Gabriel Orozco’s “Asterisms,” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, presents two recent bodies of work that encapsulate several recurring ideas in his output: erosion, everyday materials, and a friction between the natural environment and society. Throughout, the exhibition emphasizes Orozco’s delicate observation of how we construct private and individual systems of categorization. The show runs through January 13, 2013.
IN 2008, I went to the Isla Arena in the bay of Guerrero Negro, Mexico, to collect whale skeletons for the National Library in Mexico. It’s an island, a national park, and a protected area—a sanctuary for all the whales that travel down to Baja from way up north. There’s a lagoon where they can swim in calm water and do their mating and procreating. But there is also a lot of death. Isla Arena has a sand bank, which is also a cemetery––a twenty-five-mile-long beach. It’s all sand, not even one palm tree. So you have all these animals landing on the shore from the currents there. But I also saw lot of interesting artifacts and remains washing up. It’s not a pool of pollution or anything like that––because it’s protected, there aren’t people collecting stuff or exploring. I wondered if there might be some very interesting, old, and untouched things coming ashore. These currents come from all over—China, Japan, Alaska—and they somehow manage to cross the Pacific.
We asked permission to collect this debris. We spent a week on-site, and had to hire two boats, three motorcycles, two trolleys, and a team of six people. We mapped the island out, divided it up, and did a kind of exploration, almost like an archaeological dig. After that, the trolleys were transported to Pennsylvania, because I have a studio there and a big barn. I catalogued all of the objects we found, making grids and photographs of them, in the barn.
Around the same time, I was working on a project for Pier 40 in Manhattan, which is the field where I play soccer with my team. At some point, I also started to throw my boomerangs there, usually when it’s empty at lunchtime or very early in the morning. Being alone in the field, searching for my boomerangs, I noticed all these little objects in the Astroturf, and I collected one or two because I found them interesting. I took them to my house and made macrophotographs of them. I decided to assemble a big collection of all the objects that I found on Pier 40—pieces of clothing or buttons or cleats, or other sports-related stuff. The Astroturf is a big carpet.
There are resonances between these two projects, and I found that using photography and setting up a grid seemed the best way to capture their echoes. The grid is useful in terms of quantifying accumulation. But as you know, you can cluster the world in so many ways. I decided to do so taxonomically, just to have this platform with all the objects on display grouped first by type then by color then by size. Obviously the idea of the boomerang as a cycle, as an elliptical and circular shape, is important to me, too. Circularity, movement, dynamics, symmetry, asymmetry, and awareness of the wind, landscape conditions: It’s all there in my work.
As for “asterisms,” I landed on this word after thinking about the grid and the constellation. When you put together a group of objects, regardless of their origin, you form a constellation: a group of associations that somehow belong to you. On the other hand, the landscape is always there. And when you start to look carefully, you begin to see all these little particles or encounters in the sand or turf. They become a little bit like stars. You start to see one star, and then another, and then you start to look for these stars and try to read the sky or the landscape. You make a grid in your mind in relation to the sky; that is your asterism. I think also it’s a technical term in astronomy, but it’s a good name for the way these objects are found, displayed, and how they relate to one another, across the two projects.
These are the asterisms I made from two recent explorations: one from a place a few blocks from my house, and the other one from a very remote area, very far away. But you can find asterisms everywhere. Right?