PRINT Summer 1998



In his “Six Memos for the Next Millennium,” Italo Calvino dreams about a future poetry free of traditional obsessions with the human subject, a poetry about the world itself—about color and light and the infinite variety of things. Gabriel Orozco’s photographs have often reminded me of Calvino’s vision. In these images, the objects of the world—fruit, animals, human artifacts—assume a new dignity. Similarly, the artist’s recent films (he’s made five to date with a digital video camera during long strolls in New York City and Amsterdam) comprise unexpected sequences of the happenstance connections among things. Viewing one of Orozco’s films is like taking in an enormously large exhibition of his photographs—the experience can be exhausting, but it’s also strangely rewarding.

Born in 1962 in Veracruz, Mexico, the New York–based Orozco has been included in international shows ranging from the previous two Whitney Biennials to the most recent installments of Documenta and the Münster Sculpture Show. He talks with great energy not only about his art but about a great many things he finds interesting, peppering his English with phrases in Spanish. When I recently met up with Orozco in Paris, where a survey of his work is on view at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and asked him to talk with me about one of his projects, he chose to focus on the video recordings, which were recently exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Over a meal of steak tartare and raw oysters, he explained what he’s after: the liquidity of things, how one thing leads to the next. Each videotape represents what he calls a “day of awareness,” condensed but not edited. The excerpts from my conversation with Orozco are offered in the spirit of that experience.

Daniel Birnbaum


What I’m after is the liquidity of things, how one thing leads you on to the next. These films take place in very ordinary urban settings. I’m not concerned with spectacular events or frantic rhythms. The works are about concentration, intention, and paths of thought: the flow of totality in our perception, the fragmentation of the “river of phenomena,” which takes place all the time. I avoid all postproduction because I want to keep the clumsiness, insecurity, and ambiguity of the actual shooting. It’s really the awareness involved in the shooting itself that is important to me, not what one can do with images afterward. The tension between my intentions and reality itself is what drives the films. I devote a day to creating a kind of “story.” Walking down, say, Sixth Avenue, I’ll suddenly see something that intrigues me—a plastic bag, a green umbrella, an airplane tracing a line in the sky. That’s how I get started.

One can’t really see the films as entries in a diary, because they’re not at all private. I’m very conscious of the fact that they’ll be viewed by somebody else. I think about the viewer all along. The presence of the viewer makes me want to be more precise. But more important, the fact that the thoughts of the spectator are with me as I shoot the film short-circuits all ideas of privacy. There’s nothing private about the process of creation.

The metaphoric links between things are not something I plan but something that just happens. The kind of connection that intrigues me is contiguity. I move from one thing to another, and in the film they’ll be situated next to each other or happen right after one another, although there may be ten or twenty minutes between them in reality. The connections themselves are real, not metaphoric. Borges wrote somewhere that all these things that are next to each other, we call the universe. It’s this “being next to each other” that appeals to me. In the films things are related, but through proximity rather than narrative. Therefore you can begin in one place and wind up in another that doesn’t seem related to the starting point. For example, the tape I like the most, From Dog Shit to Irma Vep, traces a series of connections between two things: a piece of dog shit I saw in the street at 10:45 A.M. and this beautiful Chinese actress whose face I found on a poster at 4:45 P.M. Between these two events there’s an entire day of walking, now condensed into forty minutes of recording on a tape.

There could be some kind of resemblance between what I’m doing and John Cage’s recordings, but Cage’s work has so much to do with chance, whereas I’m really focusing on concentration and intention. The same goes for the automatic writing of Surrealism. That’s all about losing control, whereas the flow of images in my work is extremely controlled. I trace certain intentions with the camera, and then suddenly the tension between my intentions and reality becomes too great and the whole thing breaks down.

I wake up in the morning. The light has to be okay. I have breakfast and then start walking down some street until something catches my attention. That’s when the movie starts. When I begin recording something, I don’t know how long it’s going to last, maybe thirty seconds, maybe five minutes, so I improvise, watching and walking at the same time. I always hope to be able to stop filming at the right moment, not before something great happens or after my finger and future viewers get calambres of boredom. Sometimes I focus and just wait. I like the sounds in the video to connect in the same way as the images. I’m actually amazed by how “normal” my video sounds, just like real life—collapsing sounds and noises that overlap and connect without logic. I move the camera, I walk with it, I take stills, I use the zoom a lot and play with scale and distance. Sometimes I intervene in reality, like at this bar in Amsterdam, where I turned all the beer coasters upside down on a table and taped them. Sometimes I follow a dog, sometimes I follow a backpack. These are the things I normally look at when walking down the street. They wouldn’t be interesting in photographs, but perhaps they are in a movie. After a day of walking I have twenty to forty minutes’ worth of tape. I like to sit at a bar and have a beer while going through it. It’s nice to see all the fragments of a day condensed. The narrative is like a series of punctumsfocal points of attention. There’s no postproduction—it’s all left as it is: a day of awareness. I think that if I were to edit these films and try to make sense out of them, the final result would still be the same: “Las partes son el todo, el todo son las partes.