Damián Ortega: Traces of Gravity

2 out of 5 stars
Damian Ortega HollowStuffed market law 2012 a4 1.jpg
© The artist, Photo: Todd-White Art Photography 'Hollow/Stuffed: Market Law' by Damián Ortega

Salt is the substance that runs through all Damián Ortega's works here – quite literally in his main installation, 'Hollow/Stuffed: Market Law', which consists of a huge, suspended model of a submarine made from industrial food sacks.

The sacks are filled with salt and punctured at one end so that the salt pours out in a thin stream to form an ever-growing mound on the floor: the titular traces of gravity, presumably. According to the gallery bumf the cascading salt suggests 'human intervention, exchange and play' – which is a rather coy way of saying that it looks a lot like cocaine. Apparently, decommissioned World War II submarines are routinely used for trafficking between South America and the artist's native Mexico.

The installation's title comes from a TS Eliot poem, itself a reference to Joseph Conrad's novella 'Heart of Darkness'. Not that any of this info is really necessary. The piece performs perfectly well on its own, as a physical, poetic presence – a lumbering beast, clinging to survival in a changed world; a wounded Moby Dick, leaking salty tears.

The other installations here, though, rely more heavily on supporting explanations in order to convince. 'Congo River' is also a reference to Conrad. It features another cocaine-like line of salt, perfectly straight as it crosses a jumbled pile of old car tires. The meaning here is about imposing order, regularity and commerce. 'Preserved' explores salt's use in early photographic processes.

By salting the floor around a bicycle, the line of its shadow, its negative, is uncovered. The works are entertaining, but as an exhibition it all feels too schematic and rather lightweight – in the end, a bit more gravity wouldn't have gone amiss.


1 person listening