Damian Ortega is a Mexican artist who is known for manipulating everyday objects and materials, giving them his unique spin. Last year, he impressed us with his river of tyres and a monumental submarine slowly leaking its content of salt on to the gallery floor.
His latest exhibition is a much subtler affair. Ortega travelled to Nigeria to see chimpanzees in their natural habitat, and to seek inspiration for artworks to be displayed in the Freud Museum, drawing on our ancestral natural instincts and the evolution in our use of tools.
The largest and most engaging installation is a sculpture, resembling the DNA double helix, made up of long thin branches — the kind chimps use to dig insects out of trees. It's an homage to how far human technology has come, and is a nice opening set up for the rest of the show.
The exhibition has purposefully avoided the use of descriptive labels to enable visitors to explore the displays and react naturally to the various pieces waiting to be discovered. A power drill next to the wall appears at first to be a hangover from the exhibition installation, yet the handle has been deformed as if it has been gripped too hard. A briefcase sits open with complex mechanical components inside, yet it's difficult to decipher what this contraption does.
Our favourite piece is a model of a hand where all the fingertips have Swiss army knife parts inserted into them. A comment on how the human hand is the ultimate tool, yet we're more accustomed to viewing it as something to operate tools with.
This is a small exhibition where only half of the pieces sufficiently engaged. But it's these stronger works that make for a fascinating experience, and the Freud Museum is a fitting environment for these ruminations.
Damian Ortega: Apestraction is on at Freud Museum until 1 September. Tickets are £6 for adults and includes both the exhibition and admission to the museum.