Everything in the work of Ricardo Cotanda speaks in a whisper. His language is hidden, full of mysteries, folds and hollows. One already gets a sense of this in the works he did shortly after completing art school (1987), in the recurring use of the bluish tarp as a material metaphor that alludes to the idea of wrapping, a protective layer that conceals, disguises, cloaks. Something about the evocative titles of his pieces suggest a grown-up child, a mischievous adult—for example, La salida no es por ahí, Razones tengo, Como cuando el explorador, Y cada cosa en su sitio… With these artworks, Cotanda echoes the versatile function of sculptural spatiality by giving it material form. He places elements on the ground, on the wall, but in essence he is distancing himself from the formalism of the sculptural movements that Rosalind E. Krauss would include in an expanded, overlapping field. Aligning him with these coordinates would therefore be a crass mistake. In fact, nothing in the work of the Valencian artist happens by chance, nor does it result from deliquescent outpourings, retinal patterns or decorative exhilaration. Instead, it stems from an awareness of the value of metaphors, the richness of associations, many of which are inspired by that school of surprises known as Surrealism. And, in particular, the value given to the objet trouvé by the bastard children of Lautréamont. As a result, it is not surprising that Cotanda cites Marcel Duchamp amongst his influences, particularlyLe Grand Verre, an artwork-reflection that has left its mark on Cotanda’s more recent work. This, however, is not due to the ingenuity of the ready-made, but because of the allusion to its erotic character, which often remains concealed. And by extension, with Duchamp the artist also references or rather pays homage to Robert Gober. In this sense, one could say that Contra (1988) references the invisible pulse of sensation. The piece consists of a large-scale shovel/dustpan placed on the floor, covered in a rubber surface that is rolled up at the opposite end to the shovel’s handle. At the same time, the artwork is a nod, albeit an exaggerated one, to housework and handicrafts, which would find their fullest expression in Cotanda’s embroidered confections. The artist has mentioned his interest in the laminar, in what is soft and malleable, in other words, yet capable of containing a hard element and in which the boundaries between the interior and exterior surfaces of the sculpture remain ambiguous. Thus, as far as Contra is concerned, the rigid iron of the shovel is protected, paradoxically, by a stretch of rubber that only covers it temporarily. The rubber surface, besides acting as a covering, is not merely functional in its purpose. De cara a la pared (1989) captures childhood emotions by indirectly addressing the subject of trauma and punishment. This can be seen in the very components of the artwork itself: two square-shaped structures, one placed in front of the other as though they were looking at each other. One resembles a blackboard, with a blue, billed hat resting on a wooden shelf where one would expect to find the eraser; the other sports a mirror, along with a hat identical to the one just described. The hats suggest an allusion to the punished student (a type of toned down dunce cap), forced to stand in a corner of the classroom to atone for his transgression and disobedience. Cotanda is a highly skilled artist when it comes to working with embroidery and tailoring—activities traditionally placed within the feminine realm—as seen in his use of exquisitely embroidered fabrics, gloves, hats and scarves. He plays with the hidden import of objects, although in this case the pieces have not been found by chance, but are objects intentionally charged with meaning. Cotanda’s intention is driven by the paradox of juxtaposing disparate, almost antithetic, elements like a cloth and a saw, or a hat and several whisks. In doing so, he slips a sexual element—always subtle—into his work, as seemingly implied in his series ‘…Llegar a la nieve’ (1995) in which he uses Lorca, whose sexuality suffered repression during one of Spain’s darkest chapters, to mould the groom’s trousseau. Thus, in Cotanda’s work, desire flows from man to man, avoiding established norms.
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