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December 2010, Damian Ortega @ The Barbican


Damian Ortega
The Independent
Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery
Photo credit: Eliot Wyman


Damián Ortega: The Independent: A selection of outcomes in reaction to the news
The Curve Gallery, Barbican Centre
Silk St, London, EC2Y 8DS
15 September, 2010, through 16 January, 2011

Nothing defines this century and the one which precedes it more than an unquenchable necessity for and reliance on documentation. This documentation is outlined and lived through a vast and uncompromising obsession with a matter of fact dependence on the media. The very essence being the speed and agility of our relationship to concerns not just national, but global, news 'as it happens' live, unadulterated and streamed into homes, places of work, beds, applications and on the move. The Independent is an exhibition detailing the complex phenomena of the media. The caveat being one far more unpredictable, unsatisfactory and problematic; marred with both success and blinding failure.

Ortega has achieved a fascinating socio-sculptural battleground for consideration of the crisis of the media. From August 29th to September 27th of this year Ortega, born in Mexico-City, conceived a brand new piece of work in reaction to news items of the day, each day, for 30 days. From text, images, graphics and advertisements, all aspects of the media and the construction of the news fell under heavy scrutiny from Ortega. This sub-reality divulged something far more fascinating than the actuality of our current reportage. The difficulty of what perforates our everyday, splitting cells and dilating pupils in a bid to reach larger audiences. The media has become not just a stomping ground for mis-interpretation, but for dynamic mis-truths, slander, cat-fights and the reigning difficulty of what merits coverage and what should be left out in the cold.



Damian Ortega
The Independent
Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery
Photo credit: Eliot Wyman



Referencing one of the United Kingdom's only supposed politically independent newspapers this show unpacks whether independence and objectivity truly exists within the search for truth, understanding or the apparent appetite for freedom of speech. The concept of independence fast becoming an anthesis of its own futuristic formation and production. Investing in independence is a linguistic western function of a society obsessed with democracy and the pursuit of open-thought.

On 31st August, Ortega takes reference from the headline "Gloomy predictions raise stakes as next round of climate talks draws near." Ulysses Way (31st August, 2010) is a monument to the plight of the Pakistan flood survivors, a totem pole bike delivers a punctual swipe at the spectacle between image and context. The gloom and doom relationship built between the comfort of understanding and experience. It is a stunning reminder of the passage of time between a moment occurring and actually happening. The symptom and affect chain reaction of a tree falling in a wood and not being heard. In a world generated by media excess, the function of sublime empathy renders not the situation as the moment but the documentation as the actuality.

Ortega manipulates the audience further by self-ingratiation; the work Watching you without me (17th September, 2010), finds the artist purchasing a pair of leather boots similar to those featured in a fashion spread. Ortega then re-advertises the same pair of "brand new chelsea boots" in a follow-up work titled Who (Friday, 8th October, 2010) requesting for members of the public to “contact Mr. Damián Ortega,” if they wish to purchase the boots. This gestures more dramatically at a pre-occupation with excess, the revolving door of supply and demand encased by a global pre-occupation with production. The core of where we belong being the place between needing and wanting to know; knowledge as a difficult pathway to acute superficiality dismantled within a generation hell bent on youtube clips, email and text-talk. The horizon one surviving through a belief in a structure of sophist association as supposed to true emancipation by the clarity of knowing that we do not need to or have the ability to know everything.

Ortega masterminds a system which top ends the current system of supposed emancipation promised by the media and an internet-obsessed image factory. Taking the path of interpretation one step further by the creation of sculptural memories of daily newscasts; generating a visual landscape. This incremental approach not only severs the discourse from the root of the idea, but it happens upon a beautiful chance discovery; the fierce methodology of abstraction and overt subjectivity in the face of supposed objectivity. With this in mind Ortega relinquishes the quest of knowledge as a purely functional discipline and suggests that it could be something inherently creative.



Damian Ortega
The Independent,
Ulysses Way (31st August, 2010)
Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery
Photo credit: Eliot Wyman


Waves IN (20th September, 2010) and Waves OUT (20th September, 2010) equates this creativity through an association with compartmentalisation. Ortega literally splits the seams of production at its root by dismantling a tire and kick drum side by side. This articulates the effect of hollowing out / opening up the pace between seeing how something works and actually being able to stand within inches of its motivation, root and purpose. This reaction to the newspaper by-line "Astronauts use Spectroscopy to detect water" reconfigures the time honoured device driven mentality for which human kind has been so convincingly masquerading. The use of a trajectory of disciplines, vocation-specific languages and colloquialisms to determine the space we inhabit. By stretching these objects out in a forced breakdown or controlled explosion Ortega mirror his previous works Cosmic Thing (2002) and Controller of the Universe (2007) in which the artist split open a VW Beetle and suspended dozens of found tools and instruments. Here, Ortega successfully manages to commandeer the simplest of abstractions, the suffocating delirium of humanities obsession with control. In his interview with Alona Pardo, Ortega remarks,

“In some ways the objects are metamorphosing, changing their function and revealing a new side to them. I'm not sure if I'm being clear, but I think humour and fear create a kind of instability, forcing the viewer to interrogate the meaning of these objects which makes you perceive the other side of the coin.”

The sculptural perception epitomised by Ortega articulates a resonance akin to intense sarcasm and acute pain, it's this kind of humour that potentially only someone from outside of the western condition can connect too. Ortega opens up conceptual concerns which echo a priority from the west to know all and to be seen to know all. In the final piece I am to discuss The Other Side (24th September, 2010) Ortega has built a small village within the shadow of a gallery plinth, the news article of the day states Below a waste dumping ground in the Malika district of Dakar, Senagal. Constructed from small brown cubes, the image is one of accuracy and finitude, the remarkable manner that though stories from around the world are streamed unconsciously to the western market there is a reverence and somewhat inconsistent apathetic reaction. The small cubes engulfed by a gallery plinths shadow barks at the difficulty of gallery protocol but otherwise remonstrates a far more problematic concern. In the same day that the Channel 4 news prioritised the Fifa World Cup Bid, 5 cm of snow in Derbyshire and The X Factor over student riots; a U-Turn in governmental manifesto and mass-student-occupation the point Ortega cements home in such beautiful irony is one of profound difficulty. The imbalance of priorities through the spill of production, could the west not be as in control as it thought it was, and if this is so, then who's got the last laugh?



Damian Ortega
The Independent
Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery
Photo credit: Eliot Wyman

Sophie Risner

Sophie Risner is a freelance art writer and critic living in London. "I am less art critic and more art writer - I find the idea of critiquing art through writing difficult in a purely formalist fashion. I often lean towards the difficulty of language as a way into the inherent difficulty of art. Embracing all aspects which observe and inspire artist practice as a way to create a more fruitful and less didactic approach."

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