Yoshua Okón: Octopus

A Home Depot parking lot in Los Angeles is the sole set piece for a re-enactment of the Guatemalan Civil War, 1960-1996. The actors, who appear to be gathering for day labour, are the combatants who fought in that very conflict. The subversive film titled ‘Octopus’, 2011, is presented as a multi-channel video installation by Mexico City-born artist Yoshua Okón, who has been daring us to see the cruel power imbalances that privileges authorities for more than two decades. Sydney audiences can view the work in the context of Okón’s broader practice in a show curated by Ivan Muñiz Reed of The Curators’ Department at Ideas Platform hosted by Artspace.

Yoshua Okón, Octopus

In ‘Octopus’, everything is staged, but truth and fiction are not separate.

Throughout his practice Okón has invited people to re-perform roles they have already lived through for his camera. As a director he is reserved, the performers are given loose instruction but are mostly encouraged to follow their instincts in the settings created. The camera then becomes a catalyst for the participants to both relive and examine their subject-hood in experiences past and present, revealing their complicated realities.

Okón re-presents an ugly past, but his work can hardly be considered as tormenting as it should seem. The actions in ‘Octopus’ are menacing, but the self-aware smirks of the amateur performers and the incongruity of the set pieces leads the intensity to slip. So you laugh, not because its particularly funny, but because the menace seems mis-placed. Then the weight of the performer’s connection to their actions rips the humour away again.

Octopus, installation shot

‘Octopus’ is a first for The Curators’ Department. Founded in 2015 by Glenn Barkley, Holly Williams and Ivan Muñiz Reed, the collective present exhibitions around the country as well as publish and offer advisory services and valuations for both public and private organisations and citizens. ‘Octopus’ differs from their previous activities as it is the first time the group have worked to introduce an acclaimed Latin American artist to Australian audiences.

As a researcher looking at de-colonial aesthetics and perspectives from the global south this project lends curator Ivan Muñiz Reed the opportunity to become a key voice in detailing and interrogating Latin American art in the local scene. With ‘Octopus’ it is clear that Reed does not see it nor de-colonial aesthetics to be straightforward.

Yoshua Okón’s work is complicated; it is all propositions and provocations. The work can be harrowing and hilarious all at once, it can be truthful and then snarl at your desire to see truth. With this exhibition the corporate powers and de-colonialism are conflated because they are an extension and a continuation of each other.

De-colonial and corporate structures are large and complicated, but what they affect is the individual. So to understand this we must look at the individual; sink into their experiences. You will feel conflict but that’s because nothing in this world is clear-cut.

Ideas Platform at Artspace
15 September to 9 October, 2016


Yoshua Okón, Octopus, 2011, video still
Yoshua Okón, Octopus, 2011, installation view at Cornerhouse, Manchester, England

Courtesy the artist