Damian Ortega interview
Damian Ortega, a Mexican conceptual sculptor who began his career as a political cartoonist, is exhibiting a survey of his work called “Do It Yourself” at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. On Sept. 15, 2009, I had a chance to speak to him about his background, about some of the ideas in his work, and about the band the B-52s. Here are some excerpts:
- “The cartoons, the caricature had something which I really enjoy and appreciate about timing, about the politics, about the information of the day, the context of the news, the sense of humor. … The problem is when the caricature doesn’t resist the time. The next day the caricature maybe is less important. And after three years the cartoons have lost the life. It’s a quality. It’s like a fruit. But I would like to have a second reading of the same piece, going deeply.”
- “Working for the newspapers is really quiet and alone. You should be sitting in your studio. Sculpture it was more attractive to move, you need to go out, you need to cut the materials, being in contact with more people, which I really like. Especially at that time. Art is really open to be your own boss. Which is really something which I appreciate.”
- How do you move from the idea to the physical object? “It’s very connected. It could be one or the other side, but always it is something very intuitive. Like a fear or like a joke. Always it is something kind of unconscious or a memory. After that is more the rational part when you can understand what is this, what is the meaning, why, what is the context. Sometimes I need to wait for three, five years, ten years to understand this intuition or this intuitive moment before [I make the piece]. Or sometimes I just do it, because it’s easy and after a few months, weeks or years I find some meaning.”
- “The pickaxe [‘Tired Pick Axe’], for example, is really like the fear to lose the control, the power, or don’t have it.”
- “The idea of the Coke [“120 Days," pictured above], the disorder produces fun but also some strange feeling, like something is wrong. ‘This Coca-Cola is so weird. Something’s wrong with them.’ It’s like the birds in the Hitchcock film, no? It’s like, hmm. Who are we? What are we doing? What are we thinking? What is our own relationship with the objects within society or the context.”
- On “Resting Matter” (pictured below): “This piece is really an accident in some way because I just took the pictures. It could be a Minimalism out of order, or in storage. My idea was about the energy of the people who accumulate or store some pile of bricks to build something in the future. It’s just the power of the future. It’s just a battery with energy condensed and maybe in five years, 10 years they will build something else. Maybe never. It is some potential waiting.”
- “The Beetle [“Cosmic Thing,” pictured below] is an exploded system with each piece has a molecular function, like a big system exploded and you can see the atoms. It’s kind of molecular.
- “The Eames designers from LA. I remember a very beautiful film in which they zoom in the body of the human and they found the molecular of the atoms and smallest part of the human. And the camera is doing a zoom back and the camera is going really to the universe and see the planets. A very similar image to the atoms and the macro-cosmos. I play a little bit with these, like a solid and an expanded, also what’s happening inside an object.”
- What interests you about the connection between the micro and the macro? “I think it’s me, myself and the group, my city or my school, my friends, or let’s say my context. I am alone or I am part of the system. I think it’s about individuality and political context. Who made who? If the individual can change the context or the context made, can change the individual. This mix of inside and outside, individual and group of society, open and closed.”
- Is the name “Cosmic Thing” from the album by the B-52s? “Yeah. Well, more or less. This is not a specific thing. It’s more like a system, a solar system. And I had the idea from the Eames of this cosmic interpretation. And I remembered the song of the B52s, ‘La cosa cosmica.’”
All photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, except for the photo of "Resting Matter" and the first photo of "Cosmic Thing."