Juan Ortiz-Apuy: Tropicana
Juan Ortiz-Apuy, Midnight Sun, 2020, computer-rendered image, inkjet print on backlit film. Courtesy of the artist.

Juan Ortiz-Apuy: Tropicana

Esker Foundation, Calgary, AB - To April 28

by Michael Turner

Billed as a “youth exhibition” for children aged 6 to 14, the multimedia installation Tropicana takes aim at the environmental crisis less through disposable plastic objects than through the systems by which objects are identified, commodified and consumed. In a recent Art Gallery of Mississauga virtual tour of Tropicana, Montreal-based artist Juan Ortiz-Apuy tells viewers, “One of the most challenging components for me was . . . how to make something that is visually appealing and attractive to that age group, but that also has a critical component to it.”

Two marketing strategies explored by Ortiz-Apuy are commonly found on social media: ASMR and “unboxing.” ASMR – or autonomous sensory meridian response – is a sensation (usually spinal tingles) that can occur while experiencing a video, particularly the pairing of its audio function with eccentric hand gestures; while unboxing is essentially a haptic exercise where the emphasis is as much on the hands as on the objects those hands are removing from their box.

Ortiz-Apuy’s 71/2-minute video Tropicana (2020) features a range of small plastic objects manipulated before a microphone. Accompanying the video are a shelf where the objects are displayed and a play station where they can be handled. In Midnight Sun (2020), Ortiz-Apuy uses an older, offline form of bus shelter advertising (a computer-rendered image printed on backlit film) to conflate a tube of hand cream and the body of a mermaid that has been reconfigured to sell that hand cream to us. The artist takes this conflation to a larger, sculptural extreme through the union of a long-necked dinosaur and a spray bottle.


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