Gabriel Orozco: always ahead of the game


Special To The Japan Times

Gabriel Orozco has returned to Tokyo. Following his retrospective “Inner Circles” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in early 2015, “Visible Labor” at Rat Hole Gallery is a collection of new works that explore Orozco’s classic themes of the city, transportation and games, revealing influences of his recent stay in Japan. The bright basement space plays host to toy Ferraris, go (strategy game) sets, Buddha imagery, geometric collages and dark wooden beams — making a city-themed board game of the main gallery.

Mimicking go’s geometry and color scheme, the main room showcases wooden blocks and beams, with little compartments filled with toy cars and Buddha figurines. These blocks, resemble miniature villas and skyscrapers and act as game counters, while four large parallel beams serve as highways, complete with vehicles and carefully arranged go stones. The overall effect is reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s plans for his unrealized utopian project “Radiant City” (1924). Like the architect’s urban plan, Orozco’s work may be seen as a proposal for, or at least a mirror image of, a city.

There are parallels between inner city urban development and Orozco’s visual use of go. Although a complex game, the aim of go is simple: to occupy more territory on the board than your opponent. In Orozco’s game, the wooden blocks, with their Ferraris and Buddhas, compete in displays of wealth, spirituality and status.

The game is explained and elaborated upon by other works in the exhibition. A series of collages comprising concentric geometric patterns laid over images of traditional Japanese joinery indicate that the wood used in the exhibition is sourced from Japanese temples and domestic residences. The complex design of such joinery, which requires no nails or adhesive to create an extremely strong structure, isn’t evident in their outward appearance. As in board games, their mechanics, strategies and ideas are hidden within apparently simple structures. A great deal of labor is invisible within them.

By the gallery’s reception is a stack of material. It appears as collateral from the game, like discarded chess pieces, serving as evidence of Orozco’s own work and decision-making. It reveals the history of the exhibition’s production and makes a comparison between play and artistic practice.

In all games, the pieces in play are in a dynamic relationship, facing many potential futures and interpretations. Orozco’s Ferraris, Buddha figures and wooden joinery, which respectively allude to wealth, religion and architecture, similarly set up various dialectics between visible and invisible labor within the urban environment.

There is a politic at work in this compelling, and humorous urban game. After leaving the gallery you’ll find yourself in the perfect street, in the perfect city to ponder it.

“Gabriel Orozco: Visible Labor” at the Rat Hole Gallery runs until March 20; noon-8 p.m. Free. Closed Mon.