Neither Here Nor There, Toward an Artistic Practice of Intersectional Articulation
Luis Felipe Ortega’s work navigates the language of mediums to articulate the political, poetic, and social in unison. A study in both being present in the now and in being enmeshed in that which transcends the currently lived moment, his work brings viewers through a trajectory of silence and noise, time and space, while never permitting them a staid spatiotemporal location. As such, Luis Felipe Ortega’s practice might best be characterized by an alternate understanding of the English language expression “neither here nor there”. As it is typically used, this expression is another way of saying that something is unimportant. It is based on the premise that something that is not able to be located, that is neither here nor there, can be dismissed as inconsequential as it pertains to a set of outlying information. But Ortega’s work houses its audience outside of here and there in challenging, productive, and playful ways. His work is an exercise in mobility as a liberating device. It is a study in disentangling oneself from circumstance, finding oneself anew, relocating oneself in relation to other thinkers and ideas, and, finally, of existing between and amongst the fixed points.
Raw Material, a Practice to Reveal the Process of Inquiry
Luis Felipe Ortega first approached contemporary art practice as an interlocutor. Beginning in 1990 he became a frequent contributor to major Mexican newspapers, literary publications, reviews, and catalogues. When he attended the exhibition Materia Prima (Raw Material) at Michael Tracy’s studio and then Club Hípico La Sierra in 1991, Ortega was first an observer of and then cameraman for other artists. Ortega was studying at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras at the UNAM when he met art students from the ENAP (now FAD) at a series of gatherings in homes and cafés where they would discuss contemporary art at large as well as critique each other’s individual practices. For more on the artist’s recollections of his academic formation and early production, see Karla Jasso’s “Interview with Luis Felipe Ortega” in this volume. Ortega was not producing artwork as such at the time. In his reflections on these two events, he would write of the artists who would become his colleagues in the text “Installations: The Possibility to Question”:
[...] [C]onscientiously recognizing the materials and ordinary objects “at hand”, these artists make visible how their installations are constructed. They also reveal the set of arbitrary, obsessive, and capricious conditions that intervene in meaningful ways upon their relationship with objects. Further, their work engages the relationship that they as artists propose with the receptor of the works. The content and subject matter of the work (as an open possibility) inscribe themselves in the space and reflection about the various elements of the installation […].1
It was as if Ortega were stating the manifesto of his generation as well as characterizing what his own artistic production would become. Early on Ortega and his colleagues established a methodology congruent with their projects: individual production through rigorous group critique, both through discussion and writing. In the 1992 catalogue essay Desalojo (Eviction), Luis Felipe Ortega writes: “We set out, from the outset […] to reveal our processes of inquiry”.2
El cuerpo rocanrolero and Contained Filtered References
Ortega would make his first artwork with Daniel Guzmán. Ortega and Guzmán instantly connected when they first met. Together they would slamdance to Mano Negra in the Centro Histórico, learn the musical interludes to all the Sonic Youth songs, and travel to Pantitlán, the eastern metro station of Mexico City, to see The Cramps. Interested in “el cuerpo rocanrolero,” or the rock and roll body, and how it related to action art3 they used what Ortega calls “contained filtered references”4 to inform several projects together. These references form the basis for the four experimental texts Ortega and Guzmán would write together in 1991 in prose intermingling evocative lists, analytic musings, action recipes, and metaphysical questions under the name “Informe sanitario” (Health Report). Two of these four texts would be recorded on video and exhibited as actions and the other two would remain studies.
The first of the two “Informe sanitario” actions filmed the same year, Intransportable (Intransportable) depicts Ortega on a public street lying on the sidewalk against a wall. The public walks past him, the camera pans across him and the street scene. The camera eventually follows him as he takes a bit of chalk and writes calor (warmth) on the side of the wall. Ortega becomes, like Alberto Greco’s living sculptures (1958), endemic to this place as it was endemic to him: it was a bakery in his boyhood neighborhood.
The second of the two “Informe sanitario” actions is Aliméntesele con precaución (Feed Him(Self) with Care). Filmed in a domestic space in 1991, Aliméntesele depicts two men seated at a table, dressed relatively similarly. One has a plate of food, the other is fed and given drink. The action nearly literalizes a later statement by Ortega about his early collective work: “We went through a process of ‘ingestion’ to nourish ourselves with something that was not included in the menu offered by formative systems (schools, workshops, and other state-run institutions), we went out to feed ourselves in spaces outside of the state’s control (even when it was the state that was supporting us).”5 Such feeding of the self was done by discovering and then reimagining references not taught at the national art school, whose 1990s curriculum had remained unchanged since 1973. In this case, Aliméntesele invokes, rather than names, the work of Samuel Beckett. A web of human interactions so complex they almost seems plausible, it is absurdist black humor. Both of the filmed actions from “Informe sanitario” describe and pervert quotidian activities. They do so in such a way that highlights an extreme, if not abject, vulnerability inherent in the human condition. They point out how human beings are subjects, in great part, constructed by others and the actions in which they take part.
