The exhibition

Damián Ortega: Expanded view

From October 8, 2022 to February 26, 2023

Damián Ortega: Visión expandida [Expanded View] brings together nine of Damián Ortega’s suspended works for the first time, giving visitors a new transcendent view of the world around us.

Ortega uses his ingenuity and humour to deconstruct familiar objects and processes. By changing their functions and transforming them into original experiences and hypothetical situations, he raises broader issues such as the economic, social and political discourse associated with the material and the relationships it is given.

Although the artist produces sculptures, installations, performances, videos, and photographs (all from drawings), he always sees an artwork as an action: an event. His experiments inhabit a space where the possible and the everyday come together, creating a new transcendent view of ordinary objects and routine interactions. Ortega uses irony to explore different subjects—including the most complex—and language and poetry play a key role in his work. Recurring themes are human relationships with machines and technology, and he also references nature and geological formations.

Exhibition curator Vicente Todolí explains: Expanded View is the first exhibition focusing on Ortega’s suspended works. The creation and destruction of the world around us are latent within each work.” The choice of display method aligns with an idea thought up some time ago by avant-garde artists, who decided to stop using traditional plinths and instead have their sculptures floating freely in the air. This choice reflects a desire to engage differently with the onlooker, the space and gravity, as well as to reject fixed states.

Exhibition Tour

In the most northern side of the museum, in dialogue with the city, visitors find Cosmic Thing (2002). The pieces of a Volkswagen Beetle have been dismantled and hang in the air suspended by narrow steel cables. This work is open to interpretation. Art critic Peio Aguirre, who has written an essay for the exhibition catalogue, believes it explores capitalist modernisation and its different rhythms in the world. He cites Mexico, where the Beetle marked a turning point in the democratisation of consumption and in popular know-how.

This is followed by Harvest (2013), comprising steel sculptures that hang from the ceiling and are illuminated by overhead lamps. The sculptures’ shadows cast the letters of the alphabet on the floor in a neat handwritten style. This work challenges our perception and reading of reality while echoing the many references and quotes from literature we find in the artist’s work. Ortega says the piece is based on his mother’s handwriting to establish a conceptual relationship with the expression “mother tongue”.

Viaje al centro de la tierra: penetrable [Journey to the centre of the Earth: penetrable] (2014) is a metal structure made up of suspended materials: tubular leather, pumice stone, ornate ceramics and glass. Ortega dissects the globe using various layers of materials, shapes and colours to break away from classic, monolithic and solid depictions. This work challenges the idea of a sculpture as an object, monument or piece. With it split into thousands of fragments, we move away from solidity and pedestals as humour casts off the heroic status of the monumental.

The next work is Polvo estelar [Stardust] (2016), which is made up of natural materials including sponge, wood, clay, tezontle volcanic rock and pumice stone, as well as synthetic materials like plastic and nylon. The materials hang at different heights and distances, creating a “spray” or stretched-out molecular structure. This composition is an arrangement of interrelated elements, creating a kind of ecosystem extending out from the epicentre. With this piece, Ortega had certain criteria for the kinds of objects he wanted to collect. He explains: “It was about finding a scattering of items that weren’t doing anything anymore: a plastic pen tube without any ink, a seed husk, a crushed cap, a shoe eyelet, a pencil tip, a chewed rubber… The aim was to create a galaxy or dynamic constellation suspended from the ceiling. Like a black hole that has swallowed everything up, meaning it now has no useful purpose but goes on surviving, these items stop making sense in a world of productivity and become homeless nomads, stray bullets, residues of the world they once served but no longer belong to.”

Another “exploded” work is Controller of the Universe (2007), which comprises hundreds of second-hand tools used for manual work. The tools hang in descending size order, creating an orderly vortex with four passageways to the centre, which is empty and the epicentre of the explosion. Your eye is drawn to the centre and the tools become extensions, as well as frontiers and filters. The title refers to a famous Diego Rivera fresco, Man at the Crossroads (1933), which depicted a factory worker controlling a large machine as a centre of technological, artistic and scientific progress.

Continuing the geological dissection, Volcán [Volcano] (2013) is shaped like a volcano with an upside-down volcano on top. The bottom volcano is made out of small red pieces of tezontle – a volcanic rock used for construction in Mexico. The top section comprises fragments of coloured glass. Ortega thought it would be a good idea to put a volcano in the middle of an exhibition so visitors would recognise the oppression and energy release experienced by lava. This work is like a three-dimensional diagram of a volcanic explosion.

H.L.D (high, long, deep) (2009) is a wooden chair that has been dismantled and suspended along three axes, suggesting diverse perceptions. Using a single image, Ortega creates a long deductive and conceptual process whereby the three dimensions form an object. It is a slight structure that unites and makes us rethink our view of the ordinary.

An ambiguous relationship with nature appears again in the next work, Warp Cloud (2018). This represents the chemical structure of a water drop, with white spheres of different sizes symbolising molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. The piece also refers to the Oaxacan textile tradition that thinks of the junctions between vertical and horizontal threads as the meeting of land and sky. The artist is clearly defending the idea of making art focused on features and necessities that are local, communal. He believes we are hybrid, complex and comprehensive characters. Wrap Cloud and many other works in the exhibition are about the individual’s presence in the whole – in a collective space.

Hollow/Stuffed: market law (2012) is the exhibition’s final work. In it, the artist uses reality as a lens through which to consider various topics including economic exploitation, the abuse of power, colonial history and national identity. A submarine made out of old plastic sacks, metal and salt hangs from the ceiling. The large bag is “bleeding” from a small hole that emits the contents (salt), which then piles up on the floor. The artist relates this work to the idea of generating a commodity to extract and market in different locations, regardless of the impact on its place of origin, as is the case for cocaine. The piece refers to the “narco-submarines” that transport the substance and are used by drug dealers in Mexico.

The exhibition space will also have a reading area designed by the artist to house publications by his Alias platform that distributes artists’ writing, together with popular Spanish texts.

The exhibition has its own catalogue jointly published with La Fábrica. This includes a critical theory essay by Peio Aguirre, nine poems by Rafael Toriz and Damián Ortega’s interview with Roberta Tenconi. It contains images of every work on display together with sketches and further details.

About Damián Ortega

Damián Ortega (Mexico City, 1967) began his career as a political cartoonist. He joined Gabriel Orozco’s workshop Taller de los viernes from 1987 to 1992. In 2005 he was nominated for the Hugo Boss Prize and in 2007 was nominated for the Preis der Nationalgalerie für junge Kunst. Similarly in 2014 he received the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution and in 2006 he made an artistic residency at Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD) in Berlin. Damián Ortega lives and works in Mexico City.

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