Damián Ortega’s raw structures have stacks of appeal
A solo exhibition of new sculptures and site-specific works at New York’s Gladstone Gallery continues the Mexican artist’s experiments with natural materials
Mexican artist Damián Ortega’s love of everyday objects has been a constant throughout his career. From his explosive sculptures that deconstruct items like cars and chairs into intricate suspensions of their individual components, to more abstract sculptures made from familiar materials, such as steel pipes and corn tortillas, Ortega’s ability to transmute the ordinary in his art knows few bounds.
The artist’s current solo exhibition at Gladstone Gallery in New York, presents a fresh body of work that sees him approach the idea of the mundane from a new perspective once again. Comprising three distinct narratives, Ortega delves into the intertwined relationship of modern civilisation and the natural environment, while also commenting on the circular nature of life.
Over a year in planning, ‘Porous Structures’ isn’t just about making one statement. In one grouping, Ortgea has created a series of brick sculptures that reference the geology of mountain ranges, glaciers and volcanoes, while using the grey cement bricks commonly used because of their affordability in his native Mexico. Shaped and chiseled by hand, the primitive forms reference the gridded diagrams of computer-based, three-dimensional modeling, while also resembling the topographies of vast landscapes at the same time.
‘One of the important things [for me] was using bricks to construct an object and treat it as stone as a very classic way of making sculpture, with a chisel and hammer and some other special tools,’ explains Ortega. ‘I wanted to have this very classical and physical experience of creating sculpture, more than taking my time to conceptualise [the work]. It’s interesting how the digital and conceptual brings things to another place and so I try to play with that and mix that with the primitive and facts of classic sculpture altogether.’
The sculptures, which reorient the horizontal topographies either on a vertical axis or in the round, appear ‘as if the stones are moving after millions of years, rotating, and it’s important to see what is the original position and follow its history’. To emphasise each piece’s existence and place in time, Ortega has added imperfections, like tiny bored holes, that might have been made by little creatures, and his own graffiti, to show how the sculptures might have been absorbed into nature and the surrounding environment. He has also grown crystals in parts of the sculptures where they might have naturally resided.
The remainder of the show centres on two monumental pieces: a new site-specific work, Irregular Emplacements, that consists of a pair of 7ft tall mountains made from layers of sand and feature cement cubes embedded into the eroding hillsides, which visitors can walk through or stand in between.
In a separate room, Modern Sublease – a helix-shaped, staircase structure, made from cement and clay – speaks to Ortega’s love for architecture and the urban environment. Tucked in the corners of some of these stairs are little cocoons, that the artist has made and placed, that again reiterate how sculpture is inevitably taken over by the natural environment, rather than remain impermeable to it. ‘What I love is when art again becomes an object, part of the reality, and how nature appropriates the idea of what is the future,’ adds Ortega. §