Quotidian Acts in Public and Private, Slightly Off Axis
The notion that the action constructs the individual who partakes in it would guide Luis Felipe Ortega’s work and that of his colleagues. They continued meeting to discuss their artistic production, the parameters of the Mexico City art world, as well as share, translate, and debate texts and art works from Euro- and Latin America. Together Eduardo Abaroa, Franco Aceves, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Hernán García, Fernando García Correa, Rosario García Crespo, Ulises García Ponce de León, José Miguel González-Casanova, Diego Gutiérrez, Daniel Guzmán, Damián Ortega, Luis Felipe Ortega, Sofía Táboas, and Pablo Vargas Lugo founded Temístocles 44 (1993–95). At Temístocles 44 they would create installation art in an abandoned house slated for demolition. Particularly active in Temístocles 44’s discussions and meetings at its inception as well as a number of its projects, Luis Felipe Ortega would show his work at four of the artists’ space’s in situ exhibitions: Decoración para el hogar, La calma, La lengua, and Terror en la montaña rusa.
For Temístocles 44’s first expo in 1993, Decoración para el hogar (Decoration for the Home), Luis Felipe Ortega would invoke the authors pervading his thoughts at the time: Italo Calvino and William Burroughs. Ortega was inspired by the writings of Calvino about whose work Ortega wrote on several occasions, see “Calvino y la defensa del humanismo” from 1990 reproduced here, for example. His next work in Temístocles 44, the 1993 Seis palabras a la pared (Six Words on the Wall), was a literal and figurative “writing on the wall” of Calvino’s practice vis-à-vis that of Ortega. Nightlights plugged into wall sockets illuminate vinyl wall texts that spell out the concepts—levedad (Lightness), rapidez (Quickness), exactitud (Exactitude), visibilidad (Visibility), mulitplicidad (Multiplicity), and consistencia (Consistency). These are the concepts Calvino developed for lectures on the value of literature at the millennium but can equally be understood as fundamental principals for Ortega. Placed throughout the house from the kitchen to the bathroom, Seis palabras a la pared was accompanied by Ortega’s 1993 14-minute-long film El Exterminador (The Exterminator). Filmed at Temístocles 44, in El Exterminador the artist wears a professional exterminator’s tank on his back and uses its pressurized hose to spray the room’s edges with noxious fumigating gas.6 In the film we see the artist move mindfully and diligently through the space, his action accompanied only by the noise of pressurized sprayer. El Exterminador is an invocation of William Burroughs’s and Brion Gysin’s 1960 collection of short stories called The Exterminator about an insect exterminator, a job that Burroughs once had and which the main character in Naked Lunch holds at the beginning of the story. Later that year Otras plegarias (Other Prayers) was installed in the inner courtyard/garage driveway of Temístocles 44’s exhibition space for the exhibition La calma (Lull). Otras plegarias consists of an iron playground structure and a Spanish-language copy of Truman Capote’s unfinished novel Plegarias atendidas (Answered Prayers) hanging from a rung of the structure. It is a paused vignette of leisure and discovery. These literary connections forged, Ortega’s next piece at Temístocles 44 would be more evocative and less citational.
Action Art en carne propia
Luis Felipe Ortega and Daniel Guzmán’s 10-minute 1994 video Remake was selected through an open call organized by Eduardo Abaroa with Guillermo Santamarina as curator. It was shown at the 1994 Temístocles 44 exhibition Terror en la montaña rusa (Terror on the Rollercoaster). The work would become iconic. In Remake (Remake), Luis Felipe Ortega and Daniel Guzmán coauthor vignettes performing physical exertions based in mental rubrics. Reanimating works of late 1960s and early 1970s Euro-American art actions documented in video footage that Ortega and Guzmán had not seen, the artists switch off as the vignettes’ protagonists. Making the actions, as the artists understood them from afar, each artist took turns performing a solo vignette. Pushing his body to its limit through persistence and a lack of self-consciousness, the artists alternate in shoving their own body into a corner and simulating masturbation, spurting water from his mouth, dragging the underside of his body through a bucket of freshly spilled paint, pressing his mouth and nose firmly into glass, launching himself from a corner wall repeatedly in a swaddling rhythm, and jamming his index finger high into the upper gums and gum line through his mouth. In plain clothes and unadorned spaces, the artists depict a profound sense of humor only possible through self-exposure and vulnerability. Although ten vignettes were performed in total of Remake, Ortega and Guzmán limited the video to six vignettes. Some of the additional vignettes are represented in this volume, such as the 1994 Remake Inéditas (Unpublished Remake). Much like Informe Sanitario and El Extermindador, Remake is Ortega’s means to transform a relationship with a literary text from an intellectual engagement to an affective experience lived through actions in one’s own body, both an appropriation and transposition. For further discussion of Remake, see Lucilla Meloni’s “Reanactments” and Barbara Clausen’s “Archives of Inspiration,” both in this volume. In 1994 Ortega would also exhibit in Jonge Kunst Uit Mexico, an exhibition organized by artist-curator Guillermo Santamarina in Belgium of Temístocles 44 members as well as other Mexico City based artists such as Francis Alÿs.
