Isaac Cordal presents his second solo show titled “24/7” at SC Gallery, Bilbao.
17/12/2021 – 28/01/2022
24/7 alludes to our capacity for work and complete availability to continue sinking into that crevice called progress. Our capacity to build chasms seems to have no limits. Now that our living room has become an extension of the factory, we can continue with the production without any interruptions.
We are resigned not to waste time. Our free time has become a pause between tasks. We seem to feel bad if we do nothing. We check our mobile phones again and again as if each notification were a balm for our uncertainty.
Work has become the epicentre of our lives.
MEN AND NO
Men – Isaac Cordal’s little man – and denial. This is certainly what we must talk about; of a confrontation between life and the forces that besiege and deny it: How can we fail to grant sovereignty to conscience in these circumstances? “Conscience,” said Georges Bataille, “resists the totality of the world and pitifully denies that which exceeds it, that which it cannot bear”. This is the question that, it seems to me, is often raised by the works of Isaac Cordal. For we are all, in short, this little man acting in his own pathetic way, making his gesture and his perplexity and his impotence his own particular Kafkaesque misadventure before the law.
Bataille himself is experiencing this dilemma as a tragedy, which is already ours: “Reflect on the inevitable or try not to merely sleep. (…) We have witnessed the submission of those who are overcome by a very serious predicament. But were those who shouted more awake? What follows is so strange, so vast, so beyond the reach of expectations…”. Perhaps that is why our little man is so often absent, disoriented, blind or lost in the night of a bled-dry turmoil. Amid the chaos of countless voices; exhausting himself in the slumber of those who simply observe, listen, vegetate, survive or simply scrape by in the universal and grey inter-passivity. It is the kingdom of the last man that Nietzsche, in his Zarathustra, also spoke of: “We are no longer rich or poor: it’s too distressing. Who can still want to govern? Who would still be willing to obey? It’s too distressing. No shepherd and a single flock! They all want the same thing, they are all the same…”
One would say that existence, as a whole, has been sinking, slumbering and drowning, and with it desire – the big question, then, would be: How can we finally touch desire at the point where it has to be touched? -. It could also be said that life now wanders, not to leave a certain point and settle in another, but to live in the open, as in the way the little men that Isaac Cordal arranges along the cities of the planet often appear. Representatives of the mass production of man himself, the so-called objective, or modern, man (the product of the combined action of science, industry and advertising); that which has no beginning(s), no end(s), no exit, no ascent, no possibility or action of engendering, of poetising, in the sense of Hölderlin and the Greeks. He, installed in the always restless non-place of transition and wandering, is like Aristotelian plastic matter, which hopes to attain body and meaning thanks to a content and a form always coming from another, from outside. How, moreover, can it be tolerated that action in such unfortunate designs or destinies almost always ends up “making” life “disappear”? The artist, perhaps, can only show this situation, this sentence – sometimes with causticity, sometimes fraternally, with empathy towards the unfortunate – , and with it, invite, urge to get out of the confusion… Yes, perhaps now is the time to denounce once again the subordination, the subservient attitude, with which human life is certainly incompatible.
But we know this is far from simple. We have to proceed from the astonished helplessness with which, like the man on the balcony of Isaac Cordal’s premises, we often contemplate and witness daily life. His innermost springs show an impenetrable appearance, and then the little man glimpses himself as a petty wavering light in a night without conceivable edges, which envelops him on all sides. Sometimes, in his stunned helplessness, he even clings to a rope, or a mask. How can we not pity the distant figure that the artist has drawn, as a sort of drastically reduced double of ourselves, and which the artist keeps throwing into all kinds of darkness! One appreciates the figure all the more, one loves it all the more precisely because of its miseries, its foolishness and its misfortunes. This is man, humanity, sordid or tender, and always erratic, lost, moving in banality; when, as Bataille also wrote, “the night becomes dirtier, when the horror of the night turns beings into a vast waste”.
