Portrait…temptation…sculpture! An unusual proposition from a glossy invitation beckons to me, irresistible... I arrive, needing to touch – no - pierce the secret of this portrait-sculpture association that dares to challenge the norm. Portraits unlock the gate to abundance, to the ambiguity and uncertainty of an intricate countenance whose perfection is often attributed to the art of painting. Mauro Corda has been sculpting portraits for over 35 years. His quest is a constant battle of chasing the truth, refusing the ‘road without effort’ and the monotony leading to artistic sclerosis…death. ‘Temptation’ then, seems to be the missing link. I enter.
Curiosity would have me merely glance at each piece, indulging in a hint of discomfort here and there, immediately squelched by an over-enthusiastic expletive or vehement criticism, and then…on to the next! One’s gaze fogs over in a confused series of visions, aggravated by too much wine (the sad reality of the cocktail party, creator of blind stares).
The works themselves become an incongruous pretext, immobile, lamenting: “You with eyes that do not see, leave me to taste the solitude of silence far from your fracas; yes, leave me, rather than strip me brainlessly! Am I but spectacle? Is this the Zoo?” I therefore preen myself to be present in body and spirit, to let seduction cast its spell (as scary a prospect as it is exciting). Back to that hint of discomfort. It can instantly snap into full-blown distress with art throwing a punch to the gut or embarking you on an adventure towards the unknown. Head on. I am accosted by a golden burqa (veil)…then reeled in by a gas-masked head of steel. “He did it! He dared! But isn’t it all a bit trendy?”… I grin, yet feel that my eye is about to miss something major.
Back to square one! I know to beware of the artistic undertow, especially when it’s attractive and familiar looking. Beware, too, of the insatiable ingurgitation of art, so vulture-like. Ah, but to let art come to me, to gaze upon it until I penetrate it, or rather, until it penetrates me…unveils me. I know that I must reach that receptive state of mind if I want to pierce the icons of the ‘now’, of the merely ‘beautiful image’. I lean into a piece called The Muslim Lady: a strange series of four heads are progressively veiled until the final face is completely masked. That uneasiness again. This serie portrait takes up the entire room and yet doesn’t see me! Its blind stare invades my very soul; this unreachable face, so androgynous…pallid, is just as barren without a veil as it is blocked by its wall of fabric…luxury behind bars. And yet we must strive to override the standard, one-way version: important, yes, but contrived. A French debate has become a national issue, thanks to current controversy over the veil and the burqa, secularity in public places, freedom and equality for women. When Mauro Corda conceived this series in 2007, he was one step ahead of a major public debate. Although not enthralled, he felt urged on by an apparent desire to make this cause echo his own: intimate, existential, political. This obsessive debate over a mask, a haunting theme throughout his work, challenges the very meaning of existence and the emotion caused by the debate - in spite of itself… against itself. My uneasiness and the multitude of thoughts provoked, convince me that I’m looking in the right direction; the image touches my most intimate relationship with the world and yet its nudges me to move on – too much introspection can blind you…
Especially since the portraits are right here, about sixty in all, calling to me…weaving their webs. I feel the vertigo. Opening up means accepting fragility, throwing yourself with total receptivity at a piece; sweet tribute to the artist’s talent. A talent for taking something that our eye strives to hide from us, making it visible by tilting the complex reality of our relationship to the world. The challenge for an artist’s eye is to transform standard images of icons, myths and symbols into visions that struggle to exist as belief or invocation (of religion or science, sorcery or the sacred goddess ‘media’). This standardized vision, alienated proof of ‘corpus culture’, dictates the way we perceive by imposing its own codes.
This must stop! I had just left the room when another question raised its ugly head: what can our gaze really do, lobotomized as it is by so much ‘neuro-psycho’ normalization, if only allow us to perceive an infinitesimal par t of reality already transformed? Perception leads to completion, spatialization, elimination, buffering; it breathes soul into an image and builds on it by interpreting a sensorial roadmap which is already subjective. Our gaze interprets in accordance with pre-formatted codes: a memory database, individual and universal. Language and traditions funnel perception through a filter that renders art sterile. And yet this censoring is necessary, despite it all, to represent the world and me, to make existence possible. The question is often whether we should believe in order to see and see in order to confirm; but certain works of art invite us to stop believing in order to understand. The illusions weaved into art are meant to hijack our perception, by-passing our rich heritage of sensorial and psychic associations. The way we look, listen, smell and think is directly related to whether or not the artist succeeds in doing this and also depends on the delicacy and intensity of the result.
Every sculptural masterpiece, even the most massive, is really a virtual lens through which we peek at an otherwise inaccessible world. This explains why philosophers and psychoanalysts pay such close attention to art. They know that artists create visual abstractions that are much more solid than the concepts they weave.
I approach the steel gas mask. Here again, four contiguous pieces: four faces, progressively masked, invaded by more and more apparatus. One mask hanging from a mouth reveals a gaping ‘O’: a call to duty or cry for help? Between the two, a frown has been split in two: binary fission, like so much multiplying bacteria. The eyes are hidden, a blind stare under a large mirrored lens; not a trace of the Mona Lisa here, even less of her enigmatic smile and yet…that same mystery, that same immeasurable distance. I witness, spell-bound, as a dangerous, mutating, inaccessible being seems to penetrate me with even more insistence as it strives to be heard behind the mask. Where does history begin, if history exists? Will the scream be suffocated by the mask, or will it emerge victorious (or worse, terrified) from this frown that seems to split the mask in two? It doesn’t matter : whether its radiation or mustard gas, it burns. And the atmosphere served up by Mauro Corda chokes you; mankind seems to be constantly living in - or running from - danger. The beauty in the volumes, the pureness of the face and its glow, only add to my uneasiness.
