Galician street artist Isaac Cordal has nailed it. Perfectly, precisely, poetically, politically: Passivity.
We, the collective we, seem to be waiting passively for someone else to “do something” about climate change. Someone else to think. Someone else to act. Someone else to lead. Not me. Not now. No way.
“Waiting for climate change” is Cordal’s 2012 masterpiece. Described as a “Lilliputian army which attests to the end of an era” by David Moinard, Cordal’s miniature clay figurines – no larger than 25 cm – stand passively on Flemish beaches, some up to their necks in sand, as if waiting for the inevitable rising seas to swallow them whole.
In addition, Cordal perched 10 small figurines atop wooden pedestals, wearing scuba goggles or flotation devices, gazing impassively at the horizon. Still others occupy empty rooms in a dilapidated 1930’s-era beachfront villa.
Painted in drab business suits, most of Cordal’s anonymous clay figurines clutch vestiges of their uniform existence: briefcases and cell phones. Many also wear life preservers around their waists and arms, ready for the flood. Tiny, almost invisible, they speak volumes about the absurdity of our collective inertia regarding climate change.
Cordal’s docile figures remind me of Huxley’s soma-induced Brave New World, where everyone (except the emotional Shakespeare-inspired Savage) is submissive, obedient, and acquiescent.
These and other temporary installations – which Cordal prefers to call interventions – are part of a larger, ongoing street art project entitled “Cement Eclipses.” This unique body of work meticulously, precariously positions tiny statuettes in the most unexpected places – on gutters, in puddles, the edges of buildings, telephone lines, fences, bus stops, even cracks in the road – in abandoned corners of urban environments. To date, Cordal has created 60 miniature environmental interventions in cities as diverse as Riga, Chiapas, Zagreb, London, Bogatá, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Málaga, Milan, Nantes, Vienna, Berlin, Brussels, San José, San Francisco, Orebro, Murcia.
Not all of Cordal’s interventions address climate change directly. But every one forces critical reflection upon the ecological impact of our irresponsible consumer behaviour, which is directly responsible for the exploitation of finite natural resources. As an existential artist, Cordal is obsessed with the question: What are we doing to our world?
For example, one of Cordal’s 2013 sculptures as part of a larger installation called “Follow The Leaders” was meant to draw attention to the faceless businessmen who run our capitalist global order. However, after going viral online, a photograph of this sculpture was baptized “Politicians talking about climate change” by social media users.
I’m willing to bet that Cordal’s photo of a group of his clay businessmen submerged in a Berlin puddle will re-appear and re-appear on Twitter for years if not decades to come. It is a perfect example of the subversive nature of art: how artists must first create friction in order to generate new ways of seeing, understanding. To me, this is climate change art at its finest.
By “celebrating the small” Cordal includes a subliminal message in each tiny figurine, either solo or in groups. An interview in the Global Post quotes Cordal in Phaidon, “Cement Eclipses is a critique of our behaviour as a social mass. It refers to this collective inertia that leads us to think that our small actions cannot change anything. But I believe that every small act can contribute to a big change. Many small changes can bring back social attitudes that manipulate the global inertia and turn it into something more positive.”
All photos posted here were taken by the artist, Isaac Cordal.
Joan Sullivan is a renewable energy photographer based in Québec, Canada. Since 2009, Joan has focused her cameras (and more recently her drones) exclusively on solutions to climate change. She is convinced that the inevitable transition to a 100% clean energy economy will happen faster – and within our lifetimes – by creating positive images and stories that help us visualize and embrace what a post-carbon future will look like. Joan collaborates frequently with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. She is currently working on a photo book about the energy transition. Her renewable energy photos have been exhibited in group shows in Canada and the UK. You can find Joan on Twitter and Instagram.