In 1995 Temístocles 44 would close. Ortega continued curating shows and producing work, in great part with artists he knew from the space. Ortega would participate in another installation-based group show definitive of the era, Ummagumma (Ummagumma, taken from the Pink Floyd album title) curated by recently transplanted artist-curator Guillermo Santamarina in Guadalajara. There, in subtle dialogue with the colonial-style building rented for the exhibition and in the days leading up to the exhibition’s installation, Ortega made Cédulas (Wall Labels). The idea came from Ortega’s surprise that so many artworks went untitled, missing the opportunity to name and use the power of the word. This seems particularly disadvantageous to Ortega, for whom title and work are mutually co-conceived. Overexposed Polaroids paired with texts from the book of quotations which Ortega kept, Cédulas worked parasitically off other artists’ works and was placed near the entryway to the rooms that each work occupied. The images are painterly abstractions, the phrases evocative of social mores and the circular nature of the mind-body connection.
In yet another collaboration with many of these colleagues, that year, Ortega showed work at and reviewed the exposition Liga de injusticia (League of Injustice) at La Panadería. La Panadería was an artists’ space that initially absorbed some of Temístocles 44’s artists and momentum. In his text, Ortega comments upon how both museums and alternative spaces in Mexico “walk with the same speediness toward something that they don’t know what it is”.7
Balance in the Field of Action
While Ortega remained critical of the production in the field of art, he did not cease to be a producer. During 1995 and 1996, Ortega created the book project (Des)equilibrio natural (Natural (Im)Balance) which included his work and that of four artists—Damián Ortega, Daniel Guzmán, Jonathan Hernández, and Galia Ebenschutz. Ortega made the money to produce the book mockup by selling an artwork to Haydeé Rovirosa, who suggested that Ortega talk to Robert Punkenhofer, founder of the gallery Art&Idea opened in 1995. While Punkenhofer was unable to fund the book publication, and it would go unpublished, he asked to see Ortega’s work and then invited him to hold his first solo show at the gallery. The exhibition would be titled Campo de Acción (Field of Action) and speak to Ortega’s interest in using the entirety of the exhibition space as an experiential frame, incorporating museographic elements specific to the installation in the space. Campo de Acción features videos, objects, and photographs. Three photographs from the 1995–97 series Cuerpos dociles (Macetones) (The Docile Bodies (Planters)) shown in the exhibition exemplify how Ortega engages and often gently mutates the iconography and choreography of daily life. In Cuerpos dociles (Macetones), Ortega sustains his body against two planters in a public park by pushing against them while prostrate. His body an object and not the performance, the subsequent shots explore the means of display. In the second photograph his head, feet, and hands push against the planters while the ground supports his abdomen. In the third, he faces skyward exercising only the force necessary to uphold legs and upper arms. In these variations on suspension, the body is a malleable material inhabiting negative space while taking a repertoire of shapes. A formal study in the laws of physics, the work projects the ways a body can sustain itself in relation to two fixed objects that transcribe them into the experiential. In taking on unfamiliar bodily postures, Cuerpos dociles (Macetones) evokes feeling the gravitational force of one’s own weight. Ortega would reconnect with this imagery in his 2009 Study for Ajusco (not illustrated here) through the body of another, as well as in the 2012 Efectos de peso y gravedad (discussed later on in this essay). For further discussion of the exhibition Campo de Acción and the works in it, see Eduardo Abaroa’s “Some Notes on the Work of LFO” and Magali Arriola’s “Field of Action”, both in this volume.
When Campo de Acción closed, Punkenhofer asked Ortega to curate a show at Art&Idea. That same year Ortega opened Tres espacios, an exhibition reflecting upon the relationship between the public, personal, and intimate. Ortega became “without doubt, […] the most requested artist-curator”8 at Art&Idea. Around Christmas time in 1997, Ortega, many former Temístocles 44 members, and other artists participated in the exhibition Shopping. Based on his own experiences curating, writing catalogue essays, and exhibiting work, Ortega penned “Twenty Fragments to Not Drown in the Totality: Why Curate?”9 The text is a critical appraisal of curatorial work at large as well as an enumeration of the challenges particular to Mexico. In 1999 Ortega opened (Des)integración Contínua (Continuous (Dis)integration) at Art&Idea, an exhibition focusing on artists’ methods of integration into a specific space. Ortega would continue to collaborate with Art&Idea, showing at their New York exhibition space in his 2001 solo show Nothing Else and contributing his 2006 Canoa photographic print to the gallery’s special edition series.