What machine has been set in motion here by Mauro Corda, defeating us and crushing us so? A thinking, feeling machine stampedes the spectator, grabs him, stirring within him mental images that push and shove and arouse that subjective par t of inconceivable reality and aching fantasy. If only I was satisfied with exploring the volumes through some formal, analytical filter, where the subject exists only as ‘shape’! I try to imagine a vision freed from the effects of psychic associations, a vision that would only stir in me certain aesthetic references handed down by the artistic corpus. Is this what Mauro Corda’s skillful hand is trying to communicate through the forms he sculpts? Is he a surgeon of the gestating shape? All I have to work with is a sensitive ideal: proliferate and disturbing as it wields its spell of uncontrollable, dream-like associations. This is all about the subjective experience of intuitive emotions unlocking a sleeping world, a painful past. Our only rescue - but of what value! - comes from mind. It demands that we see without relinquishing our intuitive, sensitive receptivity. Our gaze becomes action, with sensation and thought mutually feeding off each other, allowing us to truly contemplate art - its quality and message (aesthetic, cultural, political). Maybe this is the key to the Mauro Corda mind-set. But what about the residue…that unidentified par t? This residue leaves me in a state of unnerving doubt: what was he trying to say with this piece…which associations and thoughts crossed his mind?
And what if the answer to the enigma reveals an artist who is just as perplexed? Perhaps he wants me to tell him what he’s trying to say, adding, if necessary a dose of my own eye’s provocation! There will always be residue…an ‘unknown’. This may be the essence of Mauro Corda’s work - the meaning behind the masks, transformations and mutations of his faces. He knows, however, and I learn by observing his work, that creating or perceiving art means abandoning definitions of art itself and of reality in favor of poetry in a portrait that is felt, explored, offered to the world. Look again!
The Scream, as with most of Mauro Corda’s sculptures, is an abstract, virtual and poetic figure in an enigmatic variety of shapes. Paradoxically, it touches what is most tangible and immediate in me. It looks at me, penetrates me; I laugh at the chaos of feelings stirred by this miasma of dark and complex thoughts which my appropriate, socio-political considerations cannot even begin to comprehend. I wonder if Mauro Corda doesn’t enjoy “passing the buck” of his cumber some illusions and agonizing fantasies on to the viewer. If so, this is not his sole concern (far from it). How, then, using only his hands, does the artist translate, with such intensity and skill, the tremor s that pierce the protective membrane separating him from the world, while respecting personal border s, inventing a language of shapes and volumes?
I continue exploring his portraits, hesitant: will the road be enjoyable, chronological or intuitive? My choices are multiple. I decide to follow intuition’s short-cuts, drifting to and fro, floating to the summons of sculptures that battle and clash in a disturbing dance. Wandering, but not mindlessly, I take off on a sort of imaginary frolic seeking resonance, vibration, emotion but also intelligence…the sculpture’s, the artist’s and mine, of course.
Let us accept the arbitrary of biased consciousness, the sudden passion from the magnetic gaze of a portrait’s soul! Let us accept the arbitrary of interpretations born of an artist’s subjective vision! Let us admit that my perception and interpretation of Mauro Corda’s shapes are my own assumptions, not his truths! Let us know all artistic truths to be subjective – and this will never change - because an artist only has access to his interpretation of the symbolism he creates. Let us rejoice in this wonder that perpetuates originality in a stifling world where all is pre-calibrated and controlled…even fantasies!
Let us not fear giving voice to the subjective, for it is our only guarantee of that receptive, human quality that artists are born with, and must share. Let us appropriate art; after all, that’s what it’s there for!
I’m drawn back, like a magnet, to the infinitely distant presence of the Muslim Lady with no mask; challenged by temptation, dizzy with desire. Now I understand why this beauty must be hidden, why Tartuffe said “hide that breast that I would not see”. Obscene temptation, too, for brothers who reject the experience. The Muslim Woman in the niqab saves us from her beauty. I can’t help but find her strangely different from those women in black velvet demi-masks you meet at debauched carnivals. Hints of a generous bosom and a pretty, but hidden smile peek out from under her veiled cage: spectacle does not mean debauchery. Musing over this, I contemplate Psychosis, portrait of a bacteria-proof mask of shiny, ambiguous steel: angst, a mouth glued shut by breath held against will. I feel a hint of deep sadness, a loss of freedom that surpasses the niqab: an epidemic is brimming, the world is becoming unbreathable! Temptation would have us rip it all off and bellow out desire’s caprice.
Wanting none of this discomfor t, I seek shelter near three large busts of young women: three faces, three civilizations in an attempt at resonance. Asia, Africa and Europe. Was Mauro Corda trying to initiate us to beauty beyond borders? Looking closer, the peacefulness disappears. Asia, slanting
hair and eyes, impenetrable gaze, seems to be meditating, but it’s the myth, the cliché that catches me: Asia and wisdom, bride and meditation. What if this inaccessible, androgynous face hides the rebellious soul fresh out of the cool latrines of Arthur Rimbaud’s Seven Year Old Poets?
