Drawing upon the politics of everyday life, Damián Ortega has become a fixture in the international art world for his remarkable fragmentation of the quotidian, a praise of the ordinary which is deeply rooted in his Mexican origins. For his exhibition ‘Play Time’ at White Cube, Ortega has created new large-scale installations, sculptures and two-dimensional works which address the themes of chance and accidents in the creative process. Taking its title from French director Jacques Tati’s 1967 comedy film, ‘Play Time’ provides a new vision of knowledge systems, demonstrating how mistakes and imperfections offer a different, perhaps more authentic, point of view against the ideal of perfection delivered by the digital era we live in.
Despite the playful and humorous appearance, distinctive of his previous career as political cartoonist, Ortega’s art is profoundly political, being influenced by the social context he grew up with in Mexico. The most political element is the technique. It is a technique that belongs to underdevelopment: by reusing ordinary objects, he remodels them and brings out their inner potential and dynamism. This is the driving principle behind the majority of the sculptures scattered across the gallery floor. Returning to clay, the most elemental material, Ortega explores its potential and raw qualities. The artist works with clay in different states. The final result is an explosion of forms which embrace the imperfections of their own production. For Ortega, the action of creating is integral to his practice. In ‘Variable Schema’ (2017), what looks like an elegant model of a molecular structure turns out to be made of clay from the Mexican region of Zacatecas. The work displays different spheres cut in half and then re-joined, thus creating irregular shapes. Is this an amalgamation of multiple imperfect balls within a perfect system or is it a single sphere caught at different moments? Ortega still thinks like a political cartoonist. After all a cartoon strip is just a series of fixed images, whose familiar narrative allows us to understand it as a sequence of snapshots in time. In his hands, we are invited to view sculpture in much the same way. There is an aesthetic seduction in the composition of both clay and its glaze, and the result is indeed organic and gestural. Far from being static, these works convey the potential for continual evolution and change.
The gallery walls are occupied by a series of illustrations – ‘Dominance of simulation, Systems, Fragment’ (2017) – which represent deconstructed parts of guns and cameras, joined together by dot-to-dot drawings. It is this idea of fragmentation that fascinates the artist. It helps him convey the concept that the final product is not made by a single piece. Every system comprises millions of parts, each with a perfect and unique function. Therefore, deconstruction stands for vulnerability and fragility, intrinsic even to the most impeccable system: digital information. In contrast with technological anonymity, Ortega celebrates the manufacturing process of making a tangible, material object out of clay and schematic diagrams. Individual expression cannot be explained by a single, unitary logic. Ortega’s is a restless imagination and the gallery space becomes an arena for his investigation of a world in flux.