Tropicana: Unpeeling Consumer Culture with Juan Ortiz-Apuy

On January 19, the Esker Foundation opened its doors to an exhibition that casts a critical eye on the modern consumer society and advertising aimed at children. The youth exhibition, titled Tropicana, is specially designed for children and teenagers aged 6 to 14. It explores the language of advertising and its impact on individuals, with a touch of humour and thought-provoking artworks created by Montreal-based Costa Rican artist Juan Ortiz-Apuy.

Tropicana: Unpeeling Consumer Culture with Juan Ortiz-Apuy
View of the exhibition Juan Ortiz-Apuy. Tropicana, VOX, 2021. Photo: Michel Brunelle.

Juan Ortiz-Apuy’s background is as colourful and intricate as his artwork. Born in Costa Rica and residing in Montreal since 2003, Ortiz-Apuy has developed a unique artistic voice that weaves the threads of commercialism, pop culture, and design.

An assistant professor at Concordia University, Juan employs his expertise in collage and assemblage to forge creations that provoke and amuse, addressing the complexities of object consumerism with an empathetic touch. His international experience and exposure have empowered him to hold a mirror to the global marketplace, tinctured by the richness of his cultural heritage.

The experience on opening night at the Esker Foundation was nothing short of magical. The venue transformed into a microcosm of Ortiz-Apuy’s vision—a lively crowd of diverse patrons swarmed the galleries, their senses engaged by the interplay of sight and sound encapsulated within the “Tropicana” space. From intrigued children with their eyes wide in amazement to adults nodding appreciatively at the clever critique nestled within the art, the event was a cross-generational meeting point for art lovers.

One of the most striking aspects of “Tropicana” is its ability to transport the audience into another realm—a space where consumer products are not just things but characters with narratives that unfold around us.

Video installations featuring animated bottles that twist and wiggle captivate viewers, while 3D-rendered images glow from backlit films, blurring the lines between the living and the object. Here, Ortiz-Apuy’s irreverent humour shines, allowing us to laugh while reflecting on the deeper implications of our consumerist tendencies.

The impact of the art on display is substantial and multilayered. The exhibition does not merely showcase objects; it demonstrates how these everyday items can become imbued with life and personality, almost hypnotic in their appeal, reflecting the seduction of advertisements targeting the youngest consumers.

It presents a not-so-subtle criticism of how far-reaching and influential modern marketing strategies have become, especially with the advent of social media phenomena like ASMR content and unboxing videos.

Ortiz-Apuy ingeniously incorporates the familiar yet surreal experience of ASMR into his exhibition, providing a sensory layer that resonates with a contemporary audience. This subtle nod to the zeitgeist captivates the viewer with its “feel-good” sensations and invokes curiosity about the peculiar intimacy between product and person in today’s digital age.

For families, “Tropicana” is more than an art show; it is an educational journey. This exhibition empowers children to critically analyze the world of advertising that is so pervasive in their lives.

By engaging young minds through interactive exhibits and workshops, the artwork facilitates the development of critical thinking and media literacy in an entertaining and accessible way. The inclusion of observation games ensures that the learning experience is deeply rooted in fun and curiosity.

Yet “Tropicana” captures the attention of young audiences exceptionally well through its use of bright colours, engaging animals, and appealing sounds. This exhibition skillfully shows how easily children’s senses can guide their interests and, by doing so, offers parents a valuable opportunity to discuss mindful consumption, environmental awareness, and the value of biodiversity with their children.

Finally, beyond the critical message and the engaging, interactive experiences, what truly makes “Tropicana” worth the visit is its capacity to inspire.

At a time when the environmental crisis and the unrelenting push of consumer culture weigh heavily on society’s consciousness, Ortiz-Apuy’s exhibition offers a refreshing perspective. It urges visitors, regardless of age, to foster a more mindful and sustainable approach to the myriad of products that vie for our attention and, potentially, our wallets.

In summary, “Tropicana” at the Esker Foundation is an inviting and insightful adventure for families to immerse themselves in. Through a blend of art and education, it encourages children to become discerning observers of the world around them. The exhibition serves as a reminder that within the realm of creativity and critical thinking are the tools to shape a responsible and informed future generation.

Be sure to experience this vibrant exhibition, open until April 28th, and take part in an artistic journey that is as enlightening as it is enjoyable.


About Josie Simon 7 Articles
Josie Simon (she/her) is a writer, passionate LGBTQ+ advocate, and lover of the arts. As a former dancer with a keen eye for detail, Josie brings a unique perspective to her writing. She is a current fourth-year political science major at the University of Calgary and has previously contributed to the Gauntlet.