Featured in
Issue 129

Yoshua Okón

Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, Mexico

BY Jessica Berlanga Taylor in Reviews | 01 MAR 10

Yoshua Okón, White Russians, 2008

In order to grasp the various meanings that unfold, disturbingly, throughout Yoshua Okón’s recent exhibition ‘Ventanilla única’ (Single Window) it is useful to think of his work as a system, a group of interdependent items that are linked and interact with each other. By playing with cause and effect, the energy and information contained in the five video and photographic installations flow between one another to create a physical and emotional impact on the viewer. Okón approaches diverse social groups who have chosen a different method of political, economical or cultural self-organization. With well-defined strategies (which involve the artist as a participant rather than as an observer), Okón has gone through many processes of negotiation in order to produce his work and to present the particular perspective the people he approaches have on the world.

Hipnostasis (2009) is a six-channel video installation made in collaboration with Raymond Pettibon. It is a portrait of six men who have lived rough on Venice Beach, California, for the past 30 years: society’s lost renegades who gave up on conventional Western life. The only sound is of breaking waves; the men sit on rocks eating steaks, reminding us of the possibility of turning thoughts and desires into actions. Hipnostasis is a beautiful, meditative piece of work, and is surrounded by Pettibon’s scrawlings on the walls, fragmented resurrections of Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, Rudyard Kipling and Lawrence Sterne. Bocanegra (2007) is noisy, uncomfortable and pathetic: a video work for which the artist spent time with a group of neo-Nazis in Mexico City, and with whom he orchestrated a series of events. Okón filmed them marching around their local park, saluting, singing and discussing race, class and social roles. Divided into four sections, the audience sees multiple views of these fascists as they cry and shout, and seem unable to agree on anything.

White Russians (2008) is a collaboration between Okón and a family in their home in Wonder Valley – a desolate, abandoned area in High Desert, California. Together with local residents, they created an expanded, fictional family who fight, sing, sit around (activities all previously rehearsed) while they are visited by the California Biennial spectators, who are all offered a ‘White Russian’ cocktail upon entering. The piece plays with the idea of looking: who looks at who in this staged situation? Disturbing and provocative, White Russians is a joke on cultural omnivores, poking at the simplistic notions city people sometimes have about those who live in the middle of nowhere; it reveals class tensions and a way of life that seduces through its nonconformity.

Jessica Berlanga Taylor is a curator and art critic based in Mexico City. She is currently Chief Curator at Alumnos47 Foundation.