Through Mind and Back • Louie Cordero

Jun 10 to Jun 30, 2014 • Tall Gallery

From the coast of Malabon to the cramped district of Cubao, all the way to the vibrant prospect of Makati, modernity in this land is hardly understood without first envisaging the true outlines of the city—a panorama formed by a quagmire of ironies and contradictions. The signs of progress that adorn the skyline are profusely undermined by the destitution found beneath the surface. It is the mixture of desperation and resourcefulness among the masses who have tried to ‘keep up’ and in turn have raised their own towers and vestibules, constructed their own galvanized artifacts and makeshift mechanisms to clutter the view and shape the landscape towards its own portrayal of advancement. It is, and has always been, the Third World’s territory no matter how many modern structures have been erected, and Louie Cordero, through his art, continues to assimilate the ways of the naïve, the native, the lowbrow, with the sensuous allure of affluence and progress.

The result is Louie Cordero’s characteristic mélange of forms and uncategorized slew of shapes, bombarded with details and actual-life snippets that immediately inform us that the symbiosis of good and bad taste, of sanctity and irreverence, of humor and seriousness, can be an apt reflection of where our society stands now.

If the constructivists have used the angular and mechanical strokes to signify industrial and social advancement, Cordero’s own scheme of combining geometric, organic, and industrial components into his works cater to a specific social stratum as well—the aesthetic, if one could argue, of the Third World native who forges beauty out of his own unheralded contraptions: the obsolete billboard painter, the jeepney airbrush artist, the outmoded sign-maker, the reclusive tinsmith and junkyard sculptor, obscure stuntmen and women—all are sources for Cordero’s aspiration to retrieve a telling image of his environment. His recurring motif of flora and organisms reminds us not of a lush garden but of a primitive jungle from the tropics, the Caribbean, or desolate Africa. His slice-of-life juxtapositions of bleak characters are not portrayed to gain sympathy but an affirmation of what is truly banal. His jagged patterns derived from tropical Hawaiian textile prints fastened on industrial fiberglass only provide some measure of a faux paradise.

Through Mind and Back is Louie Cordero’s own narration of how the primitive wrestles with modernity, how paradise is lost and reconstructed, or, through the surface of his canvas, how new worlds are formed in between.

The unrealized Tatlin’s Tower is reconstructed through Cordero’s own imagination—a soaring replica adorned with native seashells from our abundance of shores. This inherent ornament, a handicraft from simple islanders, undermines the Tower’s symbol for industrialization. And in true Cordero fashion, he concludes the winding structure with another credulous gesture, substituting awe with absurdity, thus, becoming our edifice for this kind of twisted progress.

—Cocoy Lumbao