Gabriel Orozco

The gallery was transformed into a sort of marketplace: On metal trestles topped by worn planks, terra cotta objects were arrayed in fairly large quantity. Of various shapes—long cylinders, balls, circles, cakes, and crowns—they at times evoked containers, loaves of bread, animals, or human limbs; their color, in turn, was that of wood, dough, or skin. The evocative and troubling power of these objects was lodged precisely in their fundamental ambiguity, reinforced by the forms’ metamorphoses into projected shadows. The unnameable objects bore the stories of their making legible on their surfaces: movements of pressure, twisting, or stretching; imprints left by the artist’s hands or other bodies; cracks; areas blackened by flames in the firing. From this series of processes, in the exchange between the body and the material, a shape is born, always unique and always brought into question—the inventory on display only pointing up the infiniteness of the shapes’ possible variations.

Photographs taken in Mali and hung on the walls around the tables also had earth and form as their principal subject: paths marked with stones, terraced fields, adobe houses climbing a rocky peak, a crevice in the shape of lips or of a seashell, rudimentary cemeteries, sets of pottery half buried in sand. Echoing the terra cotta objects (through color as well as through some of the depicted shapes), the photographs present variations on the more or less ephemeral signs left by human passage over or sometimes into the earth: from the lines traced on the landscape by walkers following sure and known paths, traces so quickly erased by the wind, to the small mounds of earth signaling the final resting place of bodies, now motionless and lifeless, and soon reduced to dust. Still, man is only present through this shaping of the earth, this symbolic marking of space; and the landscapes photographed find themselves discreetly inhabited as a result, while the various traces become vehicles of meaning. Throughout the installation, and in spite of the fact that human presence was only restored by the visitor, it was a question of symbolic exchanges, reinforced by the evocation of a specific social context, namely, the market: exchanges between one place and another (Mali and Paris, market and gallery), between people and places (homes, cultures, tombs), and finally directly between people (markers, bits of language). For the places Orozco has photographed are studded with signs that symbolically invest the space of a shared experience; the traces of hands on the terra cotta suggest a form of communication well beyond material exchange. From the experience of the exhibition, from this commerce, a meaning emerges, to be sensed, decoded, and ultimately reconstructed, a meaning for which the terra cotta objects, contemporary tesserae offered for our observation, constitute the first or last fragments—mysterious, tangible, and fascinating.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.