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PROFILE: DAMIÁN ORTEGA: THE UNIVERSE OF OBJECTS
FRIEDRICH MESCHEDE

DAMIÁN Ortega attracted the attention of the international art world in 2003, when one of his works, Cosmic Thing, was shown in Europe for the fi rst time at the Venice Biennale. A Volkswagen Beetle is disassembled into its individual parts and reconfi gured into a suspended installation, the parts hovering in midair like details of a three-dimensional exploded diagram. Cosmic Thing is the only part of Ortega’s ‘Beetle Trilogy’ (2002–2005) to have survived as a sculptural object, the others being the performance-based, temporary actions, Moby Dick and Escarabajo. The trilogy has become famous not only for its spectacular subject matter – it concludes with a VW Beetle being driven to its fi nal resting place and buried upside down – but because of Ortega’s artistic process, which involves pursuing ideas over a lengthy period of time and presenting them in a variety of dramaturgical scenarios.

This approach is particularly evident in Nine Types of Terrain, an installation of
nine short fi lm projections that show different confi gurations of upturned bricks falling over like dominos. The bricks have been lined up in specifi c patterns that form lines, circles or spirals as they fall. The sound they make when falling is an important aspect of the interplay between the fi lms: viewing all the sequences together transforms the bricks from a building material into a sound space defi ned by echo rather than volume.





Ortega’s sketches for previous sculpture projects reveal that bricks often serve as a
module for accumulation, construction and formal arrangement. He is interested in the changing states of a mass, the alternative aggregate state of a volume. In the fi rst performance, Moby Dick, which took place in a car park, a VW Beetle is restrained by ropes that thwart its attempt to drive off, while in its disassembled state in Cosmic Thing the car is reduced to an imploded image of mobility, the fragile and stable sum of its parts.

In Escarabajo it lives up to its name by being buried upside down in a grave – lying on its back like a beetle, the car’s position alone illustrates the sad impossibility of movement. With his most recent work, Man is the controller of the universe, Ortega applies the formal principles of Cosmic Thing to anew sculpture which, like the VW Beetle, is presented as a suspended installation of numerous old tools collected from fl ea markets.

Here, the tools themselves assume sculptural form; fi xed in space in an arrangement around a centre, they seem to have been confi gured
by some kind of invisible energy. The title refers to one of the most famous scandals in art history: an unfi nished mural by Diego Rivera, commissioned in 1933 by Nelson Rockefeller for the Rockefeller Center in New York, which was destroyed because it featured a prominent portrait of Lenin. As such, the title also alludes to the confl icts that surround Mexican artists, their background and identity in Western art.





In Ortega’s sculpture the tools are presented as defi ning ideals of physical activity and, in a symbolic sense, as metaphors for creation, construction, building and working, but at the same time are exposed as objects that are no longer required. It is this, invariably deliberate, ambiguity of meaning that interests Ortega, who gives artistic expression to the changeable ‘aggregate state’ of works and ideas. This process also means investing their presentation with a kind of poetry, a poetry based on freeing them from all other known uses. Using familiar, everyday objects, Ortega removes their functionality to create something new, as in the video Best Wishes, where old mechanical typewriters are thrown off a bridge and smash to the ground. The fi lm sequences have been edited to create a rhythm that simulates the sound of a letter being typed, eliciting a kind of melody from this brutal destruction.

Like the sound of carefully arranged brick formations toppling over, the accumulation of these fi lms produces an acoustic concert. What is lost on one level becomes something new on another – a universe in which objects are transformed into something never before seen, heard or perceived.

FRIEDRICH MESCHEDE IS HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT OF VISUAL ARTS AT THE BERLINER KÜNSTLERPROGRAMM AT DAAD BERLIN

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