“The last time I was here,” my friend whispered as we walked into Gabriel Orozco’s show, “I sort of kicked a sculpture. It was really big and I thought it might make a sound like a gong, and I was right.” While the Tate has strict policies against touching works of art, somehow I don’t think Orozco would disapprove of tactile interaction between work and viewer. Some of his pieces actively encourage hands-on engagement and many are highly constructed in the sense that the physicality of the artist is evident within them. The pounding of clay into the desired shape, the welding of metal, the collection of remnants of burst tires from along the sides of Mexican highways: all of these speak of an engagement between man and material, and inject each piece with the personality of the artist and a sense of a captured moment or memory.
Whilst installations are hardly a new phenomenon, Orozco’s works overwhelm the viewer with the amount of thought and care that has gone into each piece. In a sense, the concepts behind his pieces are even more beautiful than the works themselves. For instance, his Breath on Piano (1993) is a photograph of the trace left on a polished black piano by the artist’s breath in the brief time before it evaporated, a lovely thought in itself but potentially more poetic at its creation than when the viewer engages with it. Similarly, Yielding Stone (1992) is a plasticine ball equivalent to the artist’s weight that has been rolled through the streets of New York, collecting debris as it moved, and then photographed. As a demonstration of the dust-collecting properties of the material, the work is very effective, but as an art work the concept has somewhat overshadowed the end result.
Many of the artist’s works are the sort that people question as 'real art'. For instance, Elevator (1994) is a lift that Orozco saved from a demolished Chicago building and placed in a gallery space in a perfect reflection of Duchamp’s urinal: function rendered functionless through relocation and renaming as a work of art. However, these pieces also remind you of one of the intrinsic beauties of art: its ability to cause a gut reaction, a jogging of memories buried deep in your subconscious and a sense of coming out of yourself. One such work is Lintels (2001), a series of lines strung across the gallery space and hung with the sheets of compressed dust and fabric that collect in the filters of tumble driers. Walking underneath the installation, you are immediately running through memories -- simultaneously a young child under your mother’s washing and a frustrated student complaining that no-one else pulls their weight with the less pleasant chores. You also want to reach up and touch the hanging sheets, returning again to the need for physical engagement with the art works.
To me, the most exciting and memorable art is that which engages the viewer and at the same time takes them back to totally unrelated times, emotions and experiences, both good and bad. Pieces that raise questions not only through their subject matter and execution but also challenge the viewer to consider their validity and motivation as art. Orozco’s work does all of this with an easy beauty and thought-provoking complexity that proves that he certainly knows how to engage his audience.
-- Alex Field
All Images courtesy Tate Modern
Images: Gabriel Orozco, Island Within an Island 1993, © Courtesy of the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York; Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; and kurimanzutto, Mexico City; Gabriel Orozco, La DS 1993.m Fonds national d’art contemporain, Puteaux, France , © Courtesy of the artist., Photo: Florian Kleinefenn