Ortega breaks down at the ICA, artistically that is

by Beacon Staff • September 16, 2009

Texture and dimension are often toyed with in modern and contemporary art. Some artists strive for flatness, like contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, who invented the postmodern movement called "Superflat," inspired by the ultra-levelness of anime and Japanese print characters.

Others play with 3D effects, like Jackson Pollock, who often placed nails, cigarette butts, keys, and paintbrushes in his paintings to give them a certain grain. Damiaacute;n Ortega's rendering of dimension, however, takes his audiences to a whole new point of perspective.

Ortega's exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art called "Do it Yourself" is a display of visual synecdoche, or how a part relates to a whole. Ortega takes objects and pulls them apart with child-like curiosity. Some of his pieces in the exhibit look as though a very strong and sturdy object has combusted and frozen in the air, most notably vehicles, motor cars, and tool boxes. They are disassembled piece by piece, only to be reassembled overhead hanging by wires.

In one of his most notable pieces titled "Cosmic Thing," an old silver Volkswagen Beetle hovers in the air, the doors separated from the roof, the seat and steering wheel lowered and suspended under the body of the car and the wheels layered; inner hubcap, to hubcap, to rim, to rubber. The work looks as though it belongs in a mechanic's garage, stripped apart to be examined and inspected.

Even though Ortega breaks his objects down to the most minute detail, he does it in a cohesive way, never completely disassociating entirely from the object.

Even though all of the mechanisms making up the car are disconected, viewers can still see very clearly it is a car. His work is reminiscent of what cubist painters like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque strived for-an abstraction of their subject without the loss of the object.

While Ortega is known for his giant hanging sculptures and enormous play on architectural space, some of his pieces in the exhibit function on a smaller scale as well. In his work "Tortillas Construction

Module," he conveys a sense of whimsy when a small bag of round tortilla chips are arranged to make a very serious looking sculpture. It looks like something one might find in a scientist's lab representing the construction of DNA or atom particles.

Another smaller piece titled "Pico Cansado," or "Tired Pickaxe," keeps that same sense of quirkiness.

In it, a pickaxe is planted in the ground, and its handle is given a spinal quality with grooves that appear to be vertebrae.

The pickaxe's handle is curved and heavy looking, so the object appears to be dragging itself across the floor after a hard day's work.

Whether it appears as though it should be in a scientist's lab, a doctor's office, or a mechanic's garage, Ortega's work displays the human desire to examine. He takes our world of objects and tinkers with it, managing to look at things in a way rarely seen before. He also implements a contrast between a wacky sense of humor with contrived and crafted structures and designs.

Ortega's title, "Do it Yourself," is a fitting one, because instead of going to the doctor, reading about the scientist, or dropping your car off at the garage, the audience becomes the examiners.