Change of Location: Philosophy and Literature as Travel Companions
Around this time Ortega began several long-term projects intervening upon images of the landscape and refuges from them. The first was the 1998–99 photographic series Seis ensayos... a propósito de Calvino (Six Essays… Regarding Calvino) which consists of a number of Ortega’s photographs to which he applies paint in ways that pull the images into and out of the imaginary. Supported by a FONCA Jóvenes Creadores grant, Seis ensayos... would, like many of such projects by Ortega, exist as a work fluid in its medium, taking form as discrete photographs, vignettes of photographs, as well as a 1999 book consisting of photographs, notes, and texts from various sources. It would also be the bulk of the 2000 exhibition Yo, Nosotros at the Centro de la Imagen. Ortega’s use of these references in these and other works are evocations rather than outright calls to origins. For further discussion of Luis Felipe Ortega’s relationship with appropriation and citation, see Abraham Cruzvillegas’ “Singular Plural” in this volume.
Two long-term photography-based projects, the 1999–2000 Mar del Norte and the 2001–14 Mirando a través de algo que parece uno mismo (Looking Through Something that Appears to Be Oneself), would make cities as important a reference as thinkers. Mar del Norte is a series of seven 28x36 centimeter prints of the seaside in muted gray and light blue. Mirando a través consists of eighty-eight 12.7x17.78-centimeter (5x7-inch) prints of coastal scenes intervened upon with acrylic paint in lyrical interventions from sweeps of color to white horizon lines. With the 2012 Doble exposición (expandida) (Double Exposure (Expanded)), Ortega would source pages from a Peter Fischli and David Weiss book featuring close-ups of flowers and graphically incise ordered rectangles of psychedelic color saturations into them. For further discussion of Doble exposición (expandida), see Patricia Martín’s “When I Found Out...” and Cauê Alves’ “Fusion of Traditions”, both in this volume.
Ortega’s critical projects would continue to take on a playful character as exemplified by his ‘zine publications of this period. In 1994 Ortega and Temístocles 44 collaborators Eduardo Abaroa, Damián Ortega (no relation), and Pablo Vargas Lugo would found the ‘zine Alegría (Happiness). Alegría was made of black-and-white photocopies on standard-size paper and consisted of Temístocles 44 artists’ writings about each other’s work, reproduced manifestos and essays by artists from abroad. Alegría recounted local histories and international art events in six loosely thematic and illustrated issues given away at art openings. In addition to serving on the editorial board, as well as lecturing and writing on contemporary art elsewhere, Luis Felipe Ortega contributed reflections on installation art, the work of other artists in Temístocles 44, an essay on Daniel Guzmán’s drawing series, and a critique of a video exhibition to Alegría. In 1995 or 1996 Guzmán and Ortega would make one issue of Khurti (not illustrated here), a playful homage to Kurt Cobain after his 1994 death. Khurti would not be distributed. Three years after the dissolution of Temístocles 44, Luis Felipe Ortega would join with former Temístocles 44 participants Daniel Guzmán, Gabriel Kuri, and Damián Ortega to create Casper: Revista de título mutable (Casper: Magazine with A Changeable Name), serving as co-editor and collaborator. Casper began and ended on International Workers’ Day, with its first release May 1, 1998 and its last May 1, 1999. Like its cartoon namesake, Casper was a friendly ghost of young things passed too soon but thankfully returned to haunt the present. It brought back to life images and texts by artists and thinkers from both the international and local ambit. In resurrecting texts and images, Casper explored the tension of the culture of copying (both literal photocopying and reproduction of found writing) inherent in both the ‘zine and art culture. Casper, like the art school tradition, was based in copying the works of the great masters. More so, the artists of Casper took this notion of copy into that of plagio (plagiarism), extolling the illegal reproduction of materials and thus questioning who has the right to what materials and at what cost. The former Temístocles 44 artists paired these appropriated works with drawings, stickers, lithographs, and posters. Through a haunted number of issues—thirteen—Casper both reproduced what already existed and reinvented itself through each new issue with a different theme. In its final issue in 1998, the last pages titled “Caspermanía!” display an array of products from t-shirts for dwarves to lighters to ghost-shaped paperweights, which were sold, among other venues, at Casper’s auction and closing party held at Art&Idea.10
In 1999 the newly forming galería kurimanzutto would invite Luis Felipe Ortega and many ex-Temístocles 44 artists to be represented by them. On August 21, 1999, galería kurimanzutto and its artists brought, assembled, and performed their works in two rented stands of the Medellín market in the upper-middle-class neighborhood of La Roma in Mexico City. Artists working in installation, they created works that put their artistic production in, and on, the market where it was displayed. Luis Felipe Ortega’s contributions were iterations of things in the market altered in consequential ways. Ortega hired a marimba group, the traditional accompaniment to the opening of a market stall, to play music. He and Casper’s other creators put the ‘zine up for sale on the market stands. For the event Ortega created Sin Título (maqueta) (Untitled (Model)), a sculptural work consisting of block-like shapes evocative of artisanal cheese or soap that might be sold in the market (not illustrated in the present volume). When examined closely, the blocks reveal themselves to be pumice stones. The work playfully mimics the goods that would be typically sold there while in fact alluding to the disparate scale of humankind versus nature, as Ortega’s placement of a small lead figurine in front of them make them appear to be a massive rock formation. In a further disjunctive mimesis of the market, Ortega offers up cans that he labeled with the stickers “agua” (water) and “aire” (air). More than inversing Piero Manzoni’s canning of Merde d’ artiste (Artist’s Shit), by putting water and air up for sale, the piece evokes the poetic and political. Air quality in Mexico City was among the worst in the world during the 1980s and 1990s with for-pay fresh-air cabins installed throughout the city. Water was a site of economic and social inequality exemplified by battles between el pueblo and corporations as many Latin American governments sold national resources to private corporations.