Masks of purity and virginity are too often the imposed icons of youth; freedom’s first lie. Europe pulls me away from these wanderings. The forced smile of her juvenile mouth warns me with contempt of her arrogant beauty. Do you know who I am says this braided princess with her disarming stare. I freeze in the shadow of her serious pose, of her confidence that she’s right where she belongs. Just the slightest hint of fear, maybe my own thrown back at me. This woman has presence; she knows where she’s going!
I turn my hopeful gaze towards Africa revealing the promise of an enticing bosom; braids, pride as well, or rather, dignity. She keeps the man in me at bay; she is no man’s chose, but she waits for something. She knows that the worst may be yet to come: she’s seen it, often lived it. Her gaze bears that Mauro Corda look but this time with a hint of joy, of playfulness ready to bloom. Play we will, basking in the temptation of this incredible beauty, but by her rules.
Mauro Corda so perfectly masters the nuances of these three poses that they become
‘portrait’. He won’t limit ambiguous beauty but feeds suspicious desire, softening it with an illusion of purity. The penetrating look gains indignity.
Three stands displaying busts framed in boxes attract my attention. Sleek and virgin-like, a Young Chinese Girl seems to transform herself by imperceptible changes to a strange pattern: matt or glossy, head shot or profile, the four faces seem like so many neutralized, silent clones. My gaze moves on, a bit distraught, and encounters Girl-Boy: four two-toned busts arranged in similar compartments: two faces on top, two profiles facing each other below. Here, too, I’m taken aback by their resemblance; while comparing hair and ear variations, I think, reflect on, am reminded that men and women aren’t all that different: gender, culture…why not choose… What if plural identity became possible… a dream that some are already pursuing. Based on his life’s work, Mauro Corda seems particularly sensitive. From the shiny bald head, the unformed ear to the one chiseled by life, a discreet symbol leaves its mark without delimiting sexual identity, because the cultural codes in force today are already obsolete! Mauro Corda conjugates his questions with humor and tenderness, despite the apparent distance incorporated into his portraits; what a breath of fresh air!
The third group of sculptures is even more enigmatic: six busts evoke obliteration, of artifice but also of all distinctive features so necessary to producing a portrait, somewhere between identity and expression. The final head, sleek and polished, captures such pure beauty, barely suggested: the essence of a face that hides in the profoundness of its own meditations.
Recess ends by a punch to the gut. I am facing Metamorphosis and I see…oblivion. Why all this violence: the way the face is wiped clean, erased, its decay, its combat reducing it to silence, its asymmetric aberrations and bulging eyes fixing you, pitiless. I’m filled with anguish, my memory serving up the cruel souvenir of Mauro Corda’s Slaughter: seven huge hanging sculptures, seven bodies for a work in seven acts, one for each day of the week. Seven human bodies, mutilated and hanging, martyrs whose painful presence shocks and questions us.
The Metamorphosis series, equally disturbing, associates several portrait-like pieces different in form, but which in substance seem – I don’t know why – intimately related. Each one provokes a different stage of sensation and distress, but they are all mysterious, provoking fear, silence and contemplation. From the liquefaction erasing the traces of a yawn stretching the skin, ready to burst, from the mask of a tormented, invisible knight, Mauro Corda takes on the taboos and barriers that dictate what can and can’t be represented, somewhere between the excavation, desertion, dissolution of our being. Such an ordeal - violent, repulsive, fascinating - stirs in me the pain of precariousness, duplicity, desolation. In the anguish of my own hideousness, I face a mirror-like abyss of wounded portraits.
What interior flame pushed Mauro Corda to produce this heinous piece? Provocation? Definitely. But none of that nasty politeness, for I do perceive within these faces that same dignity present in Corda’s beautiful figures. If atrocity is there, and terror, they exist only to witness man being ripped apart and Mauro Corda does all he can to make humanity sensitive; tomorrow’s humanity, once our eye and mind have recovered from the trauma.
The weaknesses and wounds of the living pierce through me without concession, without exhibition. These portraits stir my own weaknesses, my own wounds; they don’t contribute to world suffering, but rather serve it up so that we have no other alternative but to take it all in. Two marble sculptures, The Witness and Contempt, reinforce this feeling of being forced to see. Time goes on, but I cannot pull myself away! They are par t of my universe, ever since the monstrous gave way to an intimate conviction that these works hold the key to all the barbarity, the insaneness of humanity ripped apart in its thirst for love, incapable of abandoning its cruelty. I don’t feel like a voyeur facing these portraits; I am not an accomplice to the diabolical contempt that tears a person’s dignity apart the way one would skin an animal or torture a prisoner at Mauthausen-Gusen. Of this I am certain: Mauro Corda is the antithesis of the cynical artist, tattooer of pigs and the like, conspiring against life and dignity in all beings; those artists who seem to take pleasure in living off the fat of fallacious arguments steeped in wretched stench.
