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The Inverted Mirror: Art from the Collections of "la Caixa" Foundation and MACBA

January 31, 2012 – September 2, 2012

Themes | Damian Ortega, False Movement (Stability and Economic Growth), 1999-2003

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The title of the sculpture False Movement (Stability and Economic Growth) refers to a presidential slogan with the wagering around oil sales when Mexico found vast reserves of petroleum. That promised great stability and economic development, so this pompous slogan was created based on that oil boom, which soon turned to the oil market crisis. The sculpture is a tower of oil made from three barrels that are permanently spinning, creating a notion of fragility and permanent imbalance. In a way the sculpture becomes a political caricature. "For me humor is a tool for comprehension, another form of studying things. It is a way to understand things by laughing at them and critiquing them." Damián Ortega on False Movement.4

Damian Ortega, False Movement (Stability and Economic Growth), 1999-2003

Born in Mexico City, Damian Ortega (1967-) focuses his work on topics around capitalism, politics, and social issues. In his early years as an artist, Ortega worked as a political cartoonist for Mexican magazines and newspapers, satirizing government actions and political speeches. At that time he became aware of how surroundings influence individuals and how individuals can influence society.5 His works show his beliefs about the importance of this dialogue between society and people. He claims that his pieces are not isolated objects, but rather a response to society and a political activity.

Ortega has expanded his work to other media, including sculpture, installations, and videos. He has explored the artistic potential of everyday objects including cars, golf balls, bricks, tortillas, bottles, and oil containers. His goal is to turn ordinary, everyday objects like all the inside components of a car, or the pieces contained in an Olympus photographic camera, into works of art. His artworks can be seen as playful and imaginative, allowing the viewer to interact with them by visualizing ways of assembling and reassembling his sculptures. He uses industrially fabricated or mass-produced components to create his ready-made sculpture and incorporates common objects, sometimes altered, and presents them as art.

Besides Mexico City, Ortega also lived in Rio de Janeiro and Berlin. These three places are quite prominent in his work. As an example, in 2002 he disassembled a Volkswagen Beetle, a popular cultural symbol in Mexico City, and suspended the components from the ceiling as if they were a giant instruction manual, or a gravity-defying deconstruction of a car.

4. The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Audio Commentary - Damián Ortega: Do It Yourself

5. The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Audio Commentary - Damián Ortega: Do It Yourself

  • Describe this artwork as thoroughly as possible. What do you see? If you had to explain the piece to someone who cannot see it, how would you describe it? List the words that come to mind.
  • Some spectators feel a little dizzy when looking at the work. Normally when we observe a sculpture the viewer is the one who moves around it, but in this case the piece itself has movement. What do you think the mobility of the work contributes to the piece? The three oil barrels are piled in a precarious balance on a roughly made rotating platform, like an accident waiting to happen. Ask your students to imagine that something is about to happen-what could it be?
  • Explain how Ortega has used humor in this work to comment on a serious issue.
  • Have students read Ortega's quote and also do some research about oil production in Mexico to familiarize themselves with the topic that the artist is addressing. Then have a discussion about the topic. What political issues is the artist exploring in this piece?
  • How might this sculpture be different if it were displayed in an alternative setting? If you owned this sculpture, where and how would you display it? Why?
  • In this piece, Ortega is investigating aspects of form and structure, such as fragility, levity, gravity, and weight. These notions are closely linked to other sculptural and artistic concepts, such as balance and tension. How do your students think the artist is working with these ideas here?
  • The designer Tom Wujec has created a challenging exercise that has come to be known as the Marshmallow Challenge www.marshmallowchallenge.com. The task is simple: in eighteen minutes, teams of four must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. Have your students try it. Then discuss what they have discovered about materials, building structures, and collaboration.
  • Ask each student to pick a topic that concerns them. Challenge them to think about how they might create a work of art that would express their concern by creating a digital collage.
  • Using their phones or digital cameras, tell them to take photographs of as many items as they may need to build their collage. Download the images on a computer and import them to a simple imaging program like Microsoft Office Paint or a more advanced program such as Adobe Photoshop. Encourage the students to place the images into separate layers so they can move them around and explore different possibilities. Print the finished digital images on photographic paper and have students title their work and discuss the issue they focused on.
  • The project can also be done without the aid of a computer by cutting and pasting photographs from magazines or newspapers. Have them experiment with the objects by superimposing, combining, or overlapping them. They should also title it.
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