After this market exhibition, Luis Felipe Ortega would participate in other kurimanzutto shows, such as the 1999 Sala de artista (not illustrated in the present volume) when he and other artists loaned their living-room furniture to the gallery’s party in a carpet shop as the exhibition. For more on Luis Felipe Ortega’s work and living space, see Daniel Montero’s “Luis Felipe Ortega’s House-Studio” in this volume. Ortega and other artists represented by galería kurimanzutto also showed their work at the Parisian gallery Chantal Crousel in 2000, not in the gallery’s exhibition space but in the gallery’s offices, kitchen, fire escape, and other such utility and work areas. A practiced exhibitor in unconventional spaces, Ortega created intimate scenes that played upon the semi-rustic early nineteenth-century construction. Miniature figurines on slight shelves propped up against the brick walls of the service staircase or over laundry soap in a service closet, they nonetheless pay tribute to ideas of philosophers and notions of scale, such as the 2000 Diez formas de olividar a Gilles Deleuze featuring nine piles of stones dwarfing a lead figurine.
Displacements in Space and Time
With the support of galeria kurimanzutto, Ortega would create the 2002 video Km 96. Filmed “without a fixed point,” as the artist “took [his] car and went,”11 he captured the footage after pulling his car over to the side of the road to rest. There he experienced an electric storm in the lowland jungle of Campeche, Mexico. A moody, staccato black-and-white one-hour video, it contrasts flashes of light illuminating the night sky with the relative tranquility of nocturnal insect and animal noises. The sound was painstakingly reworked in collaboration with Cristan Manzutto as they copied each of the sounds in the original audio by recording each of them individually. Later the idea of “transferring” the event to a context where it would normally be impossible to see came to him: Km 96 was projected inside a trailer in a pleasant walking district of Mexico City called the Condesa, its content and its screening evoking very different time-spaces.12
Upon the exhibition’s conclusion, Ortega went to New York to begin a residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program. Through it, in 2002 he created the exhibition Something Happens, Nothing. Arranged around the tension of thinking about when many things occur but nothing happens, Ortega showed a number of videos made that year including the five-minute Zócalo (Zocalo) and the four-minute Times Square (both not illustrated here) which soundlessly depict the rhythm of the social and psychological pace of certain modes of being as expressed in the shoes of those in Mexico City’s tourist square and those in Manhattan’s Wall Street. Continuing to make funny and palpable the tension in scale through figurines, he also showed the 2002 Uno mismo con uno mismo (Oneself with Oneself). In it, a figurine of a person lays down, looking into the cube that engulfs his head, a nod to the corporeal dimensions of conceptual art. Similar to Cildo Meireles’s 1969–70 Southern Cross, a 1x1-centimeter cube made of two species of wood speaking of mestizaje and racial divide, Ortega’s 2002 NY lapiz (NY Pencil) is an economy of means. Ortega’s work similarly uses a humble piece of wood, a pencil sharpened at both ends, as a lighting rod of connectivity. NY lapiz evokes intellectual production and discourse-linking thinkers. He depicts the pencil along with the sharpening shavings from it, foretelling his interest in the residual accumulations that would mark later works.
