The Pick - The off-kilter eye of the artist

January 20, 2011

Gabriel Orozco

Tate Britain, London, until 25 April

When Gabriel Orozco was a child, he thought that squashing a car might make it more aerodynamic and fast-moving. In 1993, he got a chance to put his theory into practice, when he found an old Citroën DS - a design classic that was one of the iconic images of post-war France - in a Paris scrapyard.

He bought the car, cut it in three, removed the central section and glued it together again. The result is a constricted one-seater, perfectly designed for speed but missing a motor, that looks jarringly wrong even before one has quite worked out why. Something similar occurs with the lift that Orozco saved from a disused building in Chicago, where the cabin has been made claustrophobic by being adjusted to exactly his height.

Although the artist's work ranges from drawings to installations, most of it is notable for taking everyday objects and artefacts such as these and turning them into something strange and disconcerting. A shower head is photographed from below to look like a planet suspended in the sky, a gash in the ground lined with tree roots becomes a mouth or vagina dentata.

Even more striking is Ventilator (1997), which was inspired by Orozco's visits to Indian hotels where he was handed toilet paper on arrival and sat himself under ceiling fans to keep cool. This is recalled in the artwork, which he made by attaching strips of toilet paper to the blades of a fan. As it rotates, it miraculously takes on the shape of a double helix.

Although much of his work is very playful and fascinated by games, Orozco is also haunted by death and the passing of time. In Black Kites (1997), he laboriously created a chequerboard pattern on a human skull using a graphite pencil. Obituaries (2008) consists of sheets of paper hanging on the wall; on them are headlines from the death notices in The New York Times, which form into catalogues of human oddity: "Chief Cantor of Berlin's Jews", "British Cheese Crusader", "Swedish Innovator of Beverage Containers", "Zulu Singer", "an Expert on Scorpions and Desert Ecology", "Hockey Star Who Rarely Heard a Whistle", "Spy Who Knew His Music"...

Perhaps the most remarkable piece in the exhibition, Lintels (2001), is made from the most improbable material: ash-grey sheets of lint removed from clothes dryers. These are then hung up on wires like ghostly clothes on a line made out of all the overlooked fragments of thread, dirt, dust and hair we spend our lives among. Roughly rectangular in shape but often jagged or pierced with holes, they also resemble damaged buildings. The timing of the work's creation was a complete coincidence, but it meant that Lintels has often been felt to evoke 9/11.

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