Carambole with Pendulum consists of a full-size billiard table that has been modified into an oval shape with no corners or pockets. Based on a French version of billiards called ‘carambole’, Orozco’s game includes three balls: two white balls that rest on top of the green felt surface and one red ball that is suspended just above the table from a fine metal wire attached to the ceiling. A stack of cues stands nearby in a wooden case ready for use. If a player hits one of the white balls so that it strikes the red, the latter swings unpredictably, bringing about an element of chaos to an otherwise ordered and rational game. This functional aspect of the work complies with Orozco’s conception of sculpture as ‘a platform for an action; it’s not just an object but an object that you are using’ (quoted in Tempkin 2009, p.112).
Carambole with Pendulum was presented for the first time in London in 1996 as part of the Empty Club, a project organised in collaboration with Artangel in and about an empty nineteenth-century building located at 50 St James’s Street in central London. The building had been one of London’s first gambling dens before it was turned into a gentleman’s club then later converted into offices and subsequently abandoned. The history of the building and its central location reflected the artist’s interest in the relation between centre and periphery, and the economic, cultural and political connections that exist between them.
Orozco initially conceived Carambole with Pendulum for the Centre de la Vieille Charité in Marseille, France – a former seventeenth-century chapel where the work was displayed in 1997. The unusual oval shape of the dome was reflected in the shape of the table installed beneath it. The red ball hung from the top of the dome evoking the French physicist Léon Foucault’s pendulum, which refuted the belief that the earth was the centre of the universe by enacting a perpetual movement as a result of the earth’s rotation around the sun. The director of Artangel, James Lingwood, gives a detailed account of how the work functioned in the context of the Empty Club, and the associations it entailed:
The destruction of certainties implicit in Foucault’s exposition was echoed by the construction of the game without its conventional limits and rules … The game was possible, indeed enjoyable, to play, but it was one in which the rules, the scores, the limits had to be rethought or invented … The movement of the balls, like planets in the cosmos or atoms in a demonstration of the laws of physics, fractured the silent suspense of the sleeping building: the sharp retort of the white ball cracking against the red, setting the pendulum in orbit around and beyond the limits of the table, set many of the ideas informing the conception and realization of Empty Club in motion.
(James Lingwood in Artangel 1998, p.11.)
Orozco’s preoccupation with games is made manifest in a number of works that feature chess, bowling, ping-pong, cricket, football and billiards. Fellow artist Gabriel Kuri recounts his impression of these works as translating the experience of a game into an aesthetic one, ‘while preserving the vividness of the experience and the mechanics of the game’ (Gabriel Kuri quoted in Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 2000, p.45). However, Orozco’s interest in games has broader implications. As the artist notes:
Games are created over time and within a particular culture that has a specific vision of the world and a way of ordering the universe. Every time a game evolves – chess, billiards, cricket or basketball for example – it represents a moment in time, and a way of understanding time, as well as a way of comprehending landscape, for example, or the universe. They are the symptoms and models of the thought of the time. So it is not just the games that I am interested in.
(Gabriel Orozco quoted in Tate conservation records.)
Gabriel Orozco: Empty Club, Artangel, London 1998, pp.10–25, reproduced pp.15, 18, 26–9.
Gabriel Orozco, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 2000, reproduced p.45.
Yve-Alain Bois (ed.), Gabriel Orozco, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2009, p.56.
Ann Temkin (ed.), Gabriel Orozco, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2009, pp.112–14, 116, reproduced pp.113, 115.
Jessica Morgan (ed.), Gabriel Orozco, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2011, pp.43–4, 50, 98, 117, reproduced pp.1, 43.