How I See My Life in That of Another, or La Universidad Desconocida de la vida13
NY lapiz also alludes to Ortega’s long-standing relationship with pedagogy, of which, as well as philosophy, he was a student. Ortega brought the then closed ethos of knowledge-sharing from Temístocles 44 to his teaching, tutoring and mentorships at the National School of Arts (UNAM), the National School of Painting, Sculpture, and Engraving “La Esmeralda” (INBA), FONCA Young Artists Program, Centro de la Imagen, CaSa in Oaxaca, and SOMA. In 2011, Ortega brought together, in published form, his own newspaper and article clippings from the span of his career in Informe para una academia (Report to an Academy).14 Informe is a nearly absurdist anthropology roping in articles on the nature of art, natural disasters, neomodernidad, plane crash black boxes, the death penalty, as well as a literary manifesto for the new social novel. As much as it is a recompilation of texts that interest Ortega, Informe testifies to his place in that world, including some of his own writings, such as early 1990s pieces about Joseph Beuys and William Burroughs. Composed of Sunday cultural supplements in no particular order, it includes writings by, interviews with, write ups of, and posthumous homages to artists and philosophers Antonin Artaud, John Cage, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Graham Greene, Pier Paulo Pasolini, Ingmar Bergman, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jean Genet, Jorge Luis Borges, Susan Sontag, Jacques Derrida, Paul Bowles, Roberto Bolaño, and Guy Debord, to name just a few. It is a patently incomplete and subjective source. Reflecting Ortega’s interest in differences of quality and access, and serving as a visual homologue to the ways that forms of knowledge are filtered and appropriated, bits of the pages are missing and the defects of the photocopier are left visible. The work in his oeuvre that might most resemble a self-portrait, it is also a testament to Ortega’s use of and investment in the archive as well as his formation through it. Both in Ortega’s own archive and that of others, the archive is a means of forging relationships, testified to by the fact that he would write for the very publications that he collected. In a recently delivered talk, Ortega envisions a process of art making which passes through artistic mediums and even distinct artists, one in which individual works have collective relationships and meanings. Ortega’s vision not only posits “another way of being with others” but also pushes toward the transcendence of the historical moment much in the way that teaching does.15
Map of the World
In 2003 Ortega created the 55-minute video Globe, documented here through a photograph of the model. A synthesis of reflections on pedagogy, places, and thinkers, it is a dialogue with artist and theorist Michelangelo Pistoletto, who worked with the principals of Arte Povera and happenings. Ortega invokes Pistoletto’s 1966–68 series of Sfera di Giornali (Mappamondo) (Ball of Newspapers (Globe)) in which Pistoletto turned the artwork, the sphere made of newspapers, into an action. For approximately two years the sphere accompanied Pistoletto in his daily life as he went for a drive or walked to his gallery. Pistoletto also captured some of these “passeggio” or walks, on video, including a 1967 instance in which a group of people guides the sphere during the nighttime. In Ortega’s video, the artist dressed in plain clothes rolls the massive ball tinged silver from the gray of papier-mâché made of recycled paper and then shellacked, through the city streets and on the side of the road, crossing the street, going up stairs, and crossing a bridge during a journey lasting part of a day.
At this time Ortega also began producing a series of large-scale installation works similarly created in reference to the human scale. The 2004 Ocupación (Occupation) completes with its named mission: the visual absorption of a 10x10-square-meter space at the Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros. Mathematics visualized and made dimensional, it is composed of intricate networks of cotton thread suspended from twelve anchoring sites that uphold black rubber balls. The lines of thread cross but do not touch. While the work is static, with the exception of the possible falling of the balls, it records movement. The lines are based upon the way that the bodies of the artist and his students moved within the space. After many equations were tried out via weavings of the cotton thread, the viewer is presented with the elegant solution to the equation. It is a study in materials and their corporeal relational ties which, when experienced in person, articulates shadow and line as one moves through the space.
Also a study in weight and levity, the 2006 in situ installation Before the Horizon at Maison d’Art Actuel des Chartreux, Brussels, is built of cotton string suspended from anchoring hooks installed on walls. The strings emerge from the walls at regular intervals with only one gap left permitting the viewer to enter the space. The cotton thread converges in the center of the space where it wraps around and suspends a 12-kilogram chunk of limestone. The limestone suspended at eyelevel is both triumphant and otherworldly in its buoyancy, while simultaneously nascent and thus confined. It is swaddled by its own conditions of spatial possibility—a horizon that has not yet come to be.
An Invitation to the Horizon
In slightly later filmic works, such as the eight-minute 2004 video The Shadow Line and the 2007 Catinga, Ortega begins to use the horizon as a constant. The Shadow Line charts the different horizon lines (not necessarily the horizon) of rivers, houses, and marshlands that the artist encountered during one day in the Amazons. Like other works at this time, Catinga, filmed in northern Mexico, is depicted through a number of camera movements that allude to the artist’s increasingly affective relationship with a place. Spending periods of time in dialogue with a place, be they installation spaces, terrains of wilderness, or industrialized spaces, is primordial to the artist’s working method. Just as much as Ortega opens up terrains, he finds elements that demarcate them. His abiding interest in maps manifests itself in philosophical questioning of the relationship between space and place, such as the 2006 Mapa (Presencia) (Map (Presence)) illustrated here, as well as the 2008 series Geometría y Paisaje (Geometry and Landscape). Geometría envisions cartographic practice not as delimiting spaces but rather as imagining new territories. The works in this series employ a restrained use of primary colors and unleash the expressive potentialities of graphite, thereby begetting notions of the rearrangement of global systems.
Like Ortega’s long-term photographic projects, his filmwork also examines the landscape of the imaginary, as transposed upon lived places. Held at Labratorio Arte Alameda, Ortega’s 2010 exhibition Así es, ahora es a h o r a (So It Is, Now Is Now) is exemplary of how such a durational engagement enables Ortega and his work to envision places anew. For a discussion of the exhibition as well as the films Solar, Mapuche, and Xiriah, see Michel Blancsubé’s “Strands” and Cuahutémoc Medina’s “Time of Glass and Snow” in this volume. For a discussion of the experiential qualities of installation Túnel in this exhibition, see Ana María Martinez de la Escalera’s “Conversation with Luis Felipe Ortega” in the present volume.
