When the sun isn't blazing through the ozone, the light in Mexico City has a delicate, enveloping quality that softens brilliant colours like water washing over bits of glass. The photographs in Gabriel Orozco's show 'Fear Not' may include images that weren't shot in Mexico's capital - other, typically disparate, locations include New York, Paris, Tokyo and San José City, Costa Rica - but something about that light seems to flow throughout his work. This may be a heretical observation, given the artist's much-touted status as a globe-trotting flâneur. It hardly diminishes his achievement, though, given that his best work is as likely to be fuelled by light and shadow, by movement and multiplicity, as by theoretical hi-jinks. Thus, surprisingly often, Orozco's elusive performances, objects, drawings, collages and photographs are able to stay gloriously afloat under the burden of their sometimes ill-fitting Duchampian Conceptual pedigree.
The show opens with a series of pieces cannily titled 'Lintels' (2001). These are elegantly ratty near-rectangles of lint that have been gleaned from tumble dryers and lightly draped over fishing wire, like the insistent ghosts of once-soiled bodies and garments. Some are dove-grey and almost pristine; others contain visible clumps of hair and dirt, or almost fade into a colour. Tactile, airy and subtly evocative of the process by which they were produced, they playfully echo post-Minimalist works in lead and felt by Richard Serra and Robert Morris, except that they are eminently approachable. When I saw the show, a small boy (to his dad's horror) jumped up and knocked one of the pieces. It swayed a little as if blown by a breeze, but
Despite inimitable installations like this one - the yoghurt lids were another - Orozco's photographs tend to be his strongest pieces, more likely to nudge the imagination than the splashier Conceptual interventions that have brought him international attention, such as his julienned Citroën, DS (1993). Perhaps this is because photography is a little more resistant to irony, or because in Orozco's case the photographs often include an element of performance. Here they are wonderfully juxtaposed with objects: 'Bamboo Balls'(2001), a series of mobiles in which rubber balls sprout bamboo leaves like insect appendages, and 'Mixiotes' (2001), supremely delicate hanging pieces made of balls caught in plastic bags and twists of cactus fibre. Some of the photographs shown with the 'Bamboo Balls' depict dead leaves in the Costa Rican rainforest, alongside lush new growth. In another set of images, shot in Tokyo, real and simulated food items appear in mute corners of the urban landscape: wedge-shaped sandwiches materialize on triangular stairs; a lime slice stops up the coin slot of a payphone; and a rubbery plate of noodles is inserted into a fence, the noodles mimicking a twisted wire. Still better are more ambiguous shots, including one of a rock garden viewed through a windscreen, or another, hung near the 'Lintels,' depicting a piece of white paper that has been transformed with a simple paperclip into a
The show includes numerous drawings, many of them mixed in with photographs. In general, these are the slightest works some might be completely forgettable if their proximity to the photos weren't somehow intriguing and visually compelling. The exception is a row of earthy, small-scale drawings, hung suggestively near the 'Lintels', that feel anything but offhand. Made with graphite, powdered pigment and paint on sheets of lined paper that Orozco carries with him when he travels, they consist of cramped, smudgy handprints intermingled with leaf impressions and textures derived from Japanese paper. The lines and whorls of the artist's hand rhyme with both the veins in the leaves and the man-made geometrical patterns, creating an absorbing density reminiscent of Bruce Conner's microcosmic ink drawings.
Exuberant and rigorous, another series, entitled 'Kelly Kites' (2001), reconfigures colour reproductions from a recent Ellsworth Kelly exhibition catalogue. The show's tour de force, however, is the wonderfully single-minded video Jaipur Kites (1998), which documents what seems to be a local obsession in Jaipur lovely flying, square, kites, many in brilliant solid colours that might have migrated from the transformed Kellys in the next room, or from the rubber balls in the 'Mixiotes' or 'Bamboo Balls'. Simply shot, the video is full of magical images: dark birds perched on a vermilion cupola with a black kite sailing above; trees studded with ill-fated kites near brightly coloured buildings. This is Orozco at his best drawing the lightest of parallels between the game of making art and the game of living. When his work is this generous, this unobtrusively poetic, the world really is his oyster.