Ricardo Cotanda

Galería Tomas March

Ricardo Cotanda’s 1995 exhibition at IVAM’s Centre del Carme was dominated by white. A perverse wink toward Duchamp’s bachelors, the show comprised nine pieces from a bridegroom’s apparel: shirt front, belt, tie, cuffs, collar, hat, shoes, handkerchief, and glove. Each element had been modified in some way, to disquieting effect. The shoes, for example, were sheathed in white socks, accentuating their phallic aspect; the handkerchief bore a suspicious, spermlike stain on its embroidery; and the belt was covered with tulle, undermining its symbolic function as a protector of the masculine physico-erotic space. These items, which lacked the showiness or symbolic charge of a bridal gown, served to strip the groom, revealing underlying contradictions and hinting that the bride continues to shine in her absence. The show’s title, “Llegar a la nieve” (To arrive at the snow), taken from Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Pequeño poema infinito” (Little infinite poem), suggested a journey toward blinding nothingness. But Lorca’s poem says something more: “To take the wrong road/ is to arrive at the snow/ and to arrive at the snow/ is to graze for many centuries on the weeds of the cemetery./ To take the wrong road/ is to arrive at woman. . . . ” Cotanda’s arena is clearly man’s territory.

In stark contrast, his recent show, entitled “Tonsuras ” (Tonsures), was suffused with red. Using a highly original technique—he shaves squared surfaces of red silk velvet with a barber’s razor—Cotanda created eleven wall-pieces, or “shaved paintings.” One could once again detect a Duchampian reference, although this time it was accompanied by a certain bloodiness. Subtly calling attention to love’s frustrating aspect, Cotanda again quoted García Lorca’s “Pequeño poema infinito,” this time in the show’s subtitle, which was taken from a line that reads “But two has never been a number, because it is both anxiety and its shadow.”

As Cotanda shaves into the velvet (in this case a procedure that signals a male practice), he engraves a series of paired images; linked to Surrealism, they set in motion a number of associations bridging the conscious and the subconscious. The more direct of these connections suggest desire directed toward the male body—for example, a fish is juxtaposed with a pair of pants and a sculpted, muscular arm is fused with a starfish. A third depicts a union between lips and a pair of scissors, suggesting the cold, metallic, and cutting nature of love, and perhaps sex.

One finds in these pieces a series of groupings—clothing as an image of the body and its fleshiness (T-shirt, pants, gloves), metallic household instruments (knife, spoon, iron), plants and vegetables (flower), body fragments (arm, lips, eye, finger), and certain cold-blooded animals that are for the most part viscous, bland, and slippery (snail, snake)—all of which point toward a reading of male sexuality. The fetishistic element is contradicted when it is coupled with objects that are repugnant or simply cold, as if the artist hoped to temper the red’s intensity. This cooling of emotions and sensations fits quite well into a body of work that is characterized more by what is camouflaged behind twists and subtle allusions than by semantic evidence. While Cotanda’s work has gone somewhat unrecognized in recent years, it merits reconsideration in light of its polysemous underpinnings.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent Martin.