Pepon Osorio, Face to Face, 2003. Mixed media, installation view.

Pepon Osorio Ronald

New York

Feldman Fine Arts

Pepon Osorio’s recent installations Face to Face and My Beating Heart use mimesis and allegory to examine not only how a family was separated by a federal agency, but also how some needs are never attended to because of the bureaucratic restrictions of an eight-hour workday. In his exact replica of a white-collar office, Osorio positions the viewer within the environment of the Department of Community and Human Services. No workers are present, even though the sound of a video-taped interview with a victim of domestic abuse resonates throughout the space. As this person speaks with urgency about a man’s quick, careless emotions, one is left to look at four fully furnished cubicles containing photos of loved ones, bland photocopies of inspirational quotations, sports memorabilia, cards, and ceramic angel magnets. Images of Martin Luther King, Jr., suggest that these unseen employees belong to a minority group just like the domestic-abuse victims whom Osorio presents to gallery visitors. Case-files stacked in meticulously labeled boxes imply the presence of a large population of individuals. A large structure also resides within the center of the room and contains the contents of a family’s home. A lamp, couch, bike, and several other wrapped objects are readily visible. A bed is even broken down and condensed into this tight container.

Osorio’s second installation, My Beating Heart, hangs in another room nearby. Appearing in the form of a large anatomical heart, this piece uses the architectural structure of the gallery for support. The artist’s combination of fiberglass, archival paper, and glue gives one the impression that this object is meant to serve as a piñata. Yet the sound of a pulse emanates from the work, signifying its autonomously existing nature. Juxtaposed with one another, the installations appeal to the “have a heart“ cliché.

Because both sculptures are extremely literal, their allegorical nature is almost lost on the viewer, leaving hardly any room for artistic expression or creative imagination. However Osorio’s Latino background plays a strong role within the presentation of this exhibition. Like Frida Kahlo, Osorio uses realism as a mode of clear communication through visual means in order to explore emotional issues which are psychological and social in nature. Other contemporary artists of Latin heritage such as Nunik Sauret, Flor Minor, Marienela de la Hoz, and Alfredo Arreguin continue to use this technique. However Osorio’s conceptual approach takes away any kind of artistic mystification and clearly reveals the conflict that exists between workers’ rights, which are best protected by unions, and individuals’ rights, which are often not protected by anyone.