Memory Insertion Capsule
Steel, archival materials on video loop
This sculpture takes the form of a space capsule that brings together references to space travel, local construction techniques, and Indigenous Maya architecture. The architectural shell features embellishments that invoke the river rocks commonly used in the construction of contemporary homes throughout Southern California. A mesh metal dome sits atop the structure, evoking the camping tents used by refugees and extending the conversation about immigration to the current housing crisis. Furnished like a home—with fireplace, desk, and bookshelves—the interior contrasts comfort with uncomfortable realities. By peering into a visor evoking at once the Mayan glyph for Zero and a machinic eye, the viewer takes in archival material that illustrates the fraught history between the United States and the artist’s native Central America. The relationship between these two regions is just one thread that encompasses the sequence of seemingly disparate, though complexly interconnected, historical events that have collectively contributed toward white supremacy in this country.
By watching the video, viewers are implanted with “memories” related to immigration, racism, and science through the history of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands International), a company notorious for its corporate colonization of Central America. Two brothers hailing from Pasadena are at the center of this story. Frederick Wilson Popenoe (1892-1975) served as the chief agronomist for the company beginning in 1925, while his brother Paul Bowman Popenoe (1888-1979) was secretary of the Human Betterment Foundation, an American eugenics organization promoting forced sterilization programs, and the founder of The American Institute for Family Relations, a family therapy organization that he used as a platform to further his white supremacist agenda. Later in life, Paul became a marriage counselor, running advice columns and radio programs, and hosting a reality television show. Challenging the conventional conception of time travel as utopian fantasy, Cortez instead asks us to reconsider the difficult reality of these histories, collapsing the past into the present so that we may look to the future.
Photos by Nikolay Maslov, photos and text courtesy of UCR ARTSblock.