Damián Ortega «Cosmic Thing» 2002.
Cosmic Thing, 2002
Volkswagen Beetle 1983,
stainless steel wire, acrylic
The central component of Cosmic Thing is a gray Volkswagen Beetle, the old kind, suspended from the gallery's ceiling by high-test aircraft cables. Gone, however, are the Bug’s familiar humps and compact form. Ortega has meticulously disassembled the car, evidently taking the VW ideology of user-friendliness at its word. Each part has been hung in an exaggerated constellation of doors, engine block, axles, wheels, upholster, and frame so that the whole looks blown out, all frozen motion and volume diagrammed in steel.
Quietly mirroring Cosmic Thing's main attraction is a photograph titled Beetle 83. The image presents a mundane stretch of grass alongside a driveway. An ivied wall conceals a house. Half-interred in the yard are four Volkswagen tires, their treads worn by miles.
Among other things, Beetle 83 contains a sly reference to Piero Manzoni's Socle du Monde - Base of the World from 1961 -, the famous outdoor sculpture comprised simply of a plinth and title phrase inscribed upside down: as if the work of art - the thing traditionally presented on a base - were the world itself. Ortega's buried Beetle is similarly in the world. But, like Manzoni's work, Cosmic Thing makes its political gestures lightly, averse to didacticism, sociology, or moralism. Ortega relies on a poetic and material approach that can be seen in the work of other young artists from Mexico City such as Gabriel Kuri and Gabriel Orozco. The car's symbolic valences, its cultural meanings, VW's actual role in Mexico's globalization, are largely sublimated to a systematic play of visual and formal signifiers. In the end, Cosmic Thing may best be understood through the lens of cartooning and caricature, wherein the world of society and its actors is unsettled by canny manipulations of the hand. ~ Bennett Simpson, ICA Associate Curator.