Thursday, 21 April 2011

Orozco at Tate Modern

I have finally got about to visiting this exhibition of the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco's work late in the day. I'm pleased I did. Like the Donald Judd exhibition of seven years ago I came away with a serious, un-premeditated reaction to the exhibition.

Unlike the Donald Judd exhibition my reaction was not aesthetic so much as personal. Orozco's intense eye for the way in which our world almost misses us makes this exhibition at first witty - like a sequence of elegantly conceived puns - and then rather touching. An exemplar is the cross-sectionally contracted Citroën DS, the car re-modelled to seat just one. From the front the car looks bizarre, as if viewed parked beside a reflective surface. On, er, reflection though, the possibility that the car is now better tailored to seat the driver seems a touching re-appropriation of the machine.

It's this re-focusing of the relationship that objects have with we who use them that's at the centre of Orcozo's work. In the same way that the DS is 'compressed', so a recovered lift car is shortened. In My Hands Are My Heart, this concentrating on the space within is given material representation. Gripping a lump of clay in both hands, the resultant impression of the space between his hands emerges and may be exhibited as a heart-shaped sculpture. Perhaps most touching in this respect is the room hung with pieces of lint, which suggest the clothing whose laundering brought the lint about but also, by extrapolation, the body of the person who wore that clothing - the clothing being a non-existent privation, like the space between the hands.

My favourite piece though is the monumental Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe, a series of 50 photographs of the artist's own yellow Schwalbe moped placed next to others found whilst roaming the streets of Berlin. Immediately the vehicles take on quasi-anthropomorphic characteristics, either suggesting something about the relationship of the owners or the intrinsic, hidden character of the vehicles themselves.

The wit of Orozco's pieces sometimes gets the better of any vein of meaning or simply poignancy: the circular billiard table with suspended red (at which visitors are encouraged to play) and the toilet rolls which sit on a ceiling fan are diverting but empty. I also found the room full of tyre detritus (Chicotes) and the much trumpeted abandoned shoe box left me cold.

If there's one piece that sums up the delicate, well-observed nature of Orozco's work it might be the photograph Breath On Piano. This is exactly what it says it is, an evanescent trace of an anonymous passing individual on an everyday inanimate object - yet all three, piano, person, photographer come together to fix the fact. I found the meditative incentive of this sort of work very rewarding, especially in a sparsely populated gallery where one has the necessary peace and space in which to chew it over.

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