New York

View of “William Cordova,” 2020. Foreground from left: untitled (cajon), 2018; untitled (rouse), 2019. Background from left: untitled (el quinto suyo) (Untitled [The Fifth City]), 2018–19; untitled (ruling principles of the universe), 2018–19.

View of “William Cordova,” 2020. Foreground from left: untitled (cajon), 2018; untitled (rouse), 2019. Background from left: untitled (el quinto suyo) (Untitled [The Fifth City]), 2018–19; untitled (ruling principles of the universe), 2018–19.

William Cordova

Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

William Cordova is a storyteller—a recuperator of ancestral memories. The artist invites us to question how we might revisit belief systems that vanished eons ago. Themes that animate his installations, objects, and collages are intoned in the material dimensions of his work, along with undulating titles that refer to sound, occult secrets, warriors, ghosts, ancient architectures, folkloric music, textiles, and the landscape of Peru.

Aspects of his own life factor significantly in his efforts to ameliorate the conditions of displacement and erasure—he was born in Lima, taken at an early age to Miami, and navigated white culture as a person of color. The yearning that suffuses his art also pervades an unfolding cultural sense of irretrievable loss that’s on track to become a leitmotif of twenty-first-century existence, given impending ecological collapse and the precarity that courses through social and political life. It’s no surprise that we witness an engagement with ideas that home in on connectivity, authenticity, and a formerly polemical concept: spirituality.

The title of Cordova’s exhibition, “on the lower frequencies I speak 4U (alquimia sagrada),” makes his intent clear. Alquimia sagrada translates as “sacred alchemy,” the term describing a mystical system of knowledge involving solfège, the ancient six-tone scale used in holy music believed to affect healing, compassion, transformation, and access to the divine. The first part of the title is taken from the final line of Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man, which speaks to a productive confusion regarding selfhood.

At the entrance to the gallery was on the lower frequencies i speak 4u, 2019, an installation/time machine that leads the viewer back through handcrafted versions of obsolete technologies. First stop: the pre-internet world. Associations with the origins of hip-hop and shared sonic space are prompted by a meticulously designed wooden replica of a 1985 Lasonic TRC-931 boom box faced with a sepia-toned, laser-cut facsimile of all its dials, buttons, and controls. A set of eight vintage-looking Polaroids might be read as a psychic treasure map, with each indistinct picture indexed to “energetic vortexes” (per Cordova, convergences of forces linked to consciousness raising). However, the small images, which appear in circular format in the Polaroids—as if the snaps were taken through a peephole—allude to an older pan-cultural device: the camera obscura.

Cordova embedded the handmade lens he used for the Polaroids in a wall above another artifact—a 45-rpm record that contains a track, cut on X-ray film, of a bone scan. A suite of fourteen prints—heavily worked with layers of material, including dirt, and approximating the look and feel of relics—accompanied the symbolically mute objects. Elsewhere in the exhibition, Cordova presented a complement to the boom box: Untitled (cajon), 2018, a block of concrete fashioned with a sound hole on one side, replicates a Peruvian box-shaped percussion instrument, and amplifies the silence suggested by Cordova’s art.

Spend enough time with his intricate paper wall hangings, and it’s possible to connect with their undercurrents of incantatory rhythm. Untitled rumi maki #03 and #04, 2018–19, were a pair of collages named after a martial art that derives from Peru’s indigenous warrior culture. The wildly animated, mosaic-like works—wrought from intensely colored paint chips mounted onto cardboard and accessorized with shoelace tassels and feathers—blaze with energy and movement. They are physically distressed, as if they have been forgotten, thrown onto the floor, scratched and scribbled on, and then run over by a truck. Their rustic patinas put into play a saga of abandonment and retrieval.

An even larger collage, untitled (el quinto suyo) (Untitled [The Fifth City]), 2018–19, a flamboyantly busy twenty-six-foot-wide palimpsest patched from a horde of paint chips, bursts with trance-inducing patterning. Whether the work is a screen for meditation or a cosmological map, its mantra-worthy title translates to a dream of life built on imaginary and otherworldly bonds that offer hope and unity. However dim the organic past he seeks may be, Cordova embraces its elusive strangeness.