DAMIÁN ORTEGA: CORN & INDUSTRY
The Museum of Contemporary Art of Monterrey presented the exhibition Corn & Industry, which brings together a vast selection of Damián Ortega’s work over the last thirty years, presenting a comprehensive portrait of his artistic production that showcases how his work engages in a dialogue with the construction of a “national culture".
Displayed through a narrative reading that connects corn with the recent peak of globalized industry to reveal the complex issues of the concept of ‘development’, this fable is told through installations and sculptures, alongside photographs, films, and weavings, including rarely exhibited early works, and new pieces.
Damián Ortega: Corn and Industry (in Spanish Pico y Elote) is the artist’s first retrospective exhibition in the Americas and takes its title from two early works: Pico cansado (Tired Pickaxe) (1997) and Elote clasificado (Classified Corn) (2005). The first is a common pickaxe with a wooden handle to which the artist made careful incisions to bend its shape—animating the object and making it seem as if it’s tired from a day’s labor. The second piece is a dried ear of corn with handwritten ink marks that account for each of its kernels, perhaps notations to help place the kernels back in their original position if any of them lost their place. These key works—the pickaxe and ear of corn—equally humble in their scale, material, and artistic intervention, are crucial to understand Ortega’s impulses and obsessions.
A self-taught artist who dropped out of high school to pursue his own artistic path and education, Ortega began to produce work in the decade of the 1980s within a dramatically different national context than that of today. Many products that tended to be locally sourced and produced are now imported and manufactured overseas. These rampant transnational politics have had an immediate and personal impact on his life and work; his production can be understood as a critique and a reflection of this new capitalist system, which favors mass-produced technologies and displaces ancestral knowledge and traditions. This major institutional exhibition situates Ortega’s work within this pivotal era in Mexico’s recent history, when the country opened itself to foreign investment, and industrial manufacturing proliferated, causing a significant disruption in local production processes.
Considering this perspective in mind, the exhibition is organized into three conceptual blocks –Harvest, Assemble, and Collapse– that hint at the artist’s expansive vision when approaching recurring themes in his work, such as farming, labor, production, and the unknown future of proto-industrialization. Damián Ortega: Corn and Industry critically (and satirically) develops these concepts to tell an alternative story of progress and the effects of a globalized post-industrial era, thus creating spaces to analyze the material elements that compose it.
–José Esparza Chong Cuy.