Yoshua Okón: OcTOPUS

Artspace, Ideas Platform | 15 September – 9 October 2016
Curator: Ivan Muñiz Reed

Yoshua Okon ,  Octopus  (video still) ,  2011. 4-channel digital video installation, sound, colour. Image courtesy and  ©  artist the artist

Yoshua Okon, Octopus (video still)2011. 4-channel digital video installation, sound, colour. Image courtesy and © artist the artist

About the exhibition:

Introducing the work of the prominent Mexican artist to Sydney audiences for the first time, this Ideas Platform project presents Okón’s seminal four-channel video installation Octopus (2011).

Working primarily with video, Okón combines the genre of documentary with performative and improvisational elements, blurring the boundary between reality and fiction. His videos, which are often characterised by an uncomfortable comicality, use humour as a device to implicate the viewer and make them active participants. Okón is interested in the deeper and more powerful dimensions of humour, and uses it as a platform for catharsis and engagement. 

Filmed in the parking lot of a Home Depot store in Los Angeles, Octopus features a group of undocumented Mayan immigrants re-enacting their participation in armed conflicts during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996). Brought together in the present by their adverse circumstance searching for daily cash-in-hand jobs, these workers once fought against each other in a gruelling period of unrest which devastated their home country and ultimately forced to them to leave in search of a ‘better life’. 

Octopus references the involvement of the CIA and American business United Fruit Company (nicknamed ‘octopus’ or ‘pulpo’ in Guatemala) in the infamous 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état in which the US government forcefully deposed a democratically elected president. This intervention marked the beginning of a long and sombre period of oppressive dictatorships that protected and prioritised multinational corporate interest and committed genocide against Guatemala’s Indigenous Mayan population and many violations against human rights.

The camera in Octopus (and in most of Okón’s works) acts as a catalyst that unleashes his collaborators to act out an assumed character, revealing in the process their awareness and conceptions. Described by their artist as near-sociological experiments, Okón’s works give the audience a unique insight into the marginal groups he portrays. Most importantly, he also gives audiences a sense of interconnectivity: a deep implication in issues that we normally consider to be foreign and removed from us.

Okón has been an important figure in the Mexican and international art scene since the 90s and his contribution has extended beyond his practice through his involvement (as founder) with paramount artist-run initiatives La Pandería and SOMA in Mexico City.

In 2002 he received an MFA from UCLA with a Fulbright scholarship. His solo shows exhibitions include: Salò Island, UC Irvine, Irvine; Piovra, Kaufmann Repetto, Milan; Poulpe, Mor Charpentier, Paris; Octopus, Cornerhouse, Manchester and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and SUBTITLE, Städtische Kunsthalle, Munich. His group exhibitions include: Manifesta 11, Zurich; Gwangju Biennale,Korea; Antes de la resaca, MUAC, Mexico City; Incongruous, Musèe Cantonal des Beux-Arts, Lausanne; The Mole´s Horizon, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels; Mercosur Biennial, Porto Alegre; Amateurs, CCA Wattis; San Francisco; Laughing in a Foreign Language, Hayward Gallery, London; Adaptive Behavior, New Museum, NY and Mexico City: an exhibition about the exchange rates between bodies and values, PS1, MoMA, NY and Kunstwerke, Berlin. His work is included in the collections of Tate Modern, Hammer Museum, LACMA, Colección Jumex and MUAC, among others.