White Cube: Mason’s Yard

Damián Ortega, Traces of gravity

Damián Ortega quietly waits for you in this small purpose-built gallery just a few strides away from Piccadilly Circus.  Don’t be put off by the rather empty promise of the upper floor exhibition room, it gets much better below.

Just one exhibit sits in the upstairs display, Congo River. This ‘river of tyres’ tumbling across the centre of the floor spoke of death, calling to mind heaps of discarded bodies in some terrible barren scrapyard. I couldn’t distinguish much else apart from a rather sad, sick fear; which perhaps was the intention. The tiny thin dividing band of salt trailing across the centre of the pile looked almost like the chalk on a dusty football pitch. The exhibition text speaks of this material as possibly symbolising cocaine, and of the duality of consumption and wealth.

Salt is the material which binds the three exhibits together. Salt, an ancient symbol of wealth, last substance of Lot’s wife and curer of meat. This substance has long played an important part in human power and development. As the exhibition moves to the cavernous lower floor the significance of this substance increases dramatically. Aloft in the ceiling of the cathedral-sized main exhibition space down there, a spectacle is waiting for you.

Here is the advertising image for this show, a submarine hangs, suspended at an angle, as if it has just crashed into some unknown obstacle and is beginning its slow tilt to the depths. In this gorgeous, cavernous sparsely lighted setting the sight is fantastic. Dramatic and richly theatrical shadows are cast all around the room, leaping and twisting as you navigate the space.  Closer inspection reveals that the silting sub is constructed from white food sacks, and a thin seam of its contents is continuously trickling out of the nose to the floor below. This narrow pillar of salt falls to join the delicately growing pile below. It looks as though, by the end of the exhibition, the sub will have belched out everything is has. The finite resource, once depleted, will leave a sagging carcass hanging limply and sadly behind.

It’s worth visiting the exhibition for Hollow/Stuffed: market law alone. It was an exhilarating experience to descend to the depths of the building and be confronted with this huge beast of a work. It felt like an open invitation to sit and watch, the artwork changing form by the second. I won’t go on to describe the third, and final, exhibition space, but I will tell you that yet again careful lighting, everyday objects and salt feature. An excellent job has been done in the curation of this show, and I want to leave you with some of the sense of mysterious expectation which it deserves.

Damián Ortega, Hollow/Stuffed: market law (2012), Biodegradable plastic sacks, metal and salt

On display until 8th September 2012.


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