Yoshua Okón: Oracle

February 15, 2018 - May 1, 2018

Davis Gallery

By most accounts, the town of Oracle, Arizona, acquired its name from a local mine so designated after a merchant ship built in Maine in the nineteenth century. Located within a region once home to the prehistoric Hohokam civilization, and a state whose territory belonged to Spain or Mexico until 1848, the town was the focus of national attention in July 2014 when anti-immigration protests—and counter-protests—broke out. The Arizona Border Defenders, a paramilitary border patrol, objected to the local resettlement of unaccompanied minors, many of them fleeing Central American countries with a history of United States intervention.

The following year, the Mexican artist Yoshua Okón invited the volunteer organization to restage these demonstrations, and his ensuing video installation encourages us to consider the patterns and performances of ideologies on all sides of the immigration debate. Imagery of civilians staking a flag in a rocky outcropping may recall the overdetermined photograph of American soldiers on Iwo Jima in 1945. But footage of circling pickup trucks exemplifies how, in this case, a distorted nationalism locks us into a rote, isolating, and ultimately stagnant cycle of repetition.

For Okón’s purposes, it is especially fitting that this town took its identity from two commercial entities—a mine and a maritime vessel—and now shares it with a multinational technology firm. Named for a Central Intelligence Agency project, the Oracle Corporation serves as a major government contractor. Borders, Okón reminds us, can be more porous for corporate-minded political interests than for people.

Banner Image: Yoshua Okón, video still from Oracle, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.