publication of the International Sculpture Center
Body, Humor, and Other Systems
by Ricardo Pau-Llosa
Carlos Ulloa was born in Philadelphia in 1967 to an American mother
and a Cuban father. He has spent the most creative period of his life so far,
the last eight years or so, in Germany. No stranger to New York, Florida, Spain,
or California, Ulloa indeed epitomizes what used to be called a rootless cosmopolitanism,
and his work reflects this condition. It seems to answer in new and startling
ways the question: what insight is gained after one has shed the need to belong
to a tradition or place, or even to ones time? The technically diverse
recent solo exhibition Admissible Luz at Cornell Universitys
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art offered intriguing answers.
VN5, 1999. Plastic, steel, and chewing gum, 70 x 27 x 19 cm.
From the onset of his sculpting career, Ulloa has been fascinated with the
presence of materials as images. He engages this venerable attitude in the art
of our times with a surprising range of techniques. A superb sculptor in wood,
he embeds his carvings with found objects. He is as happy casting bronze as
adhering dry chewing gum with push-pins onto plastic surfaces. His sculptures
are a festival in wood and plastic strips, light bulbs and serrated blades,
clamps and ducts, feathers and leather, seashells and clippings from magazines.
The free-standing sculptures he exhibited at his 1998 mini-retrospective at
the Miami-Dade Community College Kendall Campus Art Gallery were a riot of inventiveness.
Despite their at times overly clever whimsy, as well as simplistic passé
political messages (guns are bad, womens bodies are exploited), as a whole
the exhibition announced the return of a prodigious son to American soil.
By his next solo exhibition at the Durban-Segnini Gallery in Coral Gables,
Florida, in 2000, the emphasis had shifted to dazzling wall-hanging pieces,
mini-theaters of pungent sexual humor, and a truly mysterious handling of collage
materials. Chains of dim lights, fueled by batteries that Ulloa leaves in plain
view, vein the background. Often backgrounded with pages of comic books, Ulloas
theaters eroticize what the text and dialogue sublimate. More importantly, Ulloa
deepened his awareness of juxtaposition and one of its subsetsmetaphor.
What he discovered was that all systemsfrom discourse, irony, and satire
to social systems, anatomy, and cultureare sets of juxtapositions. The
links between the elements are provided by those who participate in the system
or discourse. In the case of the body, the links are provided by veins and other
conduits, hence the importance in Ulloas work of the image of arteries
and electricity. The strings of subtle lights become a mocking electric blood.
Caucho Gaucho, 1995. Sea shells, rubber, lemon peels, and brass,
63 x 150 cm.
Money Monkey, 1997. Almond, bronze, steel, Plexiglas, and brass,
69 x 39 x 11 cm.
Lungs pair off with wings and leaves, blood with chlorophyll, and hearts become
heads. Suitcases become torsos. Perhaps become is not exactly right,
although some degree of metonymic exchange and fusion is at work in these juxtapositions.
Ulloa is more interested in the metaphysics of how these elements come together
in the same scene. Viewers have to do part of the work, providing the imaginations
links and thereby making the works their own. But the links are there, just
under the surface. These small box theaters are not drenched in enigma, as are
the works of Joseph Cornell or Maria Brito. Ulloa is a maker of puzzles waiting
for shrewd, playful minds to solve them.
Jagged Heart, 1996. Steel, wood, rivets, and lemon peels, 50 x
17 x 29 cm.
X2, 1998. Painted birch,
33 x 27 x 19 cm.
His newest free-standing sculptures are parodies of anatomy. They employ stools
and chairs, plastic tubes, clamps, and gum. Always there is a sexual presence,
aggressive and jocular. In our bodies we entertain lust and ideas, anger and
love. We act on these passions, and it is the body that gives them form and
language, cause and effect. But the body too is a comical machine, the product
of an ornate evolution that has given felicitous, as well as absurd, characteristics.
The gorgeous eye is met with the organ of elimination, which is also that of
pleasure and reproduction. The sumptuous head of hair and the labyrinthine brain
duel with male nipples and the appendix. What body feels armored in its tender
skin? What caress would have it any other way? The bodyits glories and
incongruitiesprovides Ulloa with the central base of his juxtapositions.
Like the body, language too is paradoxicalthe idea and its shortcoming
walk hand in hand, thought and joke, the symbol and the ridiculing gesture with
which to shatter it.
Ricardo Pau-Llosa is a writer based in Florida.
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