GABRIEL OROZCO: COSMIC MATTER AND OTHER LEFTOVERS
March 2011, RYE DAG HOLMBOE
‘TO LIVE,’ WRITES WALTER BENJAMIN, ‘MEANS TO LEAVE TRACES’.
…The paradoxically titled YIELDING STONE (1992), for instance, consists of a black lump of plasticine formed in the weight of the artist’s own body. The work is rolled onto the street where this highly malleable and greasy material absorbs whatever residue it encounters….
…YIELDING STONE does not mark the external world but is inscribed with it. Put differently,the work inhabits the world but is also inhabited by it. And secondly, unlike AUTOMOBILE TIRE PRINT, a ‘happening’ that took place only in the moment of its occasion, YIELDING STONE awaits its future actualisation.
…If the work is nostalgic it is not because it harks back to some idealised past but because it is nostalgic for the future. YIELDING STONE is in a perpetual process of becoming. Even as it sits on the gallery floor, isolated and quiescent, it is weighed down by gravity and absorbs the dust on which it rests. One might also say that it is marked, every moment, by the sensation of time.
The enigmatic materiality of this artwork is echoed in LINTELS (2001). Here sheets of lint – the grey stuff leftover in the filters of drying machines – have been hung on several rows of washing line, as though Orozco was hanging his dirty laundry in public. Beyond this bathos, what is of interest is the transience of the material used. Lint is made of human hair and dust, which is made of dead skin cells, as well as fluff. This is the detritus of quotidian life, the stuff we would rather forget about, infinitesimal traces of our own mortality. When compressed in the filter the material is held together, but only temporarily. Pablo Picasso once wrote that ‘art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life’. This work, however, will return to dust. The air must be full of it. Like YIELDING STONE, a work conscious of its temporal essence, LINTELS internalises its own impermanence. Construction becomes inseparable from dispersal. The artwork, then, is just a hiatus. Like life.
Yet, like the synecdochal nature of the works I have considered so far, the metonymy between spit and life is an odd one and warrants closer attention. In his CRITICAL DICTIONARY, Georges Bataille wrote the following definition of the term ‘Formless’, a definition that seems particularly relevant to a work like FIRST WAS THE SPITTING. Indeed, one wonders whether Orozco had it in mind:
For academics to be content, the universe would have to assume a form. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of fitting what is there into a formal coat, a mathematical overcoat. On the other hand to assert that the universe resembles nothing else and is only formless comes down to stating that the universe is something like a spider or spit.
In FIRST WAS THE SPITTING the use of graph paper – a ‘mathematical overcoat’, stands in deliberate contrast to the formless accumulation of spit in the centre of the page. This could be interpreted as a re-introduction of the somatic and the aleatory into the hard-edged, mathematical reductivism of minimalism. This in turn could be read more widely as a reaction against the increased rationalisation of life in a ‘totally administered world’, to borrow Theodor W. Adorno’s now famous expression. At the same time, however, the graphite and ink markings which expand like constellations or rhizomes around each of the stains exist in a precarious balance. Sometimes the organic substance seems to dictate the composition. At other times Orozco has drawn over the spit and replaced the graph paper’s rigid lines, ‘fitting what is there into a formal coat’.
This is arguably indicative of attentiveness to the violence of a representational economy. In other words, the awareness that the formless cannot be manifested directly without giving it shape. Once the formless – the non-identical, becomes an object of reflexive consciousness, it loses its subversive quality precisely because it is identified as formless. This, then, is something like the contradictory endeavour that preoccupied many of the Surrealists: the conscious manifestation of unconscious drives.
Except that I believe Orozco is more aware of the paradox of representing the unrepresentable than the Surrealists were. This is not only because his works undermine the possibility of full representation, although this certainly forms part of it. Rather, is it because the artist purposely produces irresolvable tensions. Another example of a work that supports this argument is BLACK KITES (1997), a human skull covered in a strict geometric pattern of black and white rhombi. Like FINGER RULER DRAWING,here the Cartesian plane – the permanent idea, is adapted to the contours of the skull – the transitory substance. The oppositions that inhere in both these works: the organic and the inorganic; the corporeal and the cerebral; the rational and the irrational; the transitory and the timeless; and, in the case of BLACK KITES, drawing and sculpture (Orozco was to describe the work with the words ‘Object made image’), are products of different kinds of articulations that produce as well as negate each other, deliberately subverting simplistic bifurcations. Where exactly is the interface anyway?
…The problem the works ultimately raise, I think, is this: can culture be political, which is to say critical and even subversive, or is it necessarily co-opted and subsumed by the social system of which it is a product?