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Damián Ortega Finds Inspiration in a Newspaper to Create Barbican Art Gallery's Latest Exhibition
The Independent. A new commission by Damián Ortega for The Curve Barbican Project: Animal Behavorist patterns 2, 2010. Courtesy of the Artist.

LONDON.- Over the period of a month leading up to the exhibition opening, acclaimed Mexican artist Damián Ortega worked in The Curve creating new works on a regular basis in response to aspects of the daily news. Each day he took inspiration from a newspaper. This could be a news item, a photographic story or graphics selected from local, national or international press which he translated into a physical interpretation be it a sculpture, installation, proposition or prototype for a future project. The exhibition opened on 15 October.

By nature the news is a fast paced, ever changing medium which is produced and consumed on a daily basis. News journalists respond to a story with an immediacy that is essential to represent the current moment. This is a very different process to most visual artists who often take months generating their ideas. For this month-long period Ortega adopts an unusual artistic approach by responding, day-by-day to the news. His playfully intelligent practice is informed by his earlier career as a political cartoonist in Mexico City in the mid 1980s.

Ortega creates sculptures, collages, photographs and videos which draw our attention to the poetic as well as social and political dimensions of everyday objects. Through the subtle use of humour and irony, Ortega has succeeded in discreetly tackling themes relating to capitalism, poverty and immigration through the language of minimalist sculpture.

In one of his most celebrated works, Cosmic Thing, 2002, Ortega used a Volkswagen Beetle, an icon of democratic industrial design. Ortega meticulously disassembled the VW Beetle and positioned each piece suspended on wires from the ceiling, reminiscent of a mechanic’s manual or a natural history display. Originally developed in 1930s Nazi Germany the affordable and efficient Beetle became known as the people’s car. After great manufacturing success but with ever increasing safety regulations in Europe and the United States, by the 1970s the VW beetle became exclusively manufactured in Mexico and Brazil. The mechanical simplicity and availability of cheap, spare parts allowing DIY repairs made this the most commonly used car in Mexico City and was seen to many as the promise of modernity. Cosmic Thing not only illustrates Ortega’s interest with function and deconstruction but also his use of objects to draw attention to social, political and economic issues.

A more recent major work Nine Types of Terrain, 2007, consists of a simultaneous presentation of nine short 16mm films showing a different formation of clay house brick standing on end in a nondescript patch of waste ground in Berlin. The bricks are nudged by an unseen hand to topple in brisk succession. In some instances the bricks are placed in lines snaking across the ground; in others, more complex formations involve sharp zigzags or spreading forks. Directly referencing the nine figures in the Chinese General Sun Tzu’s book The Art of War a definitive work on military strategy, Ortega’s configurations of brick stand in for troops or buildings; by falling, they surrender to the hand of the artist knocking them down.

Damián Ortega was born in 1967 in Mexico City and currently works and lives in Berlin, Germany. He has exhibited internationally and participated in major international exhibitions including Art Basel 41, 2010 and 50th Venice Biennale 2008. His Barbican commission follows important solo shows at ICA Boston (2009) and Centre Pompidou (2008), White Cube (2007) and Tate Modern (2005).

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