In most of Isaac Cordal’s works there is a “scene.” That is to say, a plot, an intrigue, something dramatic – drama, in Greek, means action. It is a moment in which a story is focused; where something is about to happen. Each scene is a moment of crisis and describes the imminence of a tragedy, a catastrophe, a denouement – a catharsis, perhaps. In short, in terms of playwriting, that which precedes a denouement. A critical moment. Well, in each scene, the event that is created in the narrative is a critical event. But what defines Isaac Cordal’s work is precisely that it presents us with the possibility of a drama without a real development of the event, that is to say: no definitive scene. The little man then appears “in suspense”, always attentive, in his balcony, his corner, his alcove or his watchtower, of what is “no longer” and, at the same time, of what is “not yet”. Deprived of his history (and of History: also devoid of a future), this ontological fragility has left him orphaned of any idea of happiness or progress. His mode of existence is none other than stupefaction, a term that comes from the same root as stupidity. It is that of the individual who sees everything, but can no longer do anything. He looks around him, and manages to see only the flaw, the flaw that is now a part of him. He is in fact the last man, a posthumous man, Nietzsche would tell us. And therefore, perhaps unintentionally and unknowingly, in an unprecedented manner too, he’s been kept in his mythical suspension for the time being, or perhaps forever?
Disengaged from his social body, he wanders in defeat and misfortune, accepts uncertainty and bewilderment, moves in and out between borders, lingering on a kind of zombie-like existence. Who is he, after all? An indelible non-person, everywhere at home and, at the same time, nowhere. A nothingness and a universally replicating everything, pure vagueness and unreality: a pluralistic and ceaselessly transitional man. Perhaps he feels – in the midst of such an unsound, erratic and, as we say, neglected, naked existence – the nostalgia also – as is evident in this exhibition – for a kind of group mind. A form of collective intelligence – and order – in which each individual would share an identical psychic imprint. Nostalgia for the lost oneness and simultaneous behaviour that so-called lower organisms still seem to possess. Just what the highly evolved and coordinated activities of universal automation teach us, similar in this to that of some animals older than man, such as foraminifera, ants, for example, which are a hundred million years old and will undoubtedly outlive us (they communicate individually by pheromones, but also by the environment: a young ant learns the paths laid out by its fellow ants), or termites (age: three hundred million years).
Moreover, a yearning to escape the absurdity of existence by surrendering to a kind of mechanical, supra-individual imperative. In the form of a passionately impersonal sacrifice to labour that would serve, after all, as a powerful anti-depressant against suffering itself. Its most decisive attribute would have to be mechanical activities, their concomitant notes: absolute regularity, punctual and thoughtless obedience, routine and impersonality, forgetfulness and self-blindness. Specialist, technocrat, technophile, obedient, cyber-organic: a synthesis of flesh and machine. This is the most refined of slaves, for he willingly, freely and even joyfully enslaves himself to his own labour; manufacturing himself according to the machination model, both technoscientific and capital, as well as state machination. This is a conditioning process that currently culminates in what Jonathan Crary has called 24/7: an environment of communication and consumption that has completely monopolised existence – twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week – to the point of making it absolutely dependent on machinery. No time left for anything human, in any sense; where duration itself has become independent of singular life and history: “It has – Crary writes – the appearance of a social world, but in reality it is a non-social model of machine-like performance and a suspension of life that does not reveal the human cost needed to maintain its effectiveness. It must be distinguished from what Lukács and others, in the early 20th century, identified as the empty, homogeneous time of modernity, the metric or calendar time of nations, finance or industry, in which individual hopes or projects are excluded. What is new is the radical abandonment of the claim that time is linked to any long-term project, including the fantasies of “progress” or “development”.
Here, too, is the kind of human fit for the future (of slavery): that which will forge the mass of apathetic workers and consumers, weak-willed and passive in disposition, modest and industrious to the point of excess. They comprise complete supranational and nomadic mediocrity: a cosmopolitan chaos of emotion and intelligence, always ready to put themselves at the service of what, with Weber and the Frankfurt School, we will call instrumental reason. This, by the way, reminds us of the old submissions of the people to the leader, to the Great Man, already foretold by Hegel’s philosophy of history, which is sadly remembered even in recent times. Isaac Cordal has often represented them.
This same sacrificial yearning is perceived in the places of confinement in which the artist has placed his little men in this exhibition. A remarkable imitation of Piranesi’s prisons of invention, where the constructive apparatus exalts not so much man’s genius for construction as the ultimate intention of compressing and annihilating the individual. It would also seem that this little man has already ended up identifying himself, in his obsessive desire for isolation, with the exaltation of the executioner builder; adopting as his own and desired, as destined, the pleasurable anguish of the prisoner protected in his own ordeal. It would also seem that the ultimate goal of all this constructive zeal is none other than to be forgotten. Each of these prisons raises the watchful dream of a building that confirms to the prisoner that he is forever absent, excluded from human communion and, consequently, finally protected from any contagion, contact or external danger not mediated remotely.
