Mexico City

Yoshua Okón, Miasma, 2016, eight ink-jet prints mounted on MDF. Installation view. Photo: Ramiro Cháves.

Yoshua Okón, Miasma, 2016, eight ink-jet prints mounted on MDF. Installation view. Photo: Ramiro Cháves.

Yoshua Okón

PARQUE Galería

Yoshua Okón, Miasma, 2016, eight ink-jet prints mounted on MDF. Installation view. Photo: Ramiro Cháves.

As the title indicates, Yoshua Okón’s exhibition “Miasma” deals with a sticky and disagreeable subject matter: CIA interventions in Mexico. But the political subject matter is handled from an oblique perspective, inviting viewers to fill in the blanks or question what they are seeing. In fact, without reading the exhibition text, one might never have noticed the connection between the work on view and the CIA’s activities in Mexico. It was clear, though, that the United States was a preoccupation of the artist’s: The first thing one saw on entering the gallery was an unframed photograph of a bronze statue of George H. W. Bush surrounded by people riding Segways (all works titled Miasma and dated 2016). The pieces of the puzzle came together slowly in the gallery’s first room, littered with photo-sculpture pieces, clustered together like the rubble of a nationalist discourse. These groupings of objects—cutout photographs mounted on MDF—included American eagles, letters decorated with stars and stripes, and, humorously enough, a few more people on Segways, not to mention an oversize photo of a cockroach hanging out in their midst. There was also a photo cutout sculpture of the same Bush sculpture in the center of the room, so the connections within the images were initially only referenced through echoes and repetitions.

In the next room, a large-scale ten-minute video projection again showed the same bronze statue, but this time it didn’t seem so funny—no Segways, no sun shining, only fog, accompanied by an ominous lighting and sound design. In this video, Okón uncannily manages to make the bronze figure seem to come alive. Low-angle shots and flashlight-under-face-type lighting make the rather inane Bush sculpture turn monstrous. Its face starts to look like a mask à la Friday the 13th. At times, the image switches to that of the face of a different bronze sculpture: an eagle, its regal profile familiar from a thousand American seals and symbols. Okón’s characteristic humor appears in a few over-the-top moments: lightning flashes straight out of a cheap horror film, or the cockroach crawling from under the sculpture. The implication is clear: Something is rotten under that Bush.

The exhibition’s curator, journalist and critic Edgar Alejandro Hernández, reminds us in an accompanying text that George H. W. Bush, the forty-first president of the United States, had previously been the director of the CIA and was linked to some of its covert actions, including those in Mexico. The consequences of those actions, still relevant today, not just in light of crumbling relations between Mexico and the US, but in relation to the ongoing US interventionist policies in places such as the Middle East and beyond, are beautifully encapsulated in a piece that was found upstairs, in a side room near the gallery office, and thus isolated from the rest of the exhibition—a kind of “spook piece,” so to speak, but maybe the best thing on view. It’s a mixed-media polyptych on cotton paper, on which Okón drew evocative fragments taken from the cover of Mexican journalist Manuel Buendía’s book La CIA en México (1984). The in-depth investigation may have cost the writer his life—he was murdered just months after its release. The word end (from Buendía) takes on its darkest meanings in one of the drawings, for instance, just as in the video a rather ugly and boring sculpture morphed into a nightmarish ghoul. Okón’s works invite and incite the conspiracy theorist in all of us, or at least beg us to look askance at history to make out what’s barely visible behind the fog.

Gabriela Jauregui