Champ de Vision
Damián Ortega Part 2
Anna Hiddleston + Sinziana Ravini, October 18, 2010
AH & SR.: Is the imperceptible equally important? Your work renders concrete a process of seeing that is inherently invisible or abstract, taking place purely in the mind. It is the representation of a process that also ultimately takes place in time. You had several ideas for titles for the 315 piece connected to the relationship between the external and the internal world. Can you tell us about them?

DO.: I like to think that the importance of objects lies in the ideas they generate. I once read that, in Sanskrit, the concept of thing is understood as equivalent to “event”.1 I found this incredibly interesting, because the importance of the object is played down in order to emphasise its function, its production system, the technology employed in making it and its implications as a cultural and historical product. The exercise of replacing the word thing for the word event acknowledges the life and internal movement permanent in any object, beginning with its atomic constitution. I think that if we could see an object from the inside with all its atoms, it would be like seeing inside a ray of light... with everything moving! The possibility of changing the notion of sculpture – understood as an object – for that of an event seems amazing to me. Reality relies upon relations and not upon substances. I thought about so many titles for the exhibition at Espace 315, making reference to all this: Interior/Exterior, The Limits of Wholeness and Nothingness, The External does not Exist, Wave Saturation, Atomic Stimulation... I thought about thousands – it seems I had not much to do during the Berlin winter!.

AH & SR.: Are you more interested in deforming rather than confirming reality and do you believe in the existence of reality as such? Is there a passion for the real in your works as described by Alain Badiou or are you dealing rather with a passion for different ways of perceiving reality?

DO.: It is difficult not to transform everything into fiction if you think that just by talking about reality it disappears. To name is to convert things into a system of words, images and ideas. Reality is outside, and the brain replaces living creatures and converts them into the brain’s reality. I have always tried to avoid making pure representations, in order to establish a closer relation with reality (in the sense that my work would be part of it), and to acknowledge the works as a direct presentation of my position within it. I prefer the objects to impact, integrate and operate in such order, as facts in their own right and not as if they were staged. However, I can’t take for granted that the subjective reading of things is equally real and conclusive. Perception is an unavoidable and constant factor, almost inevitable. Interpretation and experience are graces or disgraces we have to consider. Besides, the deformation of reality can be a form of its confirmation. As Matisse wrote: “To see is itself a creative operation...”4. What I’m trying to do in Champ de vision is to focus the attention and – for a moment – incite consciousness to concentrate on the fact of seeing. I try to generate a perceptual and sensorial happening. What you will find on one side of the exhibition space is a codified, abstract and incomprehensible system, yet built with elements and materials whose physical presence is undeniable. In the other part of the room you will face a vision, an optical illusion, something fictitious and unreal, though identifiable: the representation. The spectator can only find one – or another – specific position in the space, then his/her perspective is partial, and this makes him/her part of a massive visual eclipse.

AH & SR.: Works such as Piel, Centro Urbano Presidente Aléman C.U.P.A, 2006, where you convert the apartment plan of one of the first Mexican Modernist buildings into a leather cut-out and let it hang languidly from the ceiling are direct references to the failure of Modernism. What is your relation to the Modernist tradition?

DO.: Piel is the floor plan of an apartment at Miguel Alemán State housing complex – the first in Latin America - consisting of a series of multi-family housing buildings, whose space was designed according to basic needs. The floor plan is scale 1:1 in relation to the apartment designed by Mario Pani. This plan was reproduced in leather, on which I tattooed the image of a multi-family building, in order to establish a more direct reference with the body. In doing so, the limit of the physical body becomes evident; the skin works like the border for the exterior, like a wall separating the private space from the outside.

AH & SR.: What interests you the most, the formal or the relational dimensions of your work? Is there a red thread that holds together your body of work?

DO.: It is funny but interaction with the public doesn’t really interest me at the moment. I think this has become the most demagogic part of art. It is too simplistic to say that art is about finding an answer of some sort, or entertaining an audience eager for fun, wanting to push buttons as they do daily on their computer. A relation always exists with the work, even when it is hermetic or abstract. I am interested in the relationship with the visitor, in the sense of a flux of ideas, whether they are formal, conceptual or concerned with action. It is about knowledge and exchange.

AH & SR.: Is there an ethical dimension to your work? According to Claire Bishop, works that are too open tend to alienate the beholder and thus become undemocratic and exclusive. What do you think about that? How open are your artworks after all?

DO.: The possibility of a democratic reading can be ascribed to my work, which is both spectacular and accessible in many ways. However I do not think this is important. Something can be good without subscribing to popular taste, even if it is selfish or anti-democratic. Art is like that, and I think it is better like this. I depart from my own position when I start working. I try to clarify it in order to make it as comprehensible as possible. At the end of the day however, everyone recuperates it differently: sometimes they expand it and sometimes they reduce it. A work’s “openness” is defined (to a large extent) by the context and the time it takes for the intelligence of an artist to be appreciated – simultaneously, didactics for its interpretation and recipes for its promotion arise. This second part is terrible since, as criteria are standardised, limitations are imposed on the number of possible readings, and the artist’s complexity is almost reduced to a series of slogans.

AH & SR.: In some of your previous works, like Cosmic Thing, 2002, and Nine Types of Terrain, 2007, it seems as if you are trying to dissect and thus “kill” the object in order to give it life again, or to disconnect objects in order to reconnect them. Is there a Frankensteinian method in your body of work? If not, what scientific or non-scientific methods do you prefer using?

Well, I have to recognise that I have created a few monsters, which have a life of their own. Generally, I like each piece to follow its own logic, and chase it in search of its own style. If one idea demands a certain material or a specific treatment, I try to adapt to what the work needs. This is not something scientific. I think it is mostly a method of trial and error. Nine Types of Terrain is a piece that exemplifies this method very well. The work was filmed during the winter in Berlin. It was as cold as hell and the filming was pretty austere. At the end we sent the material to a laboratory to be developed. During the developing process they damaged the original negative. When I saw the films for the first time, I couldn’t believe it: It was all damaged! I spent one week in bed, I was so depressed. Some time later, I was invited to show in a museum, and I proposed to do this piece all over again. So they gave me the money, and by then spring had started. We filmed with a big budget this time, and the result was a disaster. Everything was perfect and boring. I returned to the original version, and tried to correct the colour with several filters, always using analogue mediums – nothing digital. This is the version I showed in the end.

AH & SR.: You are thinking of presenting several sculptures based on molecular structures at the entrance to the exhibition. This fascination with the molecular is recurrent in your work. We find it in your Módulo de construcción de tortillas in 1998 and with Molécula de glucose expandida in 1992-2007. Can you talk about the dialectics of micro-macro in your work?

DO.: All phenomena start somewhere, and generally as something tiny. You can find a symptom of something big expressed in a small particle. A sample is enough to understand a complex system. The most important characteristics of a particular culture are normally revealed by the individuals who are a part of it; for example, you can distinguish or recognise so many features in a person through language, as if you had taken a blood sample. The limit between interior and exterior is very porous; it is not hermetic. It is receptive and permeable. Molécula de glucose expandida is a work that deals with the consumption of sugar in Mexico as a collective and cultural phenomenon. It is exhibited as a molecule formed by particles that are soda bottlecaps collected from stores and restaurants in Mexico City. I enlarged the molecule to a huge size. It is a rhizome hanging from the ceiling, growing and expanding in the space like an alien. This work can be grasped from the inside or from the outside. It is a chemical structure, but also a social one: micro and macro.

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