The price to be paid for this is none other than freedom, and the condemnation of existence reduced to the scenery of the cell and solitude. Thus, in his prison or bunker, the little man lives in a perverse or disturbed, tortured way, the supposed autonomy of the individual postulated by Western culture, which is now challenged and overcome by the autonomy of the technical complex arising from techno-logical-economic progress itself. Instead of emancipating ourselves, we have sunk into the deepest and most inane dependency. Everything flows with anxiety: energies, speeds, information, transmissions, expansions, efficiencies… but nothing really leads to anything, “everything indulges in a whirlwind of inanity of high qualifications, precisions and correlations” (Jean-Luc Nancy). And so, in the midst of this accelerated, untamed and impatient (non)future, finally stripped of all past, everything is driven towards insignificance; first and foremost life itself, and with it even death. It is not surprising that, from this perspective, Isaac Cordal proposes scenarios in which the human being seems more like the survivor of a catastrophe, of which it is not difficult to trace the origins. That debacle, for example, might well have been called nihilism.
Faced with this undoubtedly catastrophic situation, what Isaac Cordal’s interventions continually propose is the need to rethink the everyday. Jean-Luc Nancy has pointed out this in a peremptory manner: we still don’t really know how we are all the same: in a way, we are like Cordal’s little men. “Is it because we are human? But what does it mean to be human? Being human is something unknown. What is certain is that we must rethink the everyday.” (Nancy, Libération, 29 July 2020). To rethink the everyday means, first of all, to understand how proximity to others is produced, how we are with others, what interaction we could invent: how we can connect and bring together the different worlds that pass through us.
For it is clear that life, on the one hand, on this side of the termite mound, is almost always received with an excessively submissive attitude. As a burden and a source of obligations: a negative morality thus responds to the slavish need for coercion, for adhering to instructions and the demand of the possible, the calculable, the manageable that no one will be able to challenge without transgressing the norm. Because the horizon of this instrumental rationality is none other than that of programming and management. In the other sense, life is a desire for the impossible, the incalculable, that which can be loved without measure. Only the consumer society exploits and debases, betrays and degrades time and again the value placed on desire and its object. We are, in this sense, points or effects of an apparatus that Heidegger already equated with the planetary technical domain. However, what is really dangerous for Heidegger about technology is not to be found in technology itself, nor in its planetary expansion, but in the essence of it. This is, and using a well-known expression of the philosopher, in the Enframing or Gestell (literally: assembly, palisade, framework, scaffolding, in this exhibition we will be able to see different variants of this device). Heidegger defines Gestell as follows: “Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, that is to say, which provokes him to make the real and effective come out from the hidden in the form of a request understood as a request of existences”. Making something come out of the hidden is what, in Heidegger’s view, also defines the process of truth, its fundamental feature as un-hiding (from the Greek: a-letheia). Therefore, and this is important, technology also takes place in the mode of truth. But it is this mode that is deformed. It is deformed because the un-concealment takes place in the form of a request. What is a request then? We can think here of requests in a shop or in the market, i.e. in the idea of a stock request. Every request makes both the thing requested and the requester (the man) “stock on hand”, as it were: in products placed on a shelf (like a supermarket display case), ready to use and throw away, even labelled with a “use by and best before” date. And here, at this point, we see how it (that there is such a thing as an expiry date) becomes a kind of caricature of the well-known mortal nature of man, and of the finiteness of all beings. The conclusion could then be this: technology has forced and, even more, replaced the whole of human experience to become a commodity in a world that has become a mere production or image… of consumption, and of branding.
Thus, the Gestell has our time as its epochal and phenomenal appearance. That of planetary technology. If technology is dangerous, it is dangerous in principle for Heidegger because its all-encompassing dominance merely conceals another possibility of truth, another form of uncovering. The dignity of the little man must therefore be sought not in this painful pursuit of a pleasure-consumption subordinated to the expectations that another has designed and constructed for him – and where he in the end is constructed: he constructs himself and, rather, destroys himself – but in turning towards the sovereign part in him, which is not subjected to anything, and is pure selflessness with no other purpose than his own life.
Art must serve to make life more real, as Pessoa’s Disquiet said. We will never make much effort to make life more real. Deleuze was categorical about this when he argued that there is no other aesthetic problem than that of embedding art into everyday life: the more stereotyped, the more existence is subjected to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more art must cling to it and extract from it the little difference that can act elsewhere. This is, no more and no less, the aesthetic programme offered by Isaac Cordal.
Alberto Ruiz de Samaniego