Weight and Gravity and Other Elements of the Earthly Bounds Observed in Silence
In a body of Luis Felipe Ortega’s work, he summons nature with the cleanliness of lines and shapes through implements of the seascape. In the 2009 Desayuno para Dino Campana (Breakfast for Dino Campana), Ortega hangs elongated brass sinkers, a material used for fishing, from the ceiling. He places one sinker directly above a plastic miniature Alphorn figurine, which stands on a wooden table with a spiral of smoothed river rocks surrounding him. Campana, the Italian poet maudit after whom the piece is named, is depicted in an open labyrinth, perhaps an invocation of his being sent to Latin America after exhausting his family with bouts of mental illness.
In another instance of nautical themes, to show at a respective for Francis Älys in Brussels, Ortega exhibited the 2003 Globe and the 2010 Péndulos (Pendulums) at Ancienne école des vetérinaires. Both Globe and Péndulos connect with Alÿs’s use of public life and surveillance. While Globe invokes Pistoletto’s sphere walks, which would (as documentation shows) sometimes be followed by the police, Péndulos pairs old-world architecture with elegant cylindrical interruptions that assert their literal weight. Péndulos is composed of sinkers, cotton string, and CCTV broadcasting used to show the exhibition space which was closed for remodeling. The sea, its contingencies, the elegance of weights and lines—these would be further considered through another sculptural project, Atarrayas (Fish Nets). Ortega studied the netting— light, transparent yet with enough weight to attain volume—through photography. Having analyzed but not altered its material properties, he showed it in the 2010 gallery installation and then in 2012 against a white wall for the exhibition Diálogos contemporáneos (not illustrated in the present volume).
Taking these concerns with weight from elements of the sea, Ortega transposed them into ways to understand first materiality and space and then gravity and the body differently. His 2010 Horizonte invertido (Inverted Horizon) transforms a room into a shadow space by completely covering it in graphite, save one line traversing the room. See Alexis Salas’s “Inverted Horizon” in this volume for a discussion of the eponymous work. His 2013 Sobre la base (About or On the Base) would extend the project of Horizonte invertido to a discrete space, similarly covering a cube in graphite. Working with Galerie Saint Phalle in Mexico City, Ortega’s 2012 exhibition included several photographs from the 2012 series Efectos de peso y gravedad (Effects of Weight and Gravity). Efectos transform the unclothed female body into landscape which cohabitates with the rock as, through a number of poses, the woman in the photograph sustains its weight. More than turning the human body into a landscape, the 2012 Doppler Shift uses it as a means of illustrating sound. Doppler Shift consists of two 30-minute videos projected in the gallery along with an audio system that distributes different bits of sound throughout the space. The videos consist of a man tuning a piano and a naked woman who moves with poles that she controls while the tuning of the piano continues, linking distinct audio and video elements. The 2012 Ruido Blanco (White Noise) suspends, from a piano cord, an industrially manufactured tile upon which a volcanic stone and river rock sit. They hover above a mirror, suspended, thus making heavy, clumsy rocks float; a poetic challenge with fragility at its center. Similarly, the 2014 De una conversación—posible—entre Alighiero e Boetti y Lygia Pape (From a—Possible—Conversation between Alighiero e Boetti and Lygia Pape) is made of a river stone on the edge of a shelf of glass suspended by copper wire attached at an angle from the corners of the wall. A still construction that nonetheless bespeaks dynamism, it engages in the game of equilibrium. Silence and light become protagonists as the illumination transverses the metal and the glass responds in kind, signaling its presence yet leaving space for the presence of others as well. For a discussion of the notion of silence in relation to Ortega’s works, as well as his exhibition anotaciones para una inclusión del silencio (annotations for the inclusion of silence) at Marso Gallery, see Tatiana Cuevas’ “Untitled” in the present volume.
Tracing and Reflecting: Waterways and Nation-State Trajectories
Ortega’s contemplations of the force and energy of nature now consider its literal and figurative channeling. Currently Luis Felipe Ortega is preparing work to be shown at the Mexican Pavilion during the 2015 56th Venice Biennale in Italy. The project is a collaboration with artist Tania Candiani curated by Karla Jasso. The work, Possessing Nature, will consist of a film and sculpture. Inspired, in part, by Ortega’s re-reading of poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, it is a critical reaction to place and to history. The footage was shot in Mexico City, as well as during several trips to Venice, with artist Rafael Ortega and a professional film crew. It documents the areas surrounding both cities as well as their drainage exit systems. Based in the reflection that both Mexico City and Venice are amphibian cities, it traces the places where the Mexican Pavilion has been housed in the twenty-first century, examining the relationship between architecture and waterways. A near forensic analysis of nation-states, its sculptural form is generated from the route between the various sites of the Mexican Pavilion in Venice. The sculpture is a scale model of the route turned labyrinth; the viewer can see it from the ground or ascend the platform and gaze down upon it. The video depicts travel on and through both cities’ waterways. Venice’s water will run through the massive raw steel sculpture into a reflecting pool that serves as a projection screen. On this screen, the visitor can see the cities’ past and present by gazing into the water in what seems a mystical act of divination but is also a critical act of historical analysis.
