On 4 July 1785, Edinburgh-native James Hutton read from his book ‘Theory of the Earth; or an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe’ at a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. This work became the foundation of modern geology and so Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery seems a perfect home for Damián Ortega’s series of clay sculptures that form his current solo exhibition ‘States of Time’. The works in the exhibition mark a departure from Ortega’s recent works such as ‘Cosmic Thing’ - an installation comprised of suspended car parts. In ‘States of Time’, rather than seeing found, industrial fragments, we see a collection of handmade objects whose structure appears to have been compromised by erosion or conjured by the wind.
In order to create the pieces in ‘States of Time’, Ortega designed special clay tools, and they are an important component of the show. Ortega not only shares examples of these tools, but in ‘Abrasive Objects’ also displays a history of found tools cast in clay. Here a collection of implements used by the pre-Colombians can be found alongside the contemporary - iPods. When asked about the conception of ‘Abrasive Objects’ in the artist talk, Ortega responded simply, “I wanted a book on the history of tools. I couldn’t find one, so I made my own.”
These tools stand in opposition to other works such as ‘Lava Waves’, a series of undulating clay formations which can be seen as both an homage to waves of the Firth of Forth as well as the winds that whip atop Arthur’s Seat, where Hutton’s enlightened geologic work took place.
The collection is comprised of works that were created in Ortega’s studio from January to June in Mexico as well as site specific pieces that were installed prior to the opening. One of these installed pieces is ‘Tripas de Gato / Isobaric Map’. Covering three walls in a small space, ‘Tripas de Gato / Isobaric Map’ uses the rules of a childhood game Ortega plays with his daughter to create an elaborate system of lines that emerge as a meteorological pattern.
One of the central pieces of the show is ‘Eroded Valley’, which looks at the effects of water on rock formations. Five stacks of bricks were deconstructed by a power tool in order to mimic the stages of river erosion. Each stack, with its red clay, looks as though it has been carved from the Mexican desert and replicates the passage of geologic time.
‘Broken Sac’ is a large mass of clay surrounded by smaller clumps. Unorganized in its arrangement, ‘Broken Sac’ is a demonstration of Ortega’s process-driven style. Ortega created a small hole in the large mass and then, with one of his special tools, grabbed sections of the clay and arranged them on the floor around it. The action, the resulting clay remnants that litter the floor, was inspired by crabs who dig out portions of sand in order to make their homes.
Ortega claimed to have steered away from clay as a material for so long because it seemed too “academic”, and in many ways ‘States of Time’ is just that. We find direct reactions to geology and meteorology, wind and water but Ortega’s use of clay is equally materially intuitive as it is scientific. Ortega could be seen as an explorer; needing only his tools and terrain to make his mark.
“States of Time” is supported by the Embassy of Mexico in the United Kingdom and AMEXCID (Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation).