Friday, December 12, 2014

Modernism Will Never Ever Happen

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ang walang-katapusang gyera ng artists kontra artists


Nora Aunor

NARITO na naman tayo. Nakakalimang blog na ako sa buwisit na temang ito, ngunit nandito na naman ako.
     Pa’no naman kasi, may listahan na namang inilabas para sa National Artist of the Philippines Award (na bibigyan ko rito ng acronym na NAOTPA) ang National Artist of the Philippines Award committee ng Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) at National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) at tila may gulo na naman. Sa mga pangalan na isinumite ng kumite (na inatasang gumawa ng listahan para sa award na ito), may isang nilaglag ang taga-aprubang Opisina ng Pangulo ng Republika ng Pilipinas. Nilaglag daw si Nora Aunor sa listahang isinumite.
     May ibinigay raw na dahilan ang Malacañang sa paglaglag, subalit ayokong patulan ito (kahit pa man sumagi sa aking isipan na baka ayaw lang ng estado na mabigyan ng isang tax-funded na award ang isang minsan pa'y naging simbolo, ayon sa estado, ng tax evasion). May kumuwestiyon sa dahilan na ibinigay ng Malacañang, pero ayoko ring patulan ang pagkuwestiyong ito. May mga panukala rin sa ilang sektor na baguhin na ang rules sa pag-award, at isa na rito ang tungkol sa pagbawas ng kapangyarihan ng Pangulo sa mga listahang isusumite ng kumite. Kahit ang panukalang ito, di ko rin pinansin. Ano pa nga ba ang magagawa ng ordinaryong Pilipino na tulad ko kundi ang magbuntong-hininga na lamang.
     Ang pinansin at pinatulan ko ay ang survey na pi-nost ng kaibigan ko sa Facebook na si Simkin de Pio, gallery owner. Sa post ni Ka Simkin sa Facebook group o community na ArtPhilippines, nanghingi siya ng boto ng mga miyembro ng grupo—mga artists, critics, art lovers, atbp. At ang virtual title ng post niya ay ito: ArtPh asks – The National Artist Awards: To Scrap or Not to Scrap, and Why?
     May tatlong pagpipilian sa post na ito ni Ka Simkin: 1) NO, I don’t think the National Artist Award should be scrapped, because…; 2) YES, I believe the National Artist Award should be scrapped, because…; at 3) MAYBE, who cares? It’s all politics and I reserve my right to abstain, because… Sa comment box, maraming nagbigay ng kani-kaniyang dahilan o di kaya ay disclaimer.
     Halimbawa, ang Facebook friend kong si Jonathan Benitez, Palawan artist na bumoto ng YES to scrapping the award, ay nag-offer ng kanyang mungkahing ito: "We need more art education and promotion and art critics."
     Na-engganyo akong mag-comment sa post matapos kong bumoto rin ng “YES to scrapping the award,” hindi lamang dahil Facebook friend ko si Ka Simkin, ngunit dahil isa ako sa tatlong ti-nag ni Ka Jonathan sa tanong niyang ito: “Curious lang ako, sir Pandy Aviado, bay Simkin de Pio, at Jojo Soria de Veyra. Bakit bata pa na-declare si Arturo Luz as National Artist? (And some people) don’t have a clue about him.”
     Di ko sinagot ang tanong ni Ka Jonathan tungkol sa edad ng mga naparangalan sa mga nagdaang taon ng NAOTPA, at di rin ako nagbigay ng general backgrounder tungkol kay Luz na maaaring magsilbing depensa sa worthiness ng conferment dito. Si Ka Simkin na ang nagbigay sa mga kaibigan ni Ka Jonathan ng backgrounder na iyon. Ang sinagot ko kay Ka Jonathan ay ire lamang:

ANG NASYONAL SA NASYONG ITO
“Yun talaga ang point, pareng Jonathan. Marami sa mga kababayan natin sa ating nasyon (as in ‘nasyonal’) ay walang clue tungkol sa mga nananalo o napararangalan. Maaaring ako ay may clue at maaaring saludo ako sa artist na napaunlakan, subalit dahil hindi ako statist kundi populist, hindi ko sasaluduhan ang prosesong statist o maka-state at hindi naman totoong maka-nation. Hindi isyu ang kung deserving ng honors o hindi ang isang naparangalan, ang isyu ay kung dapat bang mag-impose sa isang nasyon ang isang state ng ituturing nila (ng nasyon) bilang kanilang ‘nasyonal’ na artist. At dapat bang buwisan ang nasyon (kasama ang mga artists dito) para masuportahan ang tinuring na artists ng estado? Mapapansin mong ang mga bansa (o di kaya gobyerno) lang na may statist na persuasion ang may mga national artist conferments, Turkey halimbawa.”
     Sabi naman ng well-recognized na artist na si sir Buds Convocar, “Kapag ganyan naman ang naging basehan, baka mas maraming maging NA awardee na comics illustrators kaysa sa mga painters at sculptors—di kaya?” At may mahalagang point ang rhetorical question na ito ni Ka Buds na seryosong concerned sa quirks ng populism. Totoo nga namang mas maraming tao ang nagagalingan sa drowing ng mga comics artists kaysa sa painting ng mga minimalists. Babalikan natin ang isyung yan.
     Ang sunod namang tanong ni Ka Jonathan ay, “Ang Presidential Medal of Merit awardee ng US ba, walang monthly stipend, Jojo Soria de Veyra, Buds Convocar?”
     Sagot ko, “Di ko alam na may presidential medal of merit ang US, pre. Ang alam ko lang yung dating Medal for Merit na hindi naman para sa arts. Wala na yata yun.”
     At sa rhetorical concern ni Ka Buds, ito ang inoffer kong take: “Ang punto ko lang naman kasi, ang nasyon ay mayroon nang national artists (na naging national ayon sa kaniyang kultura at hindi ayon sa kultura ng minority elite) na hindi na kailangan pang bigyan ng capital letters para maging National Artists. Bakit ba kailangan maglaan ng tax money ang mga taga-estado para magbigay ng capital letters sa iilang artists na ‘nasyonal’ daw, nasyonal ayon sa kanilang pananaw sa konseptong ‘nasyon’ o di kaya ayon sa kanilang utopia ng kung ano dapat ang hugis ng kultura ng ating nasyon. Bilang isang demokratikong mamamayan at advocate ng democracy, hahayaan ko na ang pagiging multicultural ng ating nasyon, kaysa naman ipagpilitan ko sa inyo—kung ako na ang poderoso—ang mga kinagigiliwan kong artists na siyang maging Artists ng nag-iisa ang kultura nating Nasyon. Unang-una, ang Pilipinong ‘nasyon’ ay isang mito, isang myth.”
     Mas mabuti bang tawagin na lang nating Artist of the State Award ang NAOTPA, para klaro at di na magkagulo?

ANG NASYON NG PRIBILEHIYO
Maraming naging comments galing sa ibang members sa posted survey na ito ni Ka Simkin, both pro-NAOTPA and anti-NAOTPA. Ilalagay ko na lang dito ang aking mga naging sagot sa ilang mga mungkahi.
     Halimbawa, sa mungkahing dapat alisin na ang pribilehiyo ng Pangulo na pumili ng awardees mula sa listahan na isinumite ng NAOTPA selection committee, gayunman ang pribilehiyo nitong gumawa ng sarili niyang listahan, ang masasabi ko ay ito: Kung dapat walang ganitong pribilehiyo ang Pangulo ng nasyon, sino dapat ang may ganitong pribilehiyo? Ang Unyon ng mga Artistang Pilipino sa People's Republic of the Philippines? isang konsehong binubuo ng mga matagumpay na artists na magdedesisyon din para sa milyun-milyong tastes at appreciation ng milyun-milyong elemento ng nasyon?
     Tuwing may mga pararangalan sa NAOTPA, nagkakagulo ang nasyon ng mga artists at art lovers at media dahil sa iisang katotohanan: ang nasyon natin ng milyun-milyong Pilipino ay may kaniya-kaniyang gustong magawaran ng NAOTPA, kung kaya’t madalas ay minumura na ng ilang bahagi ng ating multicultural na nasyon ang kumite na inatasang pumili dahil sa kaniyang mga pinili o hindi pinili, gayunman ang Pangulo na nag-apruba, di nag-apruba, o gumawa ng sarili niyang listahan. Ang point ay ito: ang bawat indibidwal sa ating nasyon ng milyun-milyon ay may peyborit artist. Ngunit sa nasyong ito, ng milyun-milyon, may kumite ng estado na may last sey at may hawak sa NAOTPA. Entonces, sa NAOTPA, ang kumite ang nasyon, hindi ang totoong nasyon ng milyun-milyon.
     Sa Soviet Union noon, may Union of Soviet Writers na nagdedesisyon sa kung sino—officially—ang ituturing na magaling at mahusay at sino ang ituturing na pangit o walang kuwenta ang mga sinulat. Kasama si Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn do'n sa mga itinuring na pangit. Ito ba ang union na gusto nating itayo, o hayaang nakatayo, sa ating nasyon ng mga artists at art lovers?
     Ngunit may paraan naman daw para di maging hawak sa ilong ng estado ang kumite na itatayo, o nakatayo na. Para hindi ito maging beholden sa Pangulo o ruling party, may isusulat na bagong rules. But the fact is that any state institution always finds itself beholden to the leader of the state! And whenever and wherever it isn’t, it is only able to do so because of the presence of something else it can alternatively be beholden to, something other than the President, an opposition Congress, halimbawa.
     Maaari ba tayong makapagtayo ng isang state arts council na walang “impure motives” na magpapatakbo ng NAOTPA? Again, impure motives, obvious or sublime, will always be present in state sponsorship of artists and art-making, for the simple reason that the use of state funds for state favouritism is already impure from the start.

ANG NASYONALISTANG NASYON
Sa isyu ng nasyonalismo naman na nasa likod daw ng NAOTPA at sa pagpapalakas daw ng mga simbolo sa adhikaing ito, isantabi na muna natin ang problema ng mismong ideyalismo ng nasyonalismo bilang adhikain ng puso sa kabuuan nito, ang problema nito halimbawa sa pagiging crude (kapag nasa ngalan ng local o indigenous) o pagiging threatening (kapag nangingibabaw ang isang ‘Filipino ang art ko, banyaga iyang sa iyo’ o ang isang ‘buy Filipino art only, down with imported art’ na tibok ng puso nito).
     Iwanan muna natin ang epekto ng nasyonalismo sa trade economics at magfocus na lang tayo sa isang kategorya sa arts, sa visual arts, halimbawa. Maraming art contests ang may hangarin na tulad ng sa NAOTPA, ang palawigin ang sense of national pride and identity sa pamamagitan ng recognition para sa mga visual artists na nakagawa na ng kanilang di-matatawarang mga kontribusyon sa arts ng bansa. Hindi ko nga lang alam ngayon kung paano ito makatutulong sa pagbibigay sa ating mga kababayan ng ambisyong isulong ang kanilang mga sarili tungo sa dakilang landas ng ingenuity, social significance, at economic progress. Dahil kung tayo ay talagang seryoso sa hangaring ito, doon na ako ke pareng Jonathan sa sinabi niyang solusyon sa kakulangan ng ambisyon: “We need more art education and promotion and art critics.
     Not necessarily professional art critics kundi art criticism exchange between artists and art lovers. Yun! Art criticism exchange. Hindi pag-aagawan ng medalya at trophy na may malabo o pantastikong pahalaga! Baka sa art education pa nga natin makita ang mga kakitiran sa mismong ideya ng “nasyonalismo.”

PAGLABU-LABO NG NASYON
Isa pa, alam natin na ang estado ay hindi parati para sa nasyon, kaya minsan ninanais natin na ang nasyon ay maging ang estado.
     Pero, ganun talaga. Di natin maaalis ang katotohanang may mga artists na hinihingi ang presensiya ng estado sa larangan ng sining, habang may mga artists naman na mas hiling ang di pakikialam ng estado sa larangang ito.
     Ang ibang artists nag-i-struggle na hindi makialam ang estado sa artmaking nila o sa kanilang artform o genre. Ngunit may panig ng artists naman na nagdedemand ng pakikialam (o suporta) ng estado sa mga artists. Siguro nga hindi ganun ka-obvious ang lalim ng difference na ito dahil nakatira tayo sa isang democracy kuno. Siguro mas magiging obvious ang lalim ng difference na ito kung nakatira tayo sa isang diktadurya o komunistang bansa. O di kaya pag napakialaman na ng estado (o ng taxpaying nation, for that matter) ang art natin at di natin nagustuhan ang pakikialam.
     Naroon ang “bipolarity” na ito, ang duwalismong ito, sa kahit saang lugar na may state sponsorship sa art activity o di kaya artistic achievement. Ang National Endowment for the Arts ng Estados Unidos, halimbawa, ay nananatiling isang contentious na programa na pinaglalabanan ang control ng mga konserbatibo at ng mga liberal sa naturang bansa. At dahil kadalasa’y liberal ang arts sa Estados Unidos, di nakapagtataka na ang mga sigaw ng pagbuwag ng NEA ay nanggagaling sa mga konserbatibo.
     Ngunit sa bansa natin, may isa pang duwalismong nangingibabaw maliban doon sa pagitan ng mga artistang maka-estado at artistang libertaryano. Sabi ni Ka Jonathan, “correct me if Im wrong, pero maraming National Artists na di kilala ng ordinaryong tao. Mas kilala si Justine Bieber at Mommy Dionesia (Pacquiao). Bakit kaya, ano ang problema?”
     Nung sinabi ni Ka Jonathan na kailangan ng bansa ang pagpapalawig ng arts education sa mga eskuwelahan at sa exchange ng mga artists at art lovers, nasagot na niya mismo ang sarili niyang rhetorical question na ito na kahawig nung tanong ni Ka Buds. Ang isyung ito ay tumatalakay sa duwalismo, o polarity, na namamagitan hindi lamang sa gitna ng mga maka-estado at libertaryano kundi rin sa gitna ng mga may nalalaman at walang masyadong alam. Pinalawig ko ng kaunti ang argumentong ito ni Ka Jonathan, para sa tenga ng iba, ng ganire:
     “Oo, Ka Jonathan, ang national artists ng masa at national artists ng elite ay nagpapakita lamang na hindi iisa ang nation natin. Makikita mo na walang ganung pagkakaiba, sa gitna ng mayaman at mahirap, sa mga bansang iisa ang kultura, at ito’y dahil sa pantay-pantay na edukasyon o oportunidad sa edukasyon. Tulad ng Japan, halimbawa.”

ANG (DI-)PAGHUPA NG LABU-LABO
Bakit ba naisip ni Ka Simkin ang ganitong survey posting? Marahil dahil sa may naririnig na siya sa paligid na mga mungkahing i-abolish na nga ang NAOTPA.
     Abolish? Bakit? Pa’no pa tayo magkakaroon ng great names sa dingding at kisame ng ating mga maka-sining na isipan kung itatapon na ito sa basurahan?
     Subalit, teka. Ang daming great names sa arts na hinahangaan natin, maging dito sa ating bansa o sa ibang bansa. Marami sa mga banyagang great names na hinahangaan natin ay walang "National Artist Award" sa kanilang bansa, at tila hindi nila kinailangan.
     I say let us be men and women of artistic success, thanks to the national market, rather than men and women of artistic success, thanks to the State! Dahil hindi kaya na ang dahilan kung bakit nagbibigay ang state ng isang national award (actually isang state award) ay para mapag-isa niya ang isang nasyon na alam niya ay hindi nagkakaisa? Plastik, kung ganun.
     State awards are a State’s affirmation of value. To a nation, folk singer-songwriter Gary Granada's efforts to infuse his personal and aesthetic values into the culture of his people, for example, might be the more noble, the more nationalistic product, no, popularly noble and nationalistic product as against the exclusively noble and only quasi-nationalistic product. Unless, of course, we define noble” from the royalist perspective or metanarrative, which would be the perfect rationalization for the elitism in our nation’s supposedly “national” arts.
     At kung babalikan ko lang ang tinalakay nating goals o objectives ng mga ganitong award na may adhikaing pang-lipunan kuno, tingnan na lang natin ang Palanca contest. Nagkaroon ba ng literary culture ang buong Pilipinas dahil dito? Hindi. Dahil plastic ang mga ganitong paraan. Hindi tayo magkakaroon ng national pasalubong kung hindi ka magtatayo ng real-life doughnut shops sa bawat kanto at magbibigay ka lamang ng Best Doughnut Award para sa produktong hindi pa nakikita kung kaya’t di maapreciate ng tao. Hindi national bookstore ang National Bookstore kung wala itong virtual monopoly sa pagtitinda ng notebooks at tech pens at Grumbacher oils at binigyan lamang ng award kahit wala ito sa mga paborito nating malls. Sa ngayon, may dibisyon sa pagitan ng elite na nakakikilala sa mga artistang naparangalan at ng nasyon na walang kaalam-alam.
     Magiging patuloy na huwad ang lahat ng bagay na itinuring nating “national” hanggat di natin natatanggap itong dibisyon at pagkakaiba.
     Wala naman kasing masama sa division at difference kung hindi ito itatago, at i-aacknowledge na nariyan, at hindi ituturing na negatibo kundi positibo. Ang problema natin ay pag may nagsasabi, sa ngalan ng pagkakaisa, na ang gusto niyang si Chick Corea ay dapat papalakpakan din ng mga mahilig sa death metal o fliptop. Pag ang ganitong attitude ay nasa national scope, mas sakit sa ulo, dahil siguradong may aangal sa pandidikta.
     Subalit, teka, sino ba ang nandidikta?
     May nagsasabi na kapag pribadong award body, ang mga desisyon nito tungkol sa award ay prerogatiba ng pribadong institusyon, hindi pandidikta. Matatawag mo lamang na pandidikta kung galing sa estado, sa simpleng dahilan na ang mga galaw at desisyon ng estado ay pinopondohan ng buwis ng tao at ang pagbayad ng buwis ay idinidikta sa tao bilang obligasyon nito.
     So, hayaan na lang ba dapat na private institutions na lang ang magbigay ng art awards tulad ng Carnegie Art Award, o ng architecture prizes tulad ng Pritzker Architecture Prize? Dahil, oo nga naman, hindi magandang tingnan na ginagamit ang public fund para sa state patronage ng mga arts people. Ang Sweden nga na isang constitutional monarchy ay pinauubaya ang mga ganitong awards sa mga private institutions tulad ng Nobel. Bakit ba napaka-government-obsessed o state-reliant nating mga Pinoy, e alam naman nating divided tayo at multicultural at di magkakaisa sa iisang taste dictum, lalo na kung taste dictum galing sa Estado?
     At bakit nga naman kasi kailangan pa ng garbo tulad ng free hospitalization para sa awardees, e may kaya na naman ang karamihan ng nanalo at naparangalan? Samantala, ang majority ng Pilipino (at Pilipinong artists) na nagbabayad ng cultural tax ay di kaya magpaduktor. Ironic. Tila mas royalista pa tayo kaysa sa mga Swedish. . . .
     There are actually presently two competing powerbrokers in the arts—the State, on the one hand, and the private art industry, on the other. Some artists get patronage from both, others sa isa lang. Ako, bilang ordinaryong miyembro ng audience, nagbabayad ng ticket para ma-entertain ng private art industry, at nagbabayad ng ticket at nagbabayad din ng buwis para ma-entertain ng State art industry. Nga pala, bilang makata, nagbabayad din ako ng buwis para suportahan ang mga kapwa ko makata na ini-sponsor ng State.
     Hindi kailangan ng NAOTPA para may tingalain tayong mga artista ng nasyon o bayan. Walang national artist award si Picasso o si Ezra Pound o si Sid Vicious. In fact, it has been a reliance on such plastic contrivances of national valuation that has led us to ignore what is really needed para tingalain ng nasyon o ng bayan ang mga kahanga-hangang gawa ng ating mga artista.
     In fact, mayroong ebidensya na walang nagreresultang totoong pagtingala ang nasyon sa mga National Artists dahil naituring silang National Artists. Halimbawa, marami akong kilalang nakakikilala sa pangalan ni Jose Garcia Villa at pumapalakpak sa pangalan niya (proud sila na may isang Pilipinong nagtagumpay sa larangan ng pagtula na tulad ni Villa) kahit wala ni isang tula mula kay Villa pa silang nababasa. Ganun ang kulturang nabubuo ng isang plastik na pagiging maka-nasyon, o sa plastik na pagturing sa isang artista bilang artista kuno ng nasyon.
     Maganda ang naidudulot ng NAOTPA sa mga naparangalan nito in terms of adulation. Ngunit ang tanong ko uli: maganda ba ang naidudulot nito sa “nasyon” na siyang salitang ginagamit sa titulong ito? Ang tanong ko uli: nauuwi ba ito sa pasilitasyon ng pagbabasa ng mga nobela ni F. Sionil Jose o hindi? Pumapalakpak ba ang nasyon sa pangalan ni Jose kahit wala pa itong nababasang nobela niya? Kung gayun, walang saysay ang investment na ito.
     In contrast, walang National Artist of the Philippines Award si Granada. Ngunit kanino ang gawang mas kilala ng nasyon, ang sa kanya o ang mga nobela ni Jose? Sa tingin ko mas laganap ang pagkakilala sa ilang mga awitin ni Granada, bagamat hindi gano'n kalaganap dahil indie ang production niya, hindi major-record label produced and marketed, major-label distributed lang kung minsan. Sa case ni Jose, mababaw ang appreciation ng nasyon sa art ng nobela, kahit pa sa akademismo ng mga estudyante ng mga akademya. . . .
Gary Granada
     So, mayroon kayang mas makahulugang investment ang estado kaysa sa mga gimmick tulad ng NAOTPA? Oo naman. Unang-una, nasa kaniya na ang kapangyarihan na humubog ng kurikulum sa edukasyon. Ituturo niya ba ang mga elemento ng arkitektura o ituturo lang niya ang mga pangalan ng mga dakilang arkitekto sa pamamagitan ng awards? Bilang taxpayer, doon na ako sa una.
     In contrast, “In Japan,” commented painter Marcel Antonio, “there's no confusion when someone is declared a Living National Treasure. The award carries with it a sense of protecting or preserving a techne that embodies what is essentially and quintessentially Japanese, in the same way nature is preserved from extinction. It is the technique of pottery, a way of doing things, an ethos that is glorified, not the individual artist himself/herself.”
     At sino ba itong mga pinarangalang mga National Artists sa taong ito? Ano ang techne na ginoglorify sa pamamagitan ng paghirang sa kanila? Ano ang value ng mga techne na ito sa nasyon?
     Si Gat Cirilo Bautista ang isa sa mga pinarangalan ngayong taon. Isa rin siya sa iilang Pilipinong makata na maituturing kong may malaking impluwensiya sa sarili kong pagsulat ng tula, whether he’d like reading that pronouncement or not when he reads it. Sa valuation ko, isa na siyang national artist sa Jojo Soria de Veyra Nation. Sige, bibigyan ko pa ng capital letters ang “national” at ang “artist” title niya sa republika ko. Subalit, ito ang isyu ngayon: nung magpunta ako kanina sa palengke at bumili ng kalahating kilong manok, at ibinalita ko sa suki ko na nagawaran na nga ng National Artist of the Philippines Award si Gat Bautista, tanong ng suki ko: “ha? sino? Sino yun? Ano ba yang national artist reward na yan?” So much for national artists of nations.
     Kung may hangad akong karangalan para sa mga idol ko sa poetry o sa painting o sa music o sa architecture, para sa akin ay mas malaki at makabuluhang karangalan ang makita ko ang mga pangalan nila na kasali sa mga kinover ng textbooks kaysa sa makita ko lang sila sa roster ng NAOTPA na di makikilala ng tao o di maiintindihan ng tao ang kanilang cultural at aesthetic value.
     “Dito sa atin,” comment ng artist at gallery owner na si Ka Alfredo Liongoren, “dahil na- Hollywoodized ang kukuti natin, ginawa nating STAR ang mga may katangiang EHEMPLO NG LAHI, deviating attention away from their virtues for emulation and focused instead on their persons. We’ve cultivated a personality cult which has endorsement value for consumer products.”
     Tumpak. Parang ganun din yata sa industriya ng pulitika natin.

ANG MANANALO SA LABU-LABO
Ngayon, sa kalagitnaan ng mga comments sa post ni Ka Simkin, napansin ni Ka Simkin mismo ang mahigpit na labanan ng YES at NO votes.
     Ang sabi ko, “Ka Simkin, I predict that the negative (NO to scrapping) vote will win. We have always been a socialist nation desirous of state interference. Until the day, of course, the state interferes with our art. Even then, baka hindi pa rin.
     At doon naman sa mga bumoto ng MAYBE, di ako naniniwala na kulang sila sa pusong-pakikialam sa mga laban ng bayan. Di naman siguro. Paniniwala ko’y di lang nila na-re-realize na galing sa kanilang ipinagkait na buwis ang pinag-paparty ngayon ng isang winner na ipinambili nito ng Cristal. They must know that this is a major concern to them as far as their 20% income tax payment and movie-ticket cultural tax payment, not to mention 12% VAT payments, are concerned.
     Now, the reason why I predicted a win for the NO-to-scrapping-the-NAOTPA vote is because matagal ko nang nakikita ito sa kahit saang probinsiya man ako magpunta. Ayoko sanang maniwala na damaged ang culture natin pag banyaga ang nagsasabi, subalit may damage akong nakikita sa sarili kong mga mata sa pananaw pa lang natin sa konsepto ng demokrasya. Sa aking mga nakikita, ang demokrasya sa marami nating kababayan ay “ang kalayaan kong magsalita na dapat wala sila.” Ibig sabihin, “dapat ako lang ang may kalayaang magsalita at mapakinggan, wala akong responsibilidad na makinig sa ibang nagsasalita.” Marami sa ating mga kababayan ang may ganitong sakit.
     Ganito rin tila ang anatomya sa paniniwala ng maraming artists na galit na galit sa gobyerno pag walang suporta itong ibinibigay sa propesyon ng sining o ng artista o sa taga-sining o artista na idols nila. Maliban sa wala silang pakialam sa pagkawalang-suporta rin ng gobyerno sa ibang malayang propesyon, halimbawa sa propesyon ng panadero o ng karpintero o ng accountant o ng welder, marami sa kanila ang naniniwalang mayroong obligasyon ang gobyerno sa kanilang practice. Ito lang ang problema: kapag pinauunlakan sila, sila'y nagiging masaya; subalit kapag iba ang napauunlakan, ipinahihiwatig nila na di nila maintindihan kung bakit iba ang napaunlakan. Ito ang problema sa likod ng walang-katapusang gyera ng artists kontra artists sa ating bansa.
     Ito ang puno't dulo ng isyu kung bakit hindi dapat nakikialam ang estado/gobyerno (gamit ang buwis na pera galing sa lahat) sa propesyon ng ilang artista o sa pag-value o di pag-value sa kanila. Hindi ito dapat nakikialam sa propesyon nila, tulad ng hindi nito pakikialam sa propesyon ng mga nagluluto ng adobo sa carinderia ni Aling Nena at sa sabungan ni Mang Kepweng. . . .
     “Hay,” sabi ko, sa aking pagbuntong-hininga. Gayunpaman, ako'y susunod sa prinsipyo ng demokrasya na nagsasabing ang boto ng nakararami ang masusunod. Kung gusto ng nakararami na bumoto sa pagkain ng tae habang nagrereklamo sa amoy nito sa bibig, wala akong magagawa kundi respetuhin ang kanilang piniling buhay, kahit pa sikreto kong pagtatawanan ang damage sa lohika ng pinili nilang buhay-gyera. [JSV]

     


  • photo kay Cirilo Bautista hiram galing sa http://culturalcenter.gov.ph/press-room/2012-gawad-ccp-para-sa-sining-awardees-named/
  • photo kay Gary Granada hiram galing sa http://www.pep.ph/news/20768/gma-network-and-gary-granada-issue-new-statements-over-jingle-controversy 








Thursday, April 3, 2014

WATCHING THE SEEDS GROW



The Mustard Seed
New works by Marcel Antonio
April 3-6, 2014
The Gallery, Greenbelt 5
Ayala Center, Makati City






1. Road to An Anti-Impersonal Symbology


MARCEL Antonio’s scenes have been viewed as narrative. By some—including yours truly—, they’ve been approached as quasi- and pseudo-narrative, more concerned with a certain enigma I’ve recently described as a sort of “blue funk erotica”. I described this “blue funk erotica” value here and here.
     In the present collection, however, I am eager to acquiesce to others’ semiotics and confess that a more pronounced symbolism in the artist has indeed come to the forefront. But, doubtful of this, as I am doubtful of any critical certainty upon artistic intent, I stepped on a doorstep critics have been told to be wary of, and that is the doorstep of talking to the artist about his real intent of the moment. I disobeyed the warning and knocked on the door.
     But I wasn’t keen on asking the artist about my readings’ correctness, only about his painting process. After all, artists do discourse on their process in exhibition catalogues and manifesto/thesis announcements during interviews. And, in certain snobbish quarters, artists are deemed significant or otherwise by a process particular to them or a group of them. Beatriz Milhazes’ imagery wouldn’t really be deemed special if she didn’t have that value of a different process added to the production of her imagery, would it? Argue with me if you like, but it has always been process that defined the being of every significant movement in the painting art. Action painting was but the bawdlerization of process itself, and jazz underscored improvisation as the immediate process occurring inside the structured product of a process of planning.
     And so my conversation with Marcel Antonio might give us a clearer picture of a thesis that has been so often waylaid by traditional critical self-centeredness, that is, by the critic’s intent to frame his reading as an exhibition by itself almost independent of the “presumed dead” artist. That tradition is no more pronounced than in the Philippines, where artists are seldom wont (or allowed) to announce themselves as thesis authors on their exhibitions’ catalogues.
     But, again, I did not knock on the artist’s door to ask him about his art thesis but to ask him about his process which should be his thesis, or at least should/could be a factor in a comprehensive appreciation of any critical thesis on the artist’s thesis (really the artist’s thesis as imagined by the critic’s thesis).
     And this, over coffee, was what I and the artist came up with:

ANTONIO’S symbology (whether quasi- or pseudo- or closed-text-) is not really “blueprinted” from the start. Like a good painting, it starts as a traffic of pencil or charcoal or pastel marks directly applied as ghostly presences to a trigonometry on canvas. We have a formal composition involving figures in arranged spaces. The figures in turn acquire gestures, facial expressions, glances towards positions in the compass, poses, and so on, bent on acquiring a sort of dramatic dance that has yet no meaning. The figures’ hands and glances and poses become pointing arrows that provide pictorial motion. Yes, exactly—the concern is initially formal, with the eyes of a character placed at, say, 8 o’clock directed towards 2 o’clock, a figure at 3 o’clock pointing a finger to an object at 7 o’clock.
     However, now, that’s simplifying the initial process too much, because simultaneous (not necessarily working together yet) to this formal beginning is the play with free association (which may later have an impact on the titling stage). Antonio may appropriate a dictionary of dreams or an online random sentence generator or the Inspiro app (an idea generator) on his iPad, all for the purpose of inspiring a drama springboard. A working title might be as kinky as “KC Concepcion tips the avocado hat of Slavoj Zizek” or as lewd as “A nun tilts a monk’s garden towards suburbia and Hollywood”. At this point, you may call him a Surrealist. Who isn’t nowadays, anyway?
     But all this playing around with signifiers to arrive at significance within a formal arrangement might impress some as too plastic if one didn’t know the fact that some artists who work in this way are really already planning their work during the process, if only by way of tapping their subconscious’ prejudices for and against “things”. The play is as necessary as art qua an affirmation of life. In this sense, it is in the negation of play that one becomes purely plastic. And in Antonio’s case of playing around with the contents of life, there is the artist’s definitely far-from-plastic bias towards “the enigma stereotype” and bias against the “happy” moment. In this sense, the artist does display a taste, mostly subconscious, invoking his right to a marriage with the moods depicting ennui, melancholia, de Chirico, Chagall, and so on. “Ayoko lang talaga ng smiling face (I'm just not fond of smiling faces),” says the artist, flashing a smirk. You can’t be more organic than that.
     This process, or process of processes, would then work onwards and work together until it finally gets things to gel. Gel, that is, color-wise, mood drama-wise, perhaps semantically, but primarily towards the fulfilment of a visual logic that had worked through its highways of visual premises and visual conclusions, with its visual conclusive finding finally sparked by the luminescence of the four or so layers of paint that now function as a glamorous glazed image.
     But I’m lying. For, at this arrival, there is the equally primary recognition of a power in the center, a drama at the center (not necessarily in the physical middle), that has decided on the peripherality of the peripheral and the graveness of the central gravity.
     Add to this feeling of fulfilment lies the bonus of recognizing the enigma of the recurring motif in relation to the other pieces in the studio. The power of the center has occurred in each piece and in the solar system of pieces around and in the galaxy of works that the artist had churned out through the decades retained in his memory. The beauty of the recurring motif has also arrived.
     And so we come to the titling stage, as if that wasn’t already working with the daily progress of the work, as it is the case often with artists working in this manner. Books read are recognized, movies seen are presences acknowledged, news events come into play, the working title bolstered or felled. The title comes not as a conclusion to a contrived process for closing an oeuvre but as a signature on a plate that has been acknowledged to be personal. Anything less than or beyond the personal is not yet done, the arrival must arrive at the personal. This is the satisfaction that comes with the recognition of the old familiar recurring motif, which we critics often desire to call the thesis element. The recurring motif becomes proof of the personal.
     It is now, at this point, that we can say Antonio’s symbolism has happened, in the past as open ones in acknowledgment of the values others may attach to the same picture, in the present as both secretly personal and publicly public by virtue of the publicly-shared referents of the chosen titles. The title itself has become a center.
     Then again, it’s not as if the title wasn’t already there progressing with the daily evolution of the work as it was initiated by the traffic of pencil or charcoal or pastel marks directly applied as ghostly presences to the trigonometry on canvas. So much for this talk about process. [FIN]


2. Depot of Anti-Expressionist Symbolism


SOME Antonio followers might have seen that 2012 Antonio work titled Poetry in Three Tongues. I call back this work to show how in the current show of mainly 2013 works it may represent Antonio’s transformation from an artist of a previous Blue Funk Erotica to being one for a new BFE direction. In years previous, Antonio’s BFE rested luxuriantly behind his quasi-narrative and pseudo-narrative still stage plays as well as in his illustration of various existing literary narratives that turned out to be more like BFE variations on the original stories they purported to depict.

monochrome photo of Antonio's Poetry in Three Tongues, 42 x 54", acrylic on canvas, 2012. From http://www.surrealismnow.com/totem/featuredartistpage.html

     That 2012-13 transformation leads us to the present collection of works, painted through the stretch of 2013, that momentarily (or permanently) leaves the poststructuralist openness of the artist’s older paintings to almost hype up that part in Antonio with a more closed text (as against open text) symbolist intents.
     Where is this symbolism leading us toward? In that 2012 work Poetry in Three Tongues, Antonio provided us a hint—familiar images of concerns mundane (chess play), deep (zoology study), and routine-economic (butchery work). As usual, Antonio’s portrait faces here defied expression (and expressionism) and played up his wont for that drama of thinking that in turn inspires viewers to inhabit a similar world of contemplation.
     What is the point of this contemplation? What should be the object of our contemplation? Another 2012 piece I would like to go back to is Aegri Somnia, which was a more literal erotica showing an undressing female’s back and backside (talk of facelessness as dis-expression that also hurled at our faces an ass!). Around this erotic central figure were: a clown/jester/harlequin on his way out carrying on his right shoulder a young female with a likely-false sceptre and crown in her hands (she had a mesmerized/drunken look, unworthy of a queen, directed at “the cameraman”, and Antonio avoided showing teeth in her open mouth); a student or intellectual sleeping beside his open book or journal; a gourmand studying a slice of meat on his fork; a young female figure observing a butterfly. If you had seen this piece, you would have noticed that action and expression, respectively, were present only on the bird diving toward a river and on a cannibal pig showing his teeth upon a roasted mate. This work’s drama was an ennui- or tiredness-filled world for humans, horror of horrors, where dramatic expressionism was the mere luxury of animals. And although anyone could have structured Marxist readings of a worker-capitalist or subject-royalty or powerless-powerful relationship into an Antonio scene like Aegri Somnia, in the end they would find themselves in a mere depiction of a quiet or hidden misery behind a contentedness both political and psychological. (If it’s an aesthetic contentedness, it then offers political and psychological symbolism independent of expressionism’s shock methodology).
     The psychology around this relationship gets clarified in some of the works in the present collection. In The Do-Nothing King, the royalty-subject relationship is more explicitly used to show a squawking, supposedly bird-brained bird-king (expression allowed on a roi fainéant!). And although the singer-figure on the left is showing his teeth as he sings and could be read as Antonio’s version of Munch’s The Scream, context frustrates (mocks?) expressionism as that figure’s singing ultimately ends up on the senses as nothing more than a picture of submission to a job’s requirement. Here is Antonio’s symbolist genius working through a Lee Strasberg device, quietly method-acting through space without the need to screech.

