Yoshua Okón
Canned Laughter

Canned Laughter was Okón’s response to an invitation from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico,where artists were asked to create works based on their experience of the city. Okónfocused on Ciudad Juárez as a site for many maquiladoras (factories) and on its role within the global context. 


A mixed media and video installation, the work takes the form of a fictitious factory thatproduces canned laughter for sitcoms. The Factory’s name, Bergson, refers to a collection of essays studying laughter that were published by French philosopher Henri Bergson in 1900. Okón’s work Canned Laughter alludes to the dehumanization produced by mechanized processes and slavery in the age of globalization, as well as to the impossibility to translate and reproduce true emotions though technological means.


Working primarily in video, Okón combines the genre of documentary with performativeelements that together blur the boundary between reality and fiction. His video installations capture improvisational narratives created by the artist and his collaborators—performers willing to participate in a game of social chance that may easily spiral out of control. In them, the camera acts as a catalyst that unleashes his subjects, empowering them to act out an assumed character and in the process revealing their own awareness and perceptions. Characterized by their uncomfortable, somber nature these works deliberately provoke viewers through confrontational humor as a way to achieve catharsis. His videos are used as a device to implicate audiences and also activate them as a participant, pressuring them to consider questions of social conduct and personal behavior within the context of the authoritative nation-state, and to question their own attitudes towards power, ethics, and prejudice vis-á-vis class, status, and marginality. Described by Okón as near-sociological experiments, his works give the audience a unique insight into the subjects he portrays. Most importantly, they also evoke a sense of interconnectivity: deeply implicating us in issues that we may normally consider foreign or removed from our everyday lives.