There’s a pretty nice line in Trinie Dalton’s essay for the 2008 Whitney Biennial. “Increasingly Ochoa studies areas where nature buttress itself against annihilation, a cultural metaphor lending hope and vivacity to his work.” I’m specifically drawn to how you make concrete and steel look so fragile.
Trinie wrote a really great piece. My work deals a lot with the built environment and its surroundings. The gallery of course is not natural, but when you start excavating beneath the space, you come across what is natural. To conflate or collapse these two worlds could be seen as very dystopic, but there is hope in the work. It’s not about the demise of humanity.
I was speaking with Rene Morales the other day and we talked about the cycle of oolite, or oolitic limestone. It’s a sedimentary rock composed of fossilized shells and coral found throughout a large part of Southeastern Florida.
Concrete, an invention dating back to the Roman era, was made of a mixture of limestone and clay. When the Empire crumbled, the concrete and the limestone was then mixed back into the earth, bringing the limestone back to its origins. In my work, the concrete slab is now getting elevated.
If you take marble backwards, it’s calcium carbonate, which is compressed seashells…Anyway, when you put these concrete slabs back in, how perfectly will they fit?
Ideally, I’d love to reset the slab. The incisions become like drawing or scarring; a memory and tracing of the sculpture that once existed here. But that’s not structurally safe, you’d have to re-form it and pin it. It’s been compromised. We’ll have to re-pour concrete. It’ll still leave an impression though…
There are a lot of artists that come in and do these transformative gallery shows, where they like repaint the walls or something, but that’s fixed with a fresh coat of paint. But with you, you’ll have this lasting trace.
With this there’s the remnant. It’s mark making, the basic fundamental process of drawing. Something I strive to achieve in my other works like the rebar drawings– where I pound rebar into paper leaving the traces of rust and revisiting the marks with graphite.
I feel like every profile I read about you starts off the same way: Ruben is from LA, his work is informed by construction companies, yadda yadda yadda. Are you happy that this is the entry point to your work?
It’s more of a media construct and sound bite, ‘It’s rebar, so it’s construction…’ It happens, and while it is a material that is used in construction, I hope viewers will look for more in the work. I’ve done some large-scale works where I’ve had the opportunity to intervene in the space. I’ve been able to distinguish between it being site-responsive and site-specific. This installation at Locust Projects is very site-specific. It goes back to Rosalind Krauss and the expanded field. It goes back to Rodin. If you remove a work from a site, it no longer functions. It no longer exists…these works here at Locust will only exist in documentation after the exhibition closes.
I’m interested in Michael Fried’s argument in Art and Objecthood that by creating such hollow works, Minimalist sculpture was actually a site of theater and thus anthropomorphic. Similarly, your work has these human or biological traces.
What becomes a priority for me in these works (at Locust Projects) is how the steel gets manipulated, not the slab, even though the slab is about 700 pounds. It allows the slab to look lightweight and effortless once raised above our heads. In order to accomplish that, I also have to utilize organic forms and shapes with materials that are very rigid and geometric. Some of these are on the fence of being anthropomorphic. If I had gone with those moments, I would have been trying to animate the material, which wasn’t the direction I wanted to go with these works.
So it engages the biological while still resisting it?
Today you can borrow from everything and still throw it away.
So, Fried’s problem with minimalism was its theatricality. A while back I was reading Gavin Brown’s press release, or an interview or something, from when Urs Fischer dug up the whole floor of the gallery, effectively turning it into an amphitheater. I’m wondering how you place yourself in light of earlier work-Fischer, Gordon Matta-Clark, Liu Wei in Beijing…
…Chris Burden exposing the foundations. It could be conceptual art with a capital C or institutional critique with a capital I C, but for me, those moments exist, you learn them through school. I think borrowing from that, but also allowing the work to have that playful moment. It still has those gestures, but it is also a sculptural installation. For instance, we look at every angle. My partner and I must have walked 30 miles around the gallery looking at how these pieces play off each other. We imagine how it might be activated by the viewer as they maneuver through the space.
How was it working in this space? (Locust Projects has a wall of windows and two metal pipes that pierce the center of the gallery.)
The first thing I wanted to do was block out the windows, but then they told me that everybody wants to block out the windows. Each space poses its own challenges but I try to respond to that and incorporate it into the work rather than see it as a limitation. Locust is one of the few spaces that has allowed me to do this type of intervention.
I understand that you don’t want to get pigeonholed as a construction artist, but how does LA, that sprawling amoeba of a city, come into your work? If these construction materials are somehow alive, as you visually suggest, how does that animation relate to the larger metropolis?
When I think of Los Angeles, I think of the freeway system, or the Army Corps of Engineers building the LA river. When I do these pieces, I don’t think of the city. I think of the space, which is specific both to the site and to the place. I think of the built environment and the ambiguous space below.
I grew up skateboarding, and when you mention the built environment, I think of the LA river, which was featured in almost every skate video from Southern California. A natural thing, a river, that was redone completely out of concrete, was somehow renaturalized socially through how it was used by teenagers.
Or in such classic films as Grease or Terminator…I take a little from all of that, but I wouldn’t say I live in LA to make these works.
I feel like LA and Miami are very similar in certain ways. With all the attention LA is getting this fall, Pacific Standard Time and all that, I’m waiting for Miami’s moment.
There are a lot of good artist communities here and really good energy like in Los Angeles. The clusters of studios and pockets of neighborhoods do seem similar to LA. There are a lot of artists, but there’s so much sprawl that it’s really separated. But I think Miami is holding its own and people are drawn to the city for what is already here and for its potential.
CORES and CUTOUTS
November 12, 2011 – January 28, 2012
Conversation with the artist: November 12, 6pm
Moderated by Rene Morales, Associate Curator, Miami Art Museum
Opening reception: November 12, 7-10pm
Reception: Thursday, December 1, 7-10pm
Hours during Art Basel: November 29 – December 3, 9am – 4pm