The photographer and I have been waiting for about half an hour to interview Gabriel Orozco. It’s a little disappointing, but that’s OK. Orozco has famously made disappointment part of his creative practice. While waiting we chat about how much we have been impressed and influenced by the artist’s work, and also about the press conference last week, where Orozco was also late and stared fiercely at the crowd of journalists like a cornered honey badger until the microphone broke down, at which point his mood lightened and a mischievous and comedic side emerged.
When Orozco does appear, he is relaxed and cordial. He’s been to Japan before on several occasions, but this time he plans on staying for six months. I ask him why Japan?
Is there something about this country that holds particular resonance for your work?
It’s always had an importance for me; I enjoy reading about Zen. I’m not a religious person, but notions of the void, emptiness and time, the perception of landscape interest me. I like the suiseki tradition (appreciation of natural formation of rocks), the connection with nature.
Major aspects in your work are interaction with the public, an interest in daily life and transforming ordinary objects. This may be from a Mexican left-wing perspective, where daily life is a problem to be investigated in terms of alienation, but in Japan these issues come out of the context of Shinto and the Buddhist concern of everyday life as a practice. Is the reception of your work in Japan a case of mistranslation?
I don’t think it’s mistranslation so much as interpretation. … You’re right that my education in Mexico in the 1960s and ’70s was very left wing. On the other hand, Mexico is a Catholic country, but I am not Catholic.
I’m intrigued by Japan, but also traveling (in general), and applying some of the theories and mixing things up together with my own perception and experiences.
You don’t have an agenda when you mix things up?
I don’t. Growing up with the political art of the ’60s and ’70s, I see the limitations when you try to be didactic. On the other hand, living in New York and Mexico, you can see the limitations of the neo-liberal approach to art as a kind of popular object.
You’ve said that when you use the circle as a motif, you include a bisecting line as a trajectory for change. Is this in the sense of social change?
No. The circular forms are everyday life, the lens of the camera, the cup, the planets, so I don’t take it as a mystical shape.
It’s not a spiritual aspect of the circle, but a mechanical aspect; how things are circular when there is movement. That’s why I need the axles in the circle, because they imply a possible trajectory of the circle, and connection.
But it’s not just a geometric or formalist thing.
It’s social interaction. When you have a circle it’s a perfect unit, but a possible trajectory means a connection with something else, and that is a social life … it can be to an individual, a country, a body, a stone. It’s about connection between those things. When you start to connect with things in your personal life you start to socialize the objects and they become meaningful and political in a different way.
In Shinto, the inanimate object can be sacred, and there’s still a sense in Japan that there is no shame in developing an anthropomorphic relationship with “things” as there may be in other countries.
I don’t think in terms of the sacred. I don’t use the word spiritual. It’s more about the connection between the private life and awareness of my body in private and public practices, and awareness of my body at different moments in time and cultures. I try to be open to engagement and exchange, and generating my own experiences with them.
Look at it this way. I don’t have a factory. I try not use cheap labor, normally. On the other hand I like the idea of teamwork, communities, interaction in the production of meaning and, sometimes, objects.
Your work often seems to me to be very funny and very sad at the same time. Would you say the process of collecting and assembling material is a pleasant experience?
Yes, of course. Though, honestly I don’t see them as very funny or very sad, I see them more as loving the moment, or loving the situation. It’s a moment of sensibility or sensitivity. It’s tenderness I guess, not happiness — there is an element of melancholy. They are little moments of satori, revelation.
It sounds like you might end up staying in Japan longer than six months.
I could live here, for sure.
“Gabriel Orozco: Inner Cycles” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo runs till May 10; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. ¥1,100. Closed Mon. www.mot-art-museum.jp