A dense build-up of deep silver grey graphite strokes in a multitude of directions covers the walls of a square space. Illuminated by the faint natural light of the door opening and the faint electrical light provided by a rectangular lamp hung tight to the ceiling, dim radiance highlights the graphite. A project that Ortega began planning through a series of one by one meter drawings approximately two years ago, his process was guided by a formal interest in geometric forms whose complexities he hoped to investigate through a material. Luis Felipe Ortega’s Horizonte invertido (Inverted Horizon) results in the transformation of a material -- graphite -- from equipment (which creates conventions through a limited set of intended functions) into materiality (which breaks conventions through its exploration of potentialities).
Horizonte invertido is an installation. It is a sculpture. It is a drawing. It is a light piece. In being all these simultaneously, it allows all these mediums/techniques to transcend themselves and becomes space. Forged through an engagement, if not battle, with time and material, it was created through a largely silent process of concentration during which nothing more than the sound of the five to seven layers of graphite being applied to the walls could be heard. The process of drawing lasted six days, taking ten to eleven hours per day, and the labor of six people. Using their chests as the axis point and with both arms stretched outward, twelve hands moved the pencils across the walls in order to apply the graphite.
Their application of the material, first with hard graphite pencils and then softer ones, results in graphite lines stretching in many directions at once. It is an exercise in drawing that both frees it -- this is a liberation of the fingers, the wrist, the elbow, even the shoulder, this is drawing made with a whole and engaged body -- and violates it -- it is illusive, non-descriptive, refuses to speak, silencing itself through strokes that build upon each another. The concentration and self- discipline inherent in various days of labour is almost felt, producing a heady sexuality, simultaneously evoking thoughts of (conceptual) drawing projects of the 1960s and 1970s as well as their implication of viewers, their actions, their bodies, and the gallery space. But thoughts of the gallery space as such soon evolve to thoughts of it as an atmospheric space- the enormous energy and vibrancy of the line drawing opaque thoughts of institutions and institutionality. What could appear an act of compulsion, obsession, is simply an act of completeness, that at the same time demonstrates its incompleteness in that it does not cover the entirety of the surface. The stark contrast between the spaces in which the graphite is present and absent put the materiality of the graphite in its chaotic, transcendent, illusive presence, at the forefront of the experience. Its accumulations, although composed of lines, although based in geometry, often feel round, radiating, like glowing orbs, evoking celestial bodies and the solitude of gazing at the sky. Its lines denser, more concentrated, in the middle of the wall, it is there that they are intersected by one meticulous white line (made, ostensibly, by a strip of masking tape placed mid-wall and then removed after the graphite build up was completed).
This pure white line performs a number of functions, the most ocular of which is to extend the space and to play in high contrast to the deep greys, sometimes near blacks, of the graphite. These visual effects evoke themes consistently of interest to Ortega. Like Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, one of the artist’s favorite books, Horizonte Invertido is a meditation on the place of balance. The essay on aesthetics discusses the shadow space, a fundament of Japanese architecture which has no clear utility yet is an essential element of the Japanese residence, as the ideal space as it has neither too much light nor darkness. Ortega leads viewers to such a space, allowing them to experience a luminosity that nonetheless questions the Western equation of light with truth and knowledge and, instead, provides a space of meditation.
While I was visiting Horizonte Invertido, a woman entered the space and said, “there is nothing here, is there?” At the time, I pointed out the graphite in an attempt to correct her. But perhaps it was she who could correct me, as the graphite, ultimately, is a sort of Japanese shadow space, a materiality that permits nothingness, that allows for contemplation and reprise, that provides a platform to discover something, to perceive anew.