition transmissions: algoritmos, polyrhythms, karuraqmi puririnay is an ongoing project that started in Berlin in 2013 while I was participating in the American Academy in Berlin fellowship. I was invited to curate a show at the Berlin Kunst & Unterhaltung. I organized an exhibit that included four generations of South Florida Artists who have contributed greatly in developing Miami’s art community but have often been excluded from a broader mainstream conversation. This phenomenon occurs in all US cities but Miami is also very small city. Art Basel only creates the illusion of endless possibilities but its dominated by exclusivity. The concept behind transmissions is to construct a collapsible spaces that implies the passage of time through the fluidity of the artworks themes. A space that provides an intersection for dialogue through cosmology and folklore as in the case of interdisciplinary artist
Onajide Shabaka or the ontology of construction materials that allude to recovery and transcendence by artist Yanira Collado. Juana Valde’s suite of photos relate to the economy of 17th century Dutch still-life’s in neocolonial thrift store tchotchke’s. All three artists live and work in South Florida and are different generations. Their individual works are the components to an algorithmic treatise, a mapping of places and people, spaces and time in a non linear trajectory.
How does curation influence your personal practice, if at all? The exhibition at the Franklin features artists whose work lies in the investigation of phenomenons through algorithms. Did you have a specific reference point from other exhibitions or were you interested in the experimental theme of conflating science, history, and art?
I started curating out of necessity because I saw the opportunity while I was a first year at SAIC. Its evolved and become an integral part of my practice. Curating is not just selecting work but understanding space, location, community and it involves research and writing. I tend to write a great deal about my work and also about other people’s work. Minimalist artist Howardena Pindell started out as a painter and became MOMA’s first Black Female curator in 1968. She helped redefine MOMA’s curatorial department in drawing while influencing the next generation of curators and artists alike.
Franklin Sirmans, the new Director of Perez Art Museum (PAMM), is an excellent curator as well and started out as a visual artist. I think curators who have a past as visual practitioners can sometimes understand the integral components of art making that don’t immediately include an intellectual discourse. They are similar ways of thinking but at the same time very different processes.
Chicago artist Samantha Hill (SAIC Alumni) would have been an ideal artist for this show and will be included in the next phase of the project which won’t be an exclusively a South Florida artist show.
Did you have a limit of how many artists would be included?
I always want to include as many artists as I can because there are so many wonderful practitioners out there but not that many venues or people willing to take risks. We settled with three because its also in reference to fractals and all good things come in threes.
You are an artist and a curator. How do you approach each practice differently?
I integrate everything because I believe they are all connected in one way or the other. Society often dictates and conditions us to categorize and separate everything. I find that we often subvert our creativity when we limit our ability to bridge anything that isn’t familiar.
“walls turned sideways are bridges” -Angela Davis
The Franklin is located at 3522 W. Franklin Blvd in the backyard of the home of Edra Soto and Dan Sullivan.