SCATTERED AROUND THE GARDEN of Gabriel Orozco's house in Mexico City are a number of soccer balls in various states of dereliction. Dirty, worn, frayed, and more or less deflated, they lie about the place as if they had grown there. Left in the open air, they slowly weather and decay, deflating imperceptibly over time. Occasionally Orozco picks one out and changes its ecology by cutting into it, say, or peeling away precise circular patterns from its outer skin to reveal a fabric lining. Then he may draw over its surface with small constellations of points and lines. Despite their look of material degradation and abandonment, then, the soccer balls are in fact in the process of being reclaimed. A simple cut can reverse the logic of their decomposition, giving them an uncanny life. Photographing them is part of this recycling process. After all, the balls have for all intents and purposes been returned to nature like cultural compost, and then retrieved and put back into circulation in a world of images and things. So, we are invited to ask, are they organic or inorganic? Living or dying? If Orozco is growing soccer balls in his garden, what happens when they circulate in the world and in potentially endless combinations with his other work? Here we might draw connections to his consistent preoccupation with games (billiards, Ping-Pong), or, for that matter, to any number of spherical objects, whether mechanical or natural, that he has made or used. The way Orozco's soccer balls are peeled like fruit, for example, connects right back to works like Crazy Tourist, 1991, for which he placed oranges on trestle tables in a Brazilian market, or to Orange Without Space, 1993, a ball made of orange peel and plasticine. It is clear that nature becomes culture and culture becomes nature in such interventions. But the scope of the dynamic is larger than that formulation allows. A soccer ball in the undergrowth with a schematic chart or cluster of points drawn on its surface invokes not just natural processes of decay but also the movements of the stars and the planets--and, even more to the point, that soccer ball is like one small planet in a larger constellation. In short, the scope we are talking about here is literally astronomical--that of the universe as a whole. It seems pressing to ask what exactly is at stake in these transpositions, and what we are to make of the direction taken by Orozco in his most recent projects, which would seem to exacerbate rather than tidy up his always insistent preoccupation with nature from its micro to its macro registers.
These kinds of movements, from the small to the vast and back again, are materialized in the constellations or collections of objects that are the artist's "working tables," as he calls them. Two of these tables were shown last winter in Orozco's solo exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, each displaying a hoard of disparate items produced between 2000 and 2005: terra-cotta balls, tessellated cartons, ceramics whose shapes suggested stones or other natural forms and whose surfaces were adorned with colored geometric patterns, shells the artist had drawn on, a small black-and-white painting.... It would take a long time to list the complete inventory and even longer to enumerate the relations that proliferate among the things both on and beyond the tables. The objects themselves are small, but the span of the connections among them suggests an immensity of scale; their juxtapositions of handmade and commodity forms, natural and synthetic materials set up what Orozco once emphatically called an "organic world." As viewers, we are asked to shuttle from one order of magnitude to another.
This movement between scales, the lurching from the stuff of urban detritus to the stuff of celestial spheres, has been characteristic of Orozco's work from the outset. The material of everyday life is for him a container of the universe--but there is something in these sudden and hyperbolic escalations that has become increasingly difficult to articulate. …