Memory Insertion Capsule
In Plain Sight
Curated by Shamim Momin
Henry Art Gallery
November 23, 2019 – April 26, 2020
Memory Insertion Capsule, 2017
Steel, and archival materials on video loop
The Memory Insertion Capsule brings together references to space travel, local construction techniques, and Indigenous Maya architecture. The architectural structure evokes Indigenous forms of construction but also 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, a company notorious for its corporate colonization of Central America. Two brothers hailing from Pasadena are at the center of this story. Wilson Popenoe (1892-1975) served as the chief agronomist for the company beginning in 1925, while his brother Paul 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.
Photo by Nikolay Maslov, installation view as part of Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas at UCR ARTSblock. Courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles.