Cristina Cordova’s interest in the body’s expressiveness was sparked by the ballet classes she took as a child in Puerto Rico. “Every aspect of the body is engaged in dance,” she says. “You modulate and optimize every gesture. That clearly transfers to the sculpture that I do, where I want every figure to carry a sense of that energy. I’ve always felt comfortable with the language that generates from the body and creates a communication that goes beyond words.” In one of her bold, almost hyperreal ceramic sculptures at Ann Nathan–Paseante a companado (“Wanderer With Company”)–a standing man carries a smaller one on his back: Cordova says the larger figure is like the “facade that we use to present ourselves to the world. The back is this weird aspect of ourselves.” In Vaquero, a man riding a horned animal has long, uncoordinated-looking fingers on one raised hand. Cordova calls them “spastic,” and says she wanted the fingers to signal both an active mind and someone “incapable of understanding what he’s experiencing. Maybe the animal is more capable.” All the animals here do seem more powerful than the man: the horned creature has an erection, and the two birds on top of the man’s pack appear to be killing each other.

Cordova’s view of the world was also influenced by her parents’ arguments, which sometimes included her: “We would be like two-year-olds having a fit, yelling at each other.” Long interested in the connections between the human, the animal, and the inanimate, she says her physician parents collected contemporary Puerto Rican art, which tends toward surrealism and magic realism, and her mom collected traditional religious polychrome wood carvings. “They have a Caribbean sensibility,” Cordova says, “with really bright colors and primitive forms, less realistic and more symbolic.” Raised Catholic, she was religious as a child–she once heard the voice of God in a dream–and was aware of these sculptures’ religious component. Ever since then she’s liked the idea of “trying to persuade someone of something through a three-dimensional composition.”

Throughout high school and college in Puerto Rico, Cordova struggled to render the figure as closely as possible. As she grew more confident, she began to understand the creative power artists have: “Every beautiful crying eye of Mary was designed by someone–it wasn’t made by God. And if there’s a human hand, I have two of them. If somebody can use this incredible melodrama and almost grotesque manipulation of the body to convey something, I can tap into it too.” Studying art history in Puerto Rico, she chose to compare European and Latin American “primitives,” like Henri Rousseau and Frida Kahlo, for her thesis. In 1998 she moved to New York to study in Alfred University’s noted ceramics program, and since then she’s relocated to North Carolina.

Like the other works here, La aparicion (“The Apparition”) unites the themes of the body’s language and of humankind’s dual animal/rational nature. Two figures in a boat look off into space at some undefined object–as they often do in Cordova’s work–apparently caught in the midst of an obscure narrative the viewer is left to define. Since each looks in a different direction, it’s not clear which one has seen the apparition (in Puerto Rican tradition, usually a religious vision). Tiny clumps of fiber here and there on the boat’s sides “make it seem it’s growing hair,” Cordova says, suggesting it’s a whale and this scene relates to the story of Jonah.

Cristina Cordova

Where: Ann Nathan, 212 W. Superior

When: Through June 4

Info: 312-664-6622