Two enormous columns grab my eye, luxurious objects framing such unusual portraits. Against a black backdrop, four levels. In The Lineage, Mauro Corda wanted to depict four heads of gold as precious objects. Looking closer, the portraits seem like a collection of the world’s eccentric ideals on the origins of man. But paradoxically, the skeleton of a finely chiseled head, - primate, big monkey or ape - perches on top of the tower. The sumptuous and just-as-chiseled head of a wise man seems to answer the animal. ‘Homo Sapiens’, we used to say, to avoid confusion between Cro-Magnon and the (so perfect) Modern Man! Between the two lies the straight-cut, poetic evolution of an affectionate man-ape relationship. Mauro Corda’s Lineage appears to me like a window thrown open on the world, hailing to us. Such nobility in this ‘genetic otherness’, wisdom shared by incongruous, intimate whispers, their propositions speaking to us, and to themselves, contemplating us through a lens of perplexing provocation. Is Mauro Corda declaring, with such totalitarian and promethean meanderings, that glorious humanity has forsaken its roots, has not respected its peers nor the ecosystem, without which, must I remind you, humanity wouldn’t exist? Or rather, more probable, is he offering us a magnified portrait of wisdom and dignity, a precious gift to be shared among the living?
Thank goodness there are some people out there supporting the world’s diversity with their wisdom, in a respected ‘otherness’ where all is respectable.
I turn towards an even larger pillar, this time in glass and steel, a device with mirrors and drawers. The Missing Link should be here, in one of these seven compartments! From top to bottom, a salamander, a portrait of an ape, a primitive human head, an empty, mirror-lined compartment, a mask, some dust, with nothing reflected in the mirror.
What is this thinking machine? Mauro Corda surrenders us to our origins, star ting with the most archaic, the salamander: an animal fossil capable of regenerating its members, a fiery spirit wrapped in the ancient cosmogony of mankind, striving to master the four elements: earth, water, fire and air. It all seems to star t there, and then, above the piece, a bronze sculpture in blue patina, delicately polished, the placid portrait of a handsome ape meditating, its eyes and mouth shut tight, concentrating on introspection…yet another human machination! I am moved by this face that sees me without looking at me. It doesn’t need to see in order to comprehend. I can identify with its contrite smile.
But that’s without taking in the celestial splendor of the human portrait, same patina, same far-off, inaccessible look facing some internal horizon’s eternity. What beauty! I star t thinking I’d like to resemble it, but I immediately feel its pain. I turn towards the mirror that reflects my gaze into the empty compartment and I see myself, surprised and worried.
I don’t want to look, so I turn my gaze, just to look back again. Is this where the hidden link hides, in the estranged hopelessness of self-comprehension? Clouded identities, differences warring against a fragmented conscience that suffers from having been divided up, parceled out.
Mauro Corda proves again that, with an artistic device, he says more, more eloquently, than any philosopher. The shock of the incorporated mirror is the perfect, cruel demonstration! My gaze climbs the column, not without trepidation this time. The next compartment proposes the enigmatic portrait of a mask strapped to an invisible head; its own gaze hidden behind the reflection of silver goggles.
I’m reminded of The Scream, the anatomic risk, mankind’s disasters that have made our planet so unbreathable, all due to an uncontrollable surge in unshared profit. The faceless man looks hard at me without taking me in. It represents perfect, brainless power and foolish destruction.
I continue on, smiling at Corda’s conclusion: ashes, everything is only ashes trimmed with the reflection of my own face, half of it hidden, half of it reduced to dust, disaster, cremation. Only one compartment left, completing the process, an empty compartment, no mirror, no reflection possible, desperate yet relaxing nothingness.
There’s nothing left!
Is Mauro Corda an eco-artist? Too simplistic. For the last few decades, he has been sculpting the human disaster, from Dust to Metamorphosis, from The Drought to The Box. He makes me think that, beyond Human Rights – a worthy battle seldom fought - a more important cause, our Ecosystem’s rights, urges to be fought as the ultimate condition to existence; we must learn not to behave like Nazis pillaring a world that is animal and mineral.
I look at a piece called Dust, a sublime portrait, smooth, bronze patina, bluish-grey. I’ve seen this piece before, one of Corda’s finest, a full-length sculpture of an ageless being that the infamy of starvation has rendered diaphanous.
Head lowered, its gaze turned inward, rising above it all, consuming the emaciated face, hands clasped in an offering of a small amount of dust falling onto a floor of rubble, a wasting body invoking inexpressible suffering, our guilt accentuated in the light of such beauty, transporting us to fascinated contemplation. I cannot leave this portrait of Dust. It calls to me Christ-like, a divine presence that I have not yet totally abandoned, the essence of humanity that includes all, transcending purity, silent wisdom.
Yin and Yang reveal an identical purity in shape. Two sleek marble pieces suggest volume hidden under a mask. Only a slightly opened mouth seems to utter muted sounds. One black, one white, like in the legend of Qi, the source of all breathing; they pull us into blind meditation, into the universal infinite of reciprocity and communication with the cosmos, to draw strength and wisdom in order to exist. Beyond the frontier s and exasperation of haphazard humanity, the key is to harmonize opposite forces without worr ying about life co-mingling with death. Mauro Corda’s Yin and Yang are neither deathlike nor masked; their gaze seeks ‘the beyond’ where our gaze can experience the illusion of peace.
