One eye yes, one eye no, Beatriz Cortez’s first solo exhibition with Commonwealth and Council, examines the Earth's movement and that of its inhabitants. Through steel constructions of existing and imagined objetos antiguos, Cortez proposes a shifting world predicated on the ceaseless circulation and transmutation of matter through vehicles such as volcanic eruptions and traveling meteors. By invoking these flows, Cortez asserts that migration is a geological constant and that these fugitive and self-organizing particles comprise all matter, visible in chance condensations like evidentiary bones—a living foundation for the earth. For Cortez these particulate tectonics align with conceptions of the underworld, a spirit world outside of human access or comprehension.
One such accumulation of time and space is the meteorite. Considered a cosmic missive, its fiery passage through the atmosphere resembles journeying through a portal between the earthly and spirit worlds. Cortez seeks to shift our focus from the sky to the underworld, positing that the matter lodged beneath the earth’s surface may also be considered meteors, traveling up from under the ground through an analogous process of transformation—as above, so below. Her welded-steel meteors represent the kinetic potential latent to apparently static materials, posited as go-betweens for the spirit underworld and the tangible world that we know on the surface of the Earth. By reimagining these materials as cosmic bodies, Cortez upends hierarchies of “under” and “over,” returning the vestiges of industry to their organic origins.
The ancient Maya attributed this porousness to deities as well: the crepuscular jaguar—said to have the power to traverse between day and night (the realms of living and nonliving, respectively)—and Chac-mool, god of rain. Cabeza de Jaguar (Monumento #47) recreates in steel a multi-species head (speculated to be a jaguar) carved in stone that was looted in present-day El Salvador in 2015. Recreation and reinterpretation become a gesture of longing: a way to create memory from the fragments and records of the absented object. Ancient depictions of both Chac-mool and the jaguar head feature one eye missing or cavitied and the other protuberant. It has been speculated that the protuberant right eye and the cavity on the deity's left eye respectively evoke an open and a closed eyelid: one eye yes, and one eye no. Cortez proposes that these deities possess the power of dual vision, one eye facing outward toward the cosmos and the other inward, toward the underworld. Through these personified conduits, we may be granted a glimpse into the otherworldly. Chac-mool’s presence among various ancient cultures and regions testifies to the span of cultural dispersal and human travel—a spiritual index of roaming. In a similar testament to duality, the work’s frontal view evokes the original stone carving, while the back side of the sculpture recalls the industrial temporalities and forms of labor that contextualize Chac-mool’s movement north.
Ilopango, Stela A is a speculative stone stela depicting the dissemination of the titular volcano’s particles across different regions of the earth, in a tribute to the migration of matter and to ancient forms of abstraction. Ice core samples from regions as varied as present-day Greenland and Antarctica, as well as soil samples in Mexico City reveal particles from the Ilopango eruption, scattered across geological and manmade borders alike. Cortez’s explorations across time and space conjure the living presence of matter, demonstrating that the land has traveled in tandem with those who traverse its surface—further reinforcing the notion that nothing is truly static.
Beatriz Cortez (b. 1970, San Salvador, El Salvador; lives and works in Los Angeles) is a multidisciplinary artist whose work explores simultaneity, different temporalities, the untimely, and speculative imaginaries of the future. Cortez received an MFA from California Institute of the Arts in 2015 and a PhD in Latin American Literature from Arizona State University in 1999. Recent solo exhibitions have been held at Pitzer College Art Galleries, Claremont (2022); ICA San Diego (2021); Craft Contemporary, Los Angeles (2019); Occidental College, Los Angeles (2019); Clockshop, Los Angeles (2018); and Vincent Price Art Museum, Los Angeles (2016). Selected group exhibitions have been held at Tufts University Art Galleries, MA (2022); Frieze Projects, Beverly Hills, CA (2022); ; Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, CA (2021, 2016); MSU Broad, East Lansing, MI (2021); Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Panama (2021); Frieze Sculpture at Rockefeller Center, New York (2020); 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica, CA (2020); Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, CA (2020); Henry Art Gallery, Seattle (2019); Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, Colombia (2019); TEOR/éTica, San José, Costa Rica (2019); Ballroom Marfa, TX (2019); Socrates Sculpture Park, New York (2019); John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI (2018); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2018); and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2017). Cortez is the recipient of the New School Vera List Center Borderlands Fellowship (2022—24); California Studio Manetti Shrem Artist Residency at UC Davis (2022); Longenecker-Roth Artist Residence at UC San Diego (2021); Artadia Los Angeles Award (2020); Frieze LIFEWTR Inaugural Sculpture Prize (2019); Emergency Grant from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts (2019); Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Grant (2018); Artist Community Engagement Grant (2017); and California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists (2016). Her work is permanently on view at ICA San Diego North, Encinitas, CA.