Locust Projects will soon relocate to a new space in Miami’s Design District. The slated demolition of the current building necessitated the move, but Locust’s revoked occupancy presented the opportunity of a lifetime to Ruben Ochoa: the gallery did not have to survive his exhibition intact.
He was thus allowed to mine the gallery floor and foundation for materials. There is a thrill in watching a wrecking ball knock down a building, and Ochoa translated that excitement into his minimalist sculpture. Urs Fischer’s excavation of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (2007) and Doris Salcedo’s crack in the floor of Turbine Hall at Tate Modern (2007–08) come to mind as precedents. But Ochoa’s work is additive as well as subtractive, and his manipulations add formal value to sheer spectacle.
Ochoa began by sawing rectangles out of the concrete floor and setting them aside. From there he drilled further, maintaining the rectangular shape of each 4-foot-deep hole as Miami oolite gave way to a stratum of crumbly orange dirt. Ochoa mounted the concrete cut-outs on angular stems of welded steel, and planted them so they reached into the earth at one end and into the air over the viewer’s head at the other. Here and there, Ochoa formed the dirt into long, low piles. The result was architecture destroyed then reconfigured as a dry garden. Facing the fluorescent lights, the concrete cutouts tilted this way and that like sprouts searching for sunshine.
Hoisted high, the concrete slabs, smooth on their top surfaces, reveal organic, mottled undersides that faced the dark earth for decades, while the holes excite whatever innate human curiosity drives children to dig into the ground and look at what’s there. The welded steel supports all but invite an adolescent climb. The installation also has an undeniable humor. It’s not hard to imagine that the sections of floor popped out of the ground by means of some diabolical mechanism hooked up to an eject button.
If this is not a species of transgressive civil engineering—an interpretation of Ochoa’s work that has been suggested in the past—the vocabulary is certainly one of overpasses and off-ramps in varying states of finish. Concrete and construction-gauge metal are the typical materials of the Los Angeles landscape, so it seems natural that an Angeleno like Ochoa would find a way to build something poetic out of them.
Photo: View of Ruben Ochoa’s exhibition “Cores & Cutouts,” 2011-12, concrete, dirt and mixed mediums; at Locust Projects.