On Incorporating Shapes
It is sometimes helpful to let one’s gaze bask in the ‘universally familiar’ of art’s history. It is reassuring to feel a continuum binding us to shared culture handed down through the centuries. Far from any national identity, its standards and diktats, classic conception brings people together, including those who ignore their own assimilation. Art is no longer elitist; it is received by all, differently but without imposing boundaries limiting our gaze. Why such condescension from the neo-modern who banish all that nears expressive figuration? May we not love both the most radical abstraction, conceptual performance and figure which, creation oblige, insists on remaining abstract. Is potentiality a way of perceiving ar t? I refuse to choose and stop for a moment to contemplate one of Mauro Corda’s most beautiful pieces from the 80s and his debut as a sculptor, but also other pieces such as this surprising Antique Head in marble, from 2005. I identify the perfectly mastered style of his early years, where sculpting forced Corda to inspire his strokes with those of his masters. Volume, substance, shape and light were the elements comprising the souls of his por traits. Nothing can stop Mauro Corda from dismantling life; and he will not hesitate. For he knows how to build, and will not deny it. Michel-Ange Robin, Bourdelle, the list is short of artists having influenced Corda’s style. Antique Head plays with such empathy, but when you draw closer, peeking behind the surface beauty, the asymmetric, mocking grin and the strapped head dictate different codes and mutations, telling me that something much more special than a convenient, mimed exercise in ar t, is undoubtedly brewing.
Hypotheses, vectors, substance, it seems like Mauro Corda uses all of these in his work, ceaselessly, without concession. Throughout his life’s masterpiece, he has sculpted with the audacity, strictness and energy of the rebellious and the emancipated. He has no time for hesitation or entrapment; he won’t conform to trendy ar t currents, but rather, ignores them with contempt. Is this audacity a deliberate necessity to escape from a death that lingers… waiting. Look at the artistic road already travelled since his Musician, such a wonderfully romantic piece! It stands here, enthroned, amidst sculptures that are so subversive. It is sweetly surrounded by the Singers, a bronze piece in three partitions, sober, contemplative, a bit languid for my taste.
Soledad, such beautiful, eternal solitude, calls to me, affects me! I’m confronted with the mirror of my agony, when (finally!) it deigns to let time weave its aesthetic power.
What hides behind the beautiful face? As time goes on, Mauro Corda leans more and more towards the singular, applying light touches of deconstruction. His only concern is: how does volume create a cosa mentale? By inventing shapes and devices, he deciphers his relationship with the world by and through his sculptures, a full-time passion for his soul.
Faces of Disaster
Who has not surfaced one gloomy morning from a night of being chased down an abysmal pit by monsters and other ghostly chimera? Best to carefully avoid dawn’s looking glass as you never know what might jump out at you. Sometimes you see nothing: a frozen daze looks at an empty mirror only to find the cruel, hallucinated transparence of a face that’s been wiped out. In a shrill of demented inexistence, a magic slate erases all that’s reassuring. I know too, for having deeply felt it, that an agitated night can sometimes drastically change everything; a new film begins from which a few never wake up, like inescapable tragedies!
Images flow constantly, swirling into clouded threats at dawn. Anticipation and premonition gradually evolve into survivor’s empathy. How grateful we are not to be in that person’s shoes: somebody you know is brutally plunged into disaster. A sudden hear t-attack, the disappearance of a child, cancer or a deadly accident has thrown someone off-guard, nailed to the stake by fate or felony…The list of catastrophes is long; they lie in wait and we hurry to forget them at the first signs of daylight. We go about our daily grind, feeding on irrational beliefs. We must continue to live despite the scene of horrors…for some so unbearable, they must resign themselves to plow on.
This is the intimate and painful repulsion which Mauro Corda serves to his guests, so to speak; a cruel dish indeed, confronting us with portraits we would rather avoid, mirrors to a myriad of nightmarish matinees. His characters are deformed, amputated, bruised; the broken faces of an existence forever altered by tragedy and fate. They’re right here, facing me. There is no escape. I can only fix my fascinated gaze, steering myself to recall other beautiful, familiar images.
As required by my profession, I arm myself with a reassuring, clinical look, calmly contemplating these disturbing portraits. What a journey it is to reflect on The Patient, a strange sculpture of tin reflecting metal. The sunken eyes and the unfathomable gaze of their vacant orbs evoke the unsettling peculiar. The face is wearing the protective head gear of the insane: a metaphoric asylum, this mechanism of observation and control diagnoses the signals of deranged, cerebral electricity using restraints that penetrate the skull.
Electrodes emit an energy source that neutralizes the brain’s activity. This is sometimes what we do to disturbed people, as it is so delicately put, when they become dangerous to themselves and to others. This era of ‘zero tolerance’, with media aiding and abetting, stigmatizes the peculiar person…crazy therefore dangerous!...while we forget that the most dangerous members of society are out there roaming the world’s streets, deemed sane in mind and body.
Mauro Corda’s Patient is elaborate. I don’t see an outcast but rather a deep, penetrating gaze, the unknown exuding from a fellow human being who is different, yes, but not so distant.
