The Play of The World
Jean Fisher, 1998
Gabriel Orozco, Pelota ponchada (Pinched Ball), 1993
(Page 2 of 5)
Direct or indirect allusions to 'games' are a recurrent feature of Orozco's work. At the simplest level, one might think of the childlike playfulness by which the most ordinary materials are imaginatively mobilised: the plasticine ball rolled through the city picking up the dusty, particulate skin of the streets (Piedra que cede, 1992); the circular tyre tracks formed by riding a bicycle through puddles (La extensión del reflejo, 1992); or the propped and piled rubbish in Isla en la isla, 1994, which, from a liminal point of view, mimics the distant New York skyline. On the other hand, there is Pelota ponchada, 1993, a photo of a deflated and dysfunctional child's football, now transformed into a water vessel bearing a reflected image of the sky, another allusion to the infinite. Thus, somehow, the most unremarkable scraps of matter become enfolded into what in less cynical times might have been called the vibrations of the soul.
Closer to Oval Billiard Table, however, in its reference to systematised games, is Horses Running Endlessly, 1995, a wooden chess-board comprising four times the expected number of squares, and where the only pieces are knights whose moves are unerringly oblique: the knight, like the swinging pendulum-ball, transgresses the logic of linear progression, deferring its advance at every turn. In both works, as indeed in others, a semblance of 'real life' is presented and yet in a form that is exorbitant: both in expansion ('too many' knights and squares; or, elsewhere, the seemingly infinite series of paired scooters of Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe, 1995) and in contraction (the 'lack' of corners and pockets in the oval table; or, the ultra-thin version of La DS , 1993).
And yet, of course, Orozco's 'games' may be said to be 'exorbitant' only insofar as they are meant to correspond to a recognisable, already existent game (in this case, billiards or chess), an assumption that can be made only if they are also intended to occupy compatible, or —in Leibnizian terms— 'compossible' worlds, an assumption which is less secure than it might at first seem. From the point of view of a Leibniz-Deleuze picture of an infinity of possible worlds, of convergent and divergent pathways, Orozco's game, at some point in the past, would seem to have diverged from its nominal likeness and taken a path to a world 'incompossible' with it. Indeed, the work produces the unsettling sense of being confronted with some other, cryptic or hermetic order for which the game rules have not been provided. The consequence of this mutation of relations is that the people who are watching or playing, unable to map themselves within an entirely familiar field, lose a sense of certainty- and become 'decentred'.
It is tempting to consider the work's own 'incompossibility' with the building's prior existence as the Devonshire Club, an exclusive, hegemonic male domain, whose threshold few of us, including Orozco, would have been allowed to cross. Here, undoubtedly, over the billiard table, deals would have been struck affecting the governance of both home and the colonies, manipulating a cultural world order which the club members, with the utter certitude of the privileged classes, must have once assumed to be everlasting. As Orozco is well aware, the residues of this old imperial order continue to exert influence, if no longer from 50, St. James's Street then elsewhere, yet they are out of time with the rhythm of the contemporary world. Like the blow to the pendulum-ball, the club's own existence was eventually caught up in political or socio-economic events that produced an inflection of its regular orbit into a divergent path, one now, ironically, 'compossible' with ours and Orozco's.
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This essay is taken from the Artangel publication for Empty Club available from Cornerhouse.org