How Mexico City’s Epic Traffic Jams Inspired Cuban Artist Ariel Orozco’s Latest New York Show
While quarantining in Mexico last spring, the artist created a series of light-based works inspired by the tail lights of 18-wheelers.
Mexico City is infamous for its traffic jams, which are the worst in the world by many accounts. And while congestion is simply an unavoidable frustration for most, Cuban-born artist Ariel Orozco sensed something more instructive at work.
While navigating Mexico City in his car, Orozco, who was quarantining in the city last year, often found himself behind massive 18-wheelers, staring at their tail lights, each signaling an anticipated movement.
In that projection of meaning onto the lights, Orozco sensed a parallel with the act of looking at an artwork and imbuing it with meaning.
In “Have a seat and let me tell you,” the artist’s second solo exhibition with New York’s Spencer Brownstone Gallery, Orozco has translated elements of that experience into four new crisp white panels, each embedded with identical patterns of circular lights.
Though the arrangements of the lights are identical in each of the panels, the flashes of light follow unique patterns. Evoking the back of 18-wheelers, each set of lights follow a looped record of one route taking place over a set period of time.
As is common of Orozco’s practice, these new works (from a series called “La cabeza en los pies”) lie somewhere between painting, installation, and performance. From the still point of the gallery, we are able to mentally follow each work along its journey with a renewed awareness of our own projections of meaning, senses of boundaries, and the symbols with which we anticipate movements.
Complementing these, in the gallery’s backyard, the artist has installed two roadway light fixtures that alternate blips of light. The fixtures’ bowed heads face each other and relay, in morse code, a short conversation.
Here, Orozco again employs quotidian, functional, and industrial objects as a means of conveying human pathos—in his case his own short ramblings with a friend—as a means of finding alternative or overlooked avenues for connection in our isolated age.
“Ariel Orozco: Have a seat and let me tell you” is on view at Spencer Brownstone Gallery through January 10, 2021.
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