As I walk around the sculpture, its profile and rear-view reveal thin hair s of electric wires, reminding me of an Indian or African headpiece, a superb hybrid exuding tolerance. Using this now-familiar aura of the strange (accustomed, as we are, to his touch of madness), Mauro
Corda proves that The Patient’s insanity is worth much more than normal, ordinary stupidity. His message, that is, the one I intercept using my own projective data-base, uses the tenderness of softened curves to temper the harsh, radical oddity of such a dreadfully harnessed face.
I get another idea: the message behind the equipment (so faithfully represented by Mauro Corda’s melting genius), beyond any archetypal image of the insane, amidst all the cerebral restraints and assaults and the electric process so skillfully applied, does it not reveal that fateful moment when torture transforms a stranger into one resigned, the deranged into the disillusioned, the political rebelterrorist into the living dead?
Facing the beautiful countenance of The Patient, ignoring the electroencephalographic device, I recognize the wrinkled, embarrassed mouth as the ar tist’s own call for help: look at what you do to this man, to me, to the eccentric, ‘different’ people, the demented…But he says it without the politically-correct velvet gloves that designate without feeling. Is Mauro Corda condemning ‘Integration the Hypocrite’ for exacerbating the condoned rejection of those who are different? What, then, should we make of all those anti-discriminative measures when all is really done (in the name of security and precaution), to standardize, segregate, stigmatize?
I leave The Patient with an accomplice’s smile, peaceful now, thanks to contemplations that only a master work of art can trigger. I am amused and surprised gazing on The County Fair. Mauro Corda once again plays with boxes, but these are life-size.
A man is stuck in a barrel up to his neck in what looks like a soft, viscous liquid.
Obviously uncomfortable. He seems to have sunk softly into silver oil that we hope is not toxic. Is this a corrupt Minister of Finance, a repentant Madoff ? In any case, it makes me smile with its imploring gaze; its clown-like mouth shadowed by the profound features of anguish, accentuated by reflection, its hands tightly gripping the barrel in order to keep his head above water. What a horrible death, drowning in oil like a Scrooge in gold! Why so much sarcasm drowning out this man’s obvious suffering? A different possibility comes to mind: is he naked and embarrassed, not daring, like Diogenes, to throw his death bed at the face of the world?
And why The County Fair? In reference to the artist’s title, I am reminded of scenes of warped comedy so recurrent centuries ago at horrible town gatherings, where men so imprisoned were the subject of public ridicule, suffering the insults and stones thrown by an inebriated crowd.
The face’s contortions, carved with retching anguish, its immobilized gaze, its mouth deploring, grimacing, seem to say for pity’s sake, spare me! And yet, facing this piece,
I feel no pity. Is this scene depicting a comical figure entertaining crowds clamoring for cruelty a ‘disaster’ scene?
For what difference does it make…all the suffering, humiliation and scars inflicted on this poor man…as long as the audience is amused? Throughout time, history is filled with examples of how events quickly get out of hand, with a victim being stoned to death so that others may convene and have some fun; what difference does his destiny make, all good causes are worth a sacrifice! It starts as early as pre-school and, may we never forget, surpasses the human when transformed by fascist philosophy.
I know Mauro Corda; he is not of this ilk. He who suffered in his own life proudly defends human dignity, star ting with his own. He knows that we are all capable of finding ourselves in the same predicament, bent on destruction. He knows, as do we, despite our insulted negation, that we can all don the robes of the torturer when seduced by a frenzy that reason would condemn.
The infamous simulation of electric torture carried out by the psychologist Stanley Milgram has proved this fatal fact. More intimate and more painful encore, the secrets of soldiers, honest men battling with their conscience, tell the tale of acts of barbaric torture during war.
While muttering to myself that Mauro Corda’s art generates such an abundant flow of thoughts, I find myself head-to head with Broken Pot, two heads in pure white porcelain standing in a decor of glass and steel; two expressions which stir in me images of both the antique Roman figure as well as de Vinci’s or Raphael’s Madonna. I’m not as sure as to the sex of the sculpture; it lays hidden under so much encrusted dir t. Why have these faces been hit, broken? Shattered and glued together, they reveal major gaps, the missing morsels lying there, witnesses to the trauma. Fortunately for us, the faces have been preserved; but one of them opens to reveal an empty skull. The other is poised on a pedestal that has been devastated.
By using repetition, this noble and austere portrait seems to reach out in a surprising and questioning pose. But the heavy lines leave me perplexed: they are ageless, sexless, without any real presence, like emptiness dangling in eternity.
I now understand Mauro Corda’s choice. This humpty dumpty collage speaks to us of the cracks that can’t be fixed. Someone did try to put the pieces back together, but
what remains broken, disseminated, cannot be easily reassembled.
This is the archeology of mankind undefined, exhumed, hanging between two states. Something heavy is inspired by a head still intact, perched on a massacred pedestal; human waste slowly gives way to indescribable melancholy reflected in a gaping skull of smashed features.
The heavy lines and pure shapes of expression remind me of the olvidados (Forgotten Ones), forever out of range in their eternal absence, captured in the 1950s film by Luis Bunuel.
Fortunately, the mentally deficient are not always forgotten by their entourage. We are as welcoming as we are challenged by the tragic and often guilt-ridden fact of having given birth to someone who is different, incapable (despite his efforts) of reaching total, social autonomy. Mauro Corda questions this tragedy, invites us to accept these individuals, to strive to create a comfortable and dignified existence for them, void of any commiseration or denial of the embarrassment they create. We must refuse the idea that they would’ve been better off not being born into such a normal, elitist world where they’re locked away in the kingdom of the broken-apart, the burdensome, the costly.
