Gabriel Orozco: Asterisms
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November 9, 2012–January 13, 2013
For the final project in Deutsche Guggenheim’s commissioning program, Gabriel Orozco collected thousands of objects at a beach in Mexico and on a playing field near his home in New York. In this video, curator Joan Young gives an overview of the two resulting works, Sandstars and Astroturf Constellation, while Orozco explains the process that led up to the exhibition, as well as the narrative engendered by the meticulously organized objects and accompanying photographs.
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Gabriel Orozco, Artist: When I was throwing my boomerangs in Pier 40, you’re alone and it’s about meditation, and I guess that state of mind and the accident of not catching it and looking for it, wandering around the field, throwing the boomerangs—I’m not doing it to make art. I just do boomerangs because I like boomerangs and I like the sport. But then, when you do something like that it leads you to situations that can become art afterwards.
Joan Young, Director, Curatorial Affairs, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum: Asterisms was a commission by the Deutsche Guggenheim and premiered there this summer. It consists of two works, one entitled Sandstars, one entitled Astroturf Constellation. The two works are distinct. They both consist of objects and photographs. But they are related, so it’s important to see them in relationship to one another. Sandstars is a work that consists of about 1,200 objects that he collected on a beach in Mexico. Then, Astroturf Constellation consists of also nearly 1,200 objects that he collected on a playing field here in New York City.
Orozco: The boomerangs, you don’t catch them, and then I would pick them up from the Astroturf and I started to notice little residues. So I start to kind of look at them carefully, and I pick them up, a few, and then I bring them here to the table to see them. I start to take pictures and I start to find them interesting.
It was a way to explore the shape, the condition of the object, the appearance, because some of these objects, you don’t know what they are at the beginning. You don’t know if it’s organic or artificial, if it’s a body part or something from a shoe or something like that. And that is interesting, I think, because all of these objects are the result of this collision of the bodies playing these games.
In Pier 40, you have so many games, I mean, different sports. You have soccer, American football, rugby, lacrosse. There are all these different objects. You could catalog them in many, many ways. So, I decided to catalog them first by type—all the rubber bands together, all the clips together, all the shoe residues together, all the wood pieces together, all the little stones together—first by type, and then secondly by color. Because, especially in the Astroturf, there are small objects and I thought that by type is good, but then by color is better because you can focus on a group of all the same blue color, and then the pink color.
Young: For Sandstars, Gabriel returned to a location that he had worked in earlier. This was the site where he had retrieved a whale skeleton, a gray whale skeleton, from which he created the sculpture Mobile Matrix that hangs in a library in Mexico City. It’s an island, a sand bank, Isla Arena, that is in a bay in Baja California [Sur], Mexico, which is the mating site for gray whales.
Orozco: This beach that is actually protected, it’s a natural national park in Mexico and it’s very well preserved. It’s a very important sanctuary for whales. They’re born there and then they go and die there. I was not hunting for a treasure; I was more intrigued by the scale of the place, like a field, huge field, that’s 30 kilometers long and is untouched. There’s nobody there. We took a week to explore as much as we could.
Young: While he was there he noticed the amount of refuse, really kind of man-made products that had also washed onto the beach.
Orozco: I think it’s important, ecologically speaking, to gather the evidence of these things that are polluting the ocean and they are arriving to the shores, and they are in the sand all over this place.
Young: One of the most remarkable things, I think, with Sandstars, for example, are the light bulbs that have survived intact when washed up, off by the ocean. The objects within Sandstars have come from as far away as Japan. So some of the elements have, in fact, Japanese writing on them. There are even bottles with messages in them that are actually from scientific organizations, institutions that are trying to track ocean currents.
Orozco: There are things you don’t recognize at the beginning, which is one of my favorite parts. You have all these shapes and they look like mussels, and then you come close and you see it’s just toilet paper crushed and with sand. You cannot decipher the objects right away, you have to really look at them and see what they are. But at least when they are in groups, you see better all of the erosion and nature playing a part in the shaping of these objects.
Young: Since these materials were all washed up off the ocean, or with Astroturf Constellation, you know, have been left behind, kind of trampled upon, etc., on the playing field, they all really have individual stories as well.
Orozco: I think that the narrative is somehow included in the piece, in the object. They have their own story and somehow it’s in the residue itself. That’s why it’s presented more as a kind of archaeological display. I mean, here when you see chewing gum, you can immediately understand the narrative of the object being there. When you have all [of] the group together, you start to make this kind of connection between them, between the organic and the artificial, the industrial[ly] produced and the pieces of nature. There you find, also, pieces of, you know, sticks or stones, little stones, or shells. So, at the end, you form a kind of constellation and that’s why it’s called Asterism, because it’s a system of stars that you put in a chart that you have a kind of mapping of the sky. That group of stars is called an Asterism.
Young: He photographed each object individually and has created these grids, each of ninety-nine photographs—twelve grids in all—that represent each work where you’re able to really have a different perspective on the elements.
Orozco: What happened with the photographic grids is they bring both groups—that are very different in scale—they bring these groups to the same scale. Blowing up the small little pieces, reducing big pieces to minimum size. They’re all the same size photograph prints, so in the photograph they all have the same value, the same appearance.
I think it’s a necessity to do it, to have this grid of photographic evidence as a filter or a new kind of layer that you have in the perception of the object that is very important to understand the whole thing as a continuum, the whole thing as a big field landscape.
Young: They are displayed on the floor, sort of like a carpet.
Orozco: The distance between the objects should be the same. So it’s very equilibrated and very technical, almost like scientifically or archaeologically you will display objects in a grid so you can see them clearly. And then, on the other hand, [with] the Astroturf Constellation you have tiny little pieces that can be blown away, disappear easily, break. So I think, in that case, I need to cover them for protection. So, one is in a vitrine, raised on the floor so it’s like a table, so you can see and spend time with the constellation, and the other is on the floor just because it’s huge. I like the idea of a table that you have all the evidence you’re gathering and you’re studying them and cataloging, or just thinking about—that’s a working table.
All that happened in this accumulation of two thousand objects and two thousand photographs definitely has a connection with many of my interests and the works I have done or am going to do. So it becomes a kind of dictionary for me, or a kind of catalogue of possibilities for me to keep exploring.