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Beaufort 04 art parcours

14:01 18/05/2012

Spanish artist Isaac Cordal and his cast of characters are raising questions about the climate and the human condition at Beaufort 04

It’s usually the large works that stand out at Beaufort, the exhibition of contemporary art that takes place every three years along the Belgian coast, but this year the stars of the show are only a few centimetres high. Isaac Cordal’s small cement figures can be seen on the beach at De Panne, standing on wooden poles and looking out to sea. Each of the 10 figures has a rubber bathing ring around its waist. The piece is called Waiting for Climate Change.

Cordal explains that when he was putting the piece together he was thinking of the coast in his native Galicia and past disasters, such as the wreck of the Prestige oil tanker in 2003. He describes the little figures as survivors. “These people with floats have gone to the top of these wooden poles to see what is happening,” he says. “They are alert to what could happen. They are completely prepared.”

This installation on the beach is just part of the project. Walk back into De Panne, through the narrow lanes of the Dumont neighbourhood, and you’ll find more of Cordal’s work in one of the old villas built here at the turn of the 19th century. Each room in the dilapidated building has an installation, bringing together more of the cement figures.

“I like this kind of place,” Cordal says of the villa, which retains something of its 1930s charm. “You hardly have to do a thing. You make a little change and something comes alive.”

In one room businessmen struggle in a mass, up to their necks in sand. In another, which has been flooded, they are up to their waists in water. Figures can also be found on the walls – a homeless man with a dog, a riot policeman in the lotus position – or tucked away in cupboards. Finally, there are photographs of Cordal’s outdoor installations on the walls, including sinister scenes from the De Panne beach, the apartment buildings along the front shrouded in sea fog.

Cordal has worked a lot with these small concrete figures in recent years, creating ad-hoc installations in the street or other odd corners of the urban environment rather than in controlled spaces such as this. “I prefer the idea that someone is walking along and suddenly they find a small sculpture in a stupid place,” he says. “I think that is more interesting, but I’m happy to do both.”

His figures have appeared on London bus shelters and CCTV cameras. They can also be seen wallowing in puddles or emerging from splashes of tar on the road. In Brussels, where he is currently based, he has placed them alongside the characteristic shoe-scrapers found beside doors of older houses. “I choose human beings who are very small, very afraid perhaps or surprised at what is happening,” Cordal says. “We are told that the city is our natural habitat, but I don’t know. We are a little bit lost sometimes. It’s a reflection about that.” Although there is humour in the work, it’s meant to be absurd rather than funny. “I don’t want to do jokes, but I also don’t want to be tragic.”

He refers to the figures as prototypes, emerging from the mass of people. “The cement is a little bit different each time but ultimately they are the same characters,” he explains. It’s no coincidence that there are a lot of businessmen in his more recent work. “I try to have a global point of view, but now, with the crisis, it’s the character that I’m using the most.”

The choice of material is also significant. “Cement is part of our footprint in nature and it is something that we cannot camouflage,” he says. There’s a practical side to Cordal’s method as well. “It’s very easy to move the little sculptures and I can go to other cities, so I’m freer to travel.”

He has only recently relocated to Brussels after a period working in London. With an exhibition in Barcelona and preparations for Beaufort he has hardly settled in yet. “I haven’t had the time to think about what I am going to do from Brussels,” he says, before tentatively suggesting that the police might be part of the cast of characters. “When I was here in 2003, almost every day there was a demonstration. Demonstration is part of the city.”

Ultimately he hopes that his work can also make a difference. “With little acts you can change something, and maybe with a lot of little acts you can overcome the inertia in our society.”


Isaac Cordal’s photographs also appear at Bozar until June 10, where they are part of the Canvascollectie/Collection RTBF


Isaac Cordal’s work is on display at De Panne beach between Leopold I Esplanade and Hendrik Consciencelaan and at Villa Le Chalutier, 25 Bortierlaan


Beaufort highlights

Beaufort 04 features work by 30 contemporary European artists, stretching along the Belgian coast from De Panne in the west to Zeebrugge in the east. Here are some works not to be missed.

Until September 30


If you’re visiting De Panne for Isaac Cordal’s installation Waiting for Climate Change, it’s worth going further along the seafront to see Michal Gabriel’s Players, human figures that appear to be delving into the sand with extensions to their hands. At a distance they appear smooth, but up close you find that each is covered with ornate etched patterns.


Tbe Wanderer

Further along the coast, near Oostduinkerke, another figure looks out to sea. Melita Couta’s The Wanderer is a black faun with a golden horn on its head and golden fish in its hands. Perched on a spike, this mystical figure appears to be bursting out of the dunes like a force of nature.


Location (8)

Another highlight is in nearby Nieuwpoort, where Belgian artist Hans Op de Beeck has turned a former munitions depot into Location (8). One of the depot’s long, vaulted rooms has been flooded and a jetty of black wood built along its length. A string of lights lead you through the dripping darkness to a small circle of candles. If you are lucky enough to arrive when the place is empty, the atmosphere is electrifying.



Written by Ian Mundell