One more step and I stop, transfixed in front of the three heads of Twilight. For this piece, Mauro Corda chose slightly translucent, white resin. I’m reminded of a candle, quickly capturing the essence of a beautiful, emaciated face, crowned with a strange tiara. It has undergone final liquefaction rather than rebirth. The lack of any definite features is enhanced by the colors used; progressive obliteration more than decomposition. It preserves the remnants of a dignified posture, but internalizes its disturbing presence, like so many old people, still proud, skin melting on bones, too soft and stretched-out to embrace any structure.
The disaster is irremediable, climaxing in a third head where a pasteurized face leaves no trace. We can only ponder the memory of the oblong and triangulated shape of the aesthetic portrait.
Contrary to other series of the artist’s work, which can provoke contradictory interpretations, this series seems to me devoted only to the meaning of obliteration. Decay is inevitable, and
Mauro Corda speaks of our destruction, precipitated with even more speed as we burn the candle from both ends in turbulent existence, pulling, spending, time goes by slowly yet with lightening speed when suffering from a long illness, a slow agony.
Mauro Corda specifically chose a model which spoke to his own assumptions of this agony. The sculpture anticipates the process of obliteration in three stages, each exuding the anticipated form of a precious life-giving liquid, its volume and movement malleable. When a candle, symbol of life, burns out, shape and expression perish, dry up and fall apart. And the sorcery of embalming - a theatrical ritual - cannot reassure us as to this final separation. The artist creates with no holds barred, imposing his own mind-blowing reality: death is the obliteration of shape!
Portrait of Man in Suspense
Throughout my visit, I have noticed a number of portraits with the same singular presence and expression that seem to correspond to the artist’s intense anxiety. We know Mauro Corda often seeks a new way of expressing the par t of his creation that holds him spellbound, constantly striving for greater efficacy in form and concept. The same is true with his choice of subjects and their appearance, more often a pretext to send a message bordering on obsession.
The portraits The Vixen, Victoria, Mask, African, Meditation, Doll’s Face, Asepsis, all share the same suspense-provoking demeanor; a sort of interminable waiting mixed with a sense of anguish so efficiently contained, it resembles meditation. I see the formal expression of stupefaction born from being, perhaps the very feeling masked by Mauro Corda’s own confident demeanor! As I look at them, I’m reminded of Albert Camus’ Stranger, of Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince, of Samuel Beckett’s Molloy. I think of these characters floating in the no-man’s-land of time, in the exquisite withdrawal of a worldly chasm. They convey and reflect on the mystery surrounding man’s precarious fortuity, his finiteness and the inconsolable distress that emerges.
Decked out in white marble, Victoria takes you immediately off guard…her head is on the floor… she has no neck…and those bulging eyes, the black pupils plunging within you, beyond you. The girl stares at nothing, as children sometimes do in the fogginess of sustained monotony, listening to interior vibes reverberating in confused, hypnotic semiconsciousness.
The Vixen uses a totally different strategy to take us to suspenseful heights. This is a sculpture into which Mauro Corda has deliberately chiseled contradictor y signals between the portrait and a second, concave message carved into the marble. I had already seen a superb marble piece, The Little Actor, 2004, where Mauro Corda had used this same dual concave/convex carving technique but in concordance with a convex/ concave mirror.
The Vixen, however, reveals a paradox between the pouting frown of a frustrated child and the figure carved into the marble: happy, glowing, smiling at the world. The portrait (and herein lies its strength) cannot dissociate this dual co-existence that influences the artist’s message and reality as we know it. We grapple with the internal restlessness of opposites, so familiar to our innermost feelings they spiral into confusion flirting with obsession. Such duality can give birth to a paradox of reactions: unpredictable laughter or tears, attributed too quickly and too poorly to a mere flood of emotions.
Nirvana uses extreme sobriety to guide us into suspense: the portrait’s plunging gaze is fixed to a flat stand on top of which you see a glowing halo (added by the artist in this new version). The ears are dressed, the skull smooth and the profound gaze of this portrait in meditation enhances the face’s Buddhist-like aura. Nirvana takes me on a trip to a mysterious somewhere, in what seems to be a contemplation of nothingness but which feels to me more like an inward pondering of existence, a Roquentin in tiresome meditation after throwing cobblestones on the beach in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea. Hypnotic inertia freezes the individual, protecting him from anguish, while the greater threat, against his will, lies in wait, looming like a black-hole of eternal questioning.
Doll’s Face is a portrait in bronze taken from The Doll, a full-length piece from 1996, one of Corda’s major works. I get a hint of suspense, but only from the smallest indication of a mechanical aperture at the neck. Again, Mauro Corda heightens the confusion by sculpting a gaze frozen in an eternal impression of the toy doll. While I look at this pretty face, I think of all those lost dolls’ heads decorating the city dumps, adorable little faces with only black holes for eyes.
Lying scattered about, these tiny heads seem so human, from that humanity triggered by the surprise of a glance or the insanity of a body torn apart.
