Javier Codesal

Galeria Xxi

Spain is a country of silences. A sort of tacit pact exists that certain aspects of the social order are acceptable as long as they are not mentioned—homosexuality, for example. The silence surrounding the issue of AIDS is merely an extension of this attitude. Rather than being represented by an apocalyptic iconography, the issues surrounding AIDS went nearly unnoticed until the beginning of the ’90s. And in the artistic arena, except in the paradigmatic case of Pepé Espaliu, practically no artist has dealt with these issues—not even, and this is most sobering, those artists or groups of artists who define themselves as social activists. What a strange way to carry out a sociopolitical engagement.

Días de Sida (AIDS days) is a project that Javier Codesal began in 1988. After many delays, the installation of six separate and consecutive pieces (the majority of which are Cibachromes and Cibachrome transparencies) was completed in a space shrouded in semidarkness. Codesal wanted to escape from the pathetic images that show AIDS as a monstrous disease with unforeseeable consequences. He therefore contacted a man with the AIDS virus, a man whose body showed no traces of the disease. Codesal wanted to offer a beautiful, desirable body without falling into gratuitous idealization. Thus, the naked body of a 35-year-old man was placed next to an older man who, in a successful fusion of the Pietà and the age-old figure of Maternity, breast feeds him. The sick man seems weak, on the verge of falling to his knees, but, caught in the moment of slipping, he is picked up by the bearded man—half-mother, half-friend—who helps him sit up, inviting him to suck. A splendid metaphor for the relation between the sick man and his caretaker.

Another piece, which at first appears to be a photograph in a lightbox within a lit-up frame, depicts the body of the young man, his head covered by shadows, as if he is still in the process of developing. This effect, barely perceptible at a normal-viewing distance, is produced by placing two Cibachrome transparencies not more than a couple of centimeters apart to create a disturbance of the visual axis, a change in the torso we are looking at. It is an allusion, made with painstaking care and delicacy, to the transformation of the sick body.

Codesal’s recent work is both ambiguous and subtle, far from the overwhelming political conviction and propaganda of much of the art concerning AIDS in the U.S. But this does not make it a less effective work. The only complaint that may be raised against it regards the excessive theatricality of this installation—the brilliance of the lightboxes subsumed in semidarkness—which created a sense of unreality, of phantasmagoria, that does not fit with the atmosphere Codesal was attempting to produce.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent T. Martin.