In Focus: Tania Pérez Córdova
The memory and lifespan of objects
Can an object be an event? If the answer is ‘yes’, then what kind of event might it be? Has it happened already, or will it occur in the future? Has it occurred here, or elsewhere? Such imponderables lie at the core of Tania Pérez Córdova’s sculptural practice. For the Mexican artist, matter always points off-stage, towards instances and interactions beyond the present time and place. Her work insists that materials garner meaning through social interactions, often (but not necessarily) outside of the gallery, within networks of exchange that are silted in the mind, in promises to be kept or broken, in desires and fears of imagined futures.
One of my favourite examples of Córdova’s complex understanding of this material distillation of human relations is Call forwarding (2013). To make the piece, Córdova borrowed the sim card from a friend’s mobile phone and implanted it into a thin sheet of white porcelain that was subsequently mounted on the gallery wall. Call forwarding involved a degree of negotiation, since Córdova had to persuade a friend to part with his phone number and to set up a call-forwarding service to a new sim. The work is as perverse as it is playful: an interruption in the flow of communications, an absurd and elegant re-purposing of a seemingly essential piece of modern hardware. Preserved in ceramic, the work sets up a series of polarities: contemporary and prehistoric technologies, verbal and tactile experiences, useful and redundant matter.
A number of Córdova’s works include borrowed items, which are either returned to the owner after the exhibition closes, or are kept on permanent loan. Things in pause (2014) consists of two black piano keys mounted onto four panels of orange-coloured foam and hung on the gallery wall. The keys were borrowed from a pianist the artist met while installing her exhibition as part of the Bienal do Mercosul in 2013. Things in pause suggests an imagined scenario, in which the musician must modify her playing, changing much-loved tunes to compensate for the missing notes. Another tactic for invoking invisible social relations is evident in We focus on a woman facing sideways, Evening (2014), which utilizes just one of a pair of objects: a single gold earring, given to the artist by her grandmother, hangs off a triangular bronze armature slotted into the corner of the gallery. Here, the exhibited object insistently invokes its phantom other.
Language is central to Córdova’s practice. This is evident in the relationships she establishes between a work’s title and the cultural meanings of the materials she uses. Something separated by commas (2014) consists of thin, shelf-like pieces of marble with circular depressions containing traces of cigarette ash, a pool of red lipstick and a single green contact lens. These diminutive reliquaries suggest the shelf has been used by someone preparing for a social engagement, perhaps lounging against the gallery wall, lighting a cigarette, applying make-up, then heading out. (Córdova explains to me that, because few Mexicans have green eyes, this lens also hints at flawed aspirations to European standards of beauty). In Chasing, pausing, waiting (2014) the list of materials in the caption adds vital details not visibly evident in the display: ‘makeup (blush), bird droppings, cigarette ash (from a smoker wanting to quit), black marble’. Here, we have the traces of flirtation or disguise (blushes), accidents (bird shit), anxiety (the smoker who wants to quit) and luxury (marble). These pieces wittily adumbrate scenes from any number of melodramas without the use of a script.
Above all, Córdova is concerned with time. If used like stones (2012) comprises an Epson printer (model sx130) mounted on the gallery wall: a gesture that simply asks for the years to pass, to transfigure this humdrum piece of office technology into a valuable historical artefact. Contrasting psychological conceptions of human and geological duration, Untitled (2014) is a photograph of Popocatepetl, an active volcano that looms at the margins of Mexico City like a time bomb (the image is taken from an official surveillance camera that keeps an eye on it day and night). How to use reversed psychology with pictures (2012/13) consists of a sheet of pale, worn-out linen that was originally dyed completely black. Córdova purchased the dark fabric, subjecting it to a series of tests that are used by manufacturers to measure their products’ life expectancies. The result is an item that has seemingly time-travelled to arrive prematurely at its future state of decay.
Córdova’s work draws attention to different time-scales: the duration of an exhibition, the lifespan of an object, the imagined actions of a smoker burning her way through a cigarette. In doing so, her works create lacunae for viewers to envisage alternative places, relations and intervals; they urge us to treat the gallery as a time machine.
Tania Pérez Córdova is an artist living and working in Mexico City, Mexico. Her work is included in 'Surround Audience', the 2015 New Museum Triennial, New York, USA, from 24 February to 24 May.
First published in Issue 170