What is the artist plotting with Asepsis? To create this portrait-rebus, Mauro Corda must have, once again, called on the collaboration of specialists and craftsmen. The portrait is in flesh-colored resin. It has been placed in the center of a circular device made of insulating Plexiglas. It faces a distorting mirror. The bell, in plexi, has been drilled with holes with gloves protruding from them. It invites you to enhance the penetration of your gaze, by inviting your gaze’s touch. Will I dare put my hands in them and caress the portrait? I’m afraid of disturbing it, abusing it, battered as it seems by its meditations. I think of those unfortunate individuals who suffer from immunodeficiency disorders who are forced to live without any physical contact…I feel like Mauro Corda struck the perfect balance: mirror, light, gloves…they all allow you to see, to live in the light and be softly caressed by the people we love. Is this really what the sculptor was tr ying to express? It doesn’t matter! I take pleasure in contemplating such a dismal solution.
I am now facing a piece called Remnant, a monumental portrait in iron. It seems to me like this fragment of a face is being sliced by ecstasy; it opens a mouth that could also be evoking silent anguish. Are they incompatible? Not if we consider that ecstasy is like suspense climaxing in a fusion with the divine, the madness of a trance, an orgasm of those possessed. The impression of deep turbulence is reinforced by the size of the sculpture, and its mask’s mutilated aspect.
Fortunately, the essential has been preserved, the subject has been identified, the beauty of the classic face and the presence of receptive features: a mouth, eyes and a nose. The ecstatic suffering is expressed by the “ah” formed by an open, passive mouth…the “ah” of agony. My misery increases while contemplating the scars revealed by such an awkward, heart-wrenching touch. This nerve-racking suspense is the same found in Mauro Corda’s Pain, an iron sculpture in hot patina in a flaming rust color. The face has been slashed, as if it has exploded, as if it has been struck by lightning. The damage is considerable: the upper left par t of the face has been destroyed, the nose reduced to nothing. It is impossible to avoid thinking of soldiers on the battle field or of victims of a terrible car accident, suffering in silence, comatose with their mouth gaping, moaning a feeble cry for help that falls on deaf ears. This pain is universal, encompassing both physical and mental distress.
Mauro Corda expresses the inexpressible par t of pain while preserving a suspenseful state that reflects the human psyche, far beyond the noble suffering of animals. I am reminded of one of Mauro Corda’s earlier sculptures that had a similar effect on me: The Excluded One. This portrait called out to me with a look that was both close and distant, the slightest hint of worry revealed by a raised eye-brow. The minuscule sign, the secret clue suffice in transcribing the painful predicament of portraits which evoke the cleavage of mankind. But Mauro Corda also uses the exasperation of a shape, seeking the ‘grimask’, the mask that grimaces, to stage our existential doubts and derisory humiliations, the outrageous finiteness felt by all whom, as children, naively believed in eternity’s dreams, in the illusions of a world that is magical and good.
His Balloons transport us to the gates of such illusive dreams, but the destruction is there: the sarcastic laugh, the nauseous smile. Red, blue, orange, green, yellow…these balloons look hard at us from on high, floating. Like at the county fair, the ambiance just isn’t fun, we don’t believe any longer, we pretend to have a great time, we play knowing we will lose; like the stench of an announced death.
Horrible grimaces abound in our cultural legends and nightmares. Mauro Corda has sculpted small-sized portraits, fantastic miniatures visible Under the Magnifying Glass. They live in the imaginary valleys of a strange world, beyond anything we know, Demons and Marvels.
This unique vision of the artist, probably haunted by the same monsters, resonates in synchronization with our own: an ogre, samurai, a jack-hammered Genghis Khan, a devilish Adonis… Mauro Corda doesn’t need to employ the shockingly excessive, the gargoyle or the dragon, to provoke our emotions. He instinctively finds the perfect deformity, the one that unlocks a world that already exists for each one of us and that he brings to the surface through his representations, those of a unique subconscious that is also forged by our collective archetypes.
My visit ends after several long hours spent contemplating and thinking about Mauro Corda’s work. I am intrigued by the smallest piece of the expo, Peeping Tom, an eyepiece in bronze revealing a grimacing face. It screams, cries and sticks its tongue out at me as if mocking my interest in its existence. And who is this Voyeur that I discover, oh paradox!, by moving the brass circle covering its eye? It is the enigma of the Portrait’s Temptation, that of the sculptor, that of the viewer. Their temptations are intimately related to the revelation of the secrets of our souls, or rather, those that our souls are willing to share, so many ‘secrets’ known to all but that only artists, philosophers and psychoanalysts accept to expose, sometimes exhibit. And what they reveal is shared in a smorgasbord of emotion by the creator and the viewer.
But regardless of whether we exhibit or devour with our eyes, we are still, all of us, peeping-toms: the person behind the closed door who watches the intruder or the spectator as he gazes on art; as he stands in front of the sculpture’s eye-piece, dressed to the hilt, vainly seeking to find out who exactly is looking at him and what lies hidden behind the door.
To all you art-lovers out there: do not fear to don the robes of the voyeur, because the creator of these works, Mauro Corda is more of a voyeur than you’ll ever be. He simply dares to peek through the little cracks of his soul’s peep-hole, revealing even more of himself. This is how he enchants us!
Traduction réalisée par Amanda McLane
© Thierry Delcourt