Being Neither Here Nor There
Luis Felipe Ortega’s work moves fluidly in the poetic and the political, fixed in neither, agile in both. In a terrain characterized by a lack of fixity, his work is constituted by continuous critical evaluation of oneself and the world that results in a constant re-mapping of both. In continuous exchange with thinkers, places, publics, and viewers, by trafficking in the supposedly irrelevant and immaterial of “neither here nor there”, his work mines this productive space of being, literally and figuratively, beside the point. Being beside it, he can get at what it is.
1 In the original, “[…] [c]onsequentes en el re-conocimiento de los materiales y objetos ordinarios que se tiene “a la mano”, estos artistas han dejado ver en la construcción de sus instalaciones un conjunto de condiciones- arbitrarias, obsesivas, caprichosas- que intervienen a manera de significados en su relación con los objetos, con el lugar donde se realizan las otras y la misma relación que el artista propone con el receptor de estas. El contenido y la temática de la obra (como posibilidad abierta), se inscribe en un involucramiento con el espacio y la reflexión entorno a los diversos elementos que componen la instalación […].” Luis Felipe Ortega, “Instalaciones: La posibilidad de interrogar”, unpublished, July 1991, Luis Felipe Ortega Archive.
2 Luis Felipe Ortega, “Desalojo” in Abraham Cruzvillegas and Pablo Vargas-Lugo, Desalojo, Mexico City, Galeria Arte Contemporáneo, 1992, unpaginated.
3 Alexis Salas, “Luis Felipe Ortega”, interview via Skype, May 20, 2014.
4 In the original conversation in Spanish, the phrase was stated as “referencias contenidas filtradas”. Ibid.
5 Luis Felipe Ortega (Alexis Salas, translator), “La calle, el estudio, los otros: uno mismo y algo sobre el presente (The Street, the Studio, the Others: Oneself and Something About the Present)”, at “Mexico Moving Forward” Conference, Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies , UCSD, La Jolla, CA, 2014. In the original: “Hicimos un proceso de ‘ingesta’ para alimentarnos de aquello que no estaba en el menú de los sistemas formativos (escuelas, talleres, espacios de difusión), salimos a alimentarnos en zonas fuera de control del Estado (incluso cuando el Estado nos estaba patrocinando).”
6 The stills reproduced here represent the action as it was performed on an occasion separate from the occasion on which it was filmed, as evidenced by the distinct wall treatments (blue paint in the film, floral wallpaper in the photographs) in the documentation. The action was repeated twice as its first filming was not successful.
7 Luis Felipe Ortega, “La liga de la injusticia: las masas en la panadería”, 1995, Luis Felipe Ortega Archive. In the original: “Los museos y los espacios alternativos caminan ahora con la misma velocidad, con la misma prisa hacia algo que no saben qué es.”
8 Robert Punkenhofer, Art&Idea, Ostfildern, Germany, Hatje Cantz / New York, D.A.P., 2007, p. 92.
9 Luis Felipe Ortega, “Veinte fragmentos para no ahogarse en la totalidad: ¿Curar para qué?”, unpublished, c. 1998, Luis Felipe Ortega Archive.
10 Casper would be resurrected another three times. In February 1999, Art&Idea was invited to the Artist’s Projects section of the ARCO art fair and the gallery in turn invited Damián Ortega, who created a Casper stand. When galería kurimanzutto was invited to the 2002 Gwangju Bienal, they invited the spirit of Casper, creating an installation and project staffed by gallerist Jose Kuri and Damian Ortega to extra legally reproduce the Gwangju Bienal’s catalogue. In 2004, the makers of Casper started a bonus issue, which remains unfinished.
11 E-mail correspondence between the author and the artist, March 24, 2015. In the original: “Yo comenzaba a salir a filmar sin tener precisamente un punto fijo, tomaba mi coche y me iba.”
12 Ibid. In the original “trasladar”.
13 This title borrows from that of Roberto Bolaño’s 2007 book of poetry, La Universidad Desconocida, with which Ortega is familiar.
14 Luis Felipe Ortega, Informe para una academia, Seminario de Investigación sobre la Universidad Desconocida - Departamento de Humanidades, Mexico City, LAST, Desiré Saint Phalle, 2011.
15 Luis Felipe Ortega, “La calle, el estudio, los otros: uno mismo y algo sobre el presente”, op. cit. In the original: “otra manera de estar con los otros”.