EXPRESSIONISM was inspired by 19th-century symbolism and carried forward even into this period of the 21st century the latter’s torch. But Antonio’s reservation towards expressionist symbolism is not in any way similar to Stuckists’ claims to “authenticity” versus Conceptualism.
     For instance, in what would otherwise be a Buddhist-cum-Christian narrative piece, the show’s eponymously-titled The Mustard Seed, we are presented a moustachioed man in a suit and tie carrying an axe, one leg embraced (hindered) by a dwarf, as he approaches the supposedly mustard tree. Lesbians kiss in the background, another male figure on the right eats indifferent to what’s around him, and two blank-faced females appear on the foreground. It’s all a product of an attitude that seeks not to destroy an expressionist bent but merely to offer an alternative—the alternative of disengagement. This modesty, compared to expressionist self-hype of its direct engagement, is his own modest mustard seed to achieving an aesthetic heaven.

The Mustard Seed, 60 x 60", oil on canvas, 2013

     If there’s any mockery in this show at all, it’s in the subtle mockery of expressionism’s tantrums. As an option to these tantrums, Antonio offers symbolism’s postmodern self-consciousness or self-semiotics. I was already seeing it in 2012, as in an acrylic titled The Mirror Stage, where Antonio portrayed a Lacanian self-remembering. In the picture, a boy pondered himself on a girl’s looking-glass while the girl lying on the ground contemplated her imaginary self while looking at “the painter’s camera”. Defying the concept of self-contemplation as synonymous to narcissism (you could see a pool of fishes in the background)—perhaps narcissism has more in common with tantrums and complaining—, Antonio demonstrated that postmodern self-consciousness is self-alienating instead of self-identifying, actually a denial of identification even as it struggles with the truth of the surrounding illusions. Or is this denial of identification verily a resultant of this very struggle with the truth of those surrounding illusions? Ultimately, after the fact, all those (de Chirico-esque) objects in Antonio’s compositions act as mirrors for his characters’ self-conscious crises.
     In a piece in the present show titled A Love Encounter, the lovers’ dance and the accoutrements of courting likewise become mirrors for this self-alienation. Animals are mirrors for contemplating the relationship between self and those living others, going beyond anthropocentrism. Mulling over one’s nudity becomes a meditation on one’s place in the existing interrelationships in nature, on one’s humanity within the ecology. But lest we equate this self-consciousness solely with intellectual reflection (zoology, perhaps), it can also lead to the denial of the self through escaping intellection and falling for the (albeit boring) freedom of socializing (card games, perhaps, or hobbies like sewing).
     And so, coming full circle, we come to understand Antonio’s obsession with ennui in the years past. It is not simply “boredom” the way the word would translate to English, but the product of man’s estranged relationship with a challenging world. It is in fact an almost-sad surrender to the mysterious Immensity. But while some would illustrate alienation with the self-deprecating smile of humour or self-effacement, Antonio illustrates it with features of reflection (science, magic), contrivance (religion, myth-making, story-making), indifference (the ennui we see), and subtle or silent (because fearsome of aloneness) detestation. We see that last struggle in Myths to Live By, through the psychology of a dancing couple in the foreground who may not really be into their being a couple—is marriage one of the social myths Antonio would want to include in his Joseph Campbellian list of myths? We don’t know.
     In To Be or Not to Be, Antonio combines elements of cubism, the collage, and Pop art to posit his characters in a psychology of awe, speechlessness, and innocence/ignorance vis a vis a colourful world of consumer goods and decisions. The human perspective here becomes no more intelligent than a dog’s.
     Other possible relationships (between man and objects as well as between man and others) are explored further in a Kafkaesque composition titled The Test. Antonio’s acting direction works well here in representing the tension between two debating male friends, again subtly presented instead of loudly.
     Another subtle trick is used for Untitled, where a post-coital scene of two young people sleeping as curling shapes on a beach is foregrounded by the sea’s curves, a curling fish set within. Is the fish asleep (in harmony with the couple) or not (contrasting with the couple)?
     A masterstroke of subtle symbology is Life Is A Struggle Against Sleep, where Antonio’s bored actors struggling to kill time with their respective chosen interests—as mere workers for or subjects to a giant hand of power—are backgrounded by a de Chirico window to a metaphysical world, transporting thus the ennui and acquiescence to other possible philosophical or even political heights.

Life Is A Struggle Against Sleep, 42 x 54", 2013

     The Devil’s Backside (a word-play, perhaps, around the title of the del Toro horror flick The Devil’s Backbone) tames the terror in the devil and night owl figures through a post-coital-ennui composition that’s been a signature Antonio mannerism. Notice also the artist’s nice habit of inhabiting many of his scenes with “workers,” in this case a brass-band musician.
     More workers inhabit The Midnight Radio Hour, just as they do many of the pieces in this show. But in Midnight Radio Hour, the scene occurs in the bright of day, with the modern-day urban inhabitants going about their business (is Antonio mocking or emulating grade school social studies textbook illustrations?), expressionless, with one asleep. Thus, even Diego Rivera’s Marxist expressionism gets a kicking in this river of Antonio dramas.
     The drama of roles is played on further in The River Dreams of Angel Flores, Jr., where we see the living head of the late Angel Flores, Jr. (aka Roberto Chabet) floating on a dark river, his body left on a wheelchair at the bank. You could say this is Antonio’s salute to last year’s passing of his dear professor and godfather, acknowledging the aesthetic guru’s eternal presence in the Philippine art world’s river of artmaking dreams; but doesn’t Antonio also here regard the river as separate from his worldly concerns? And so Chabet’s open-eyed intellectual leaning towards the abstract and the conceptual is thrown into this collectively-emulated river, as if to say, “look at me, sir; see me go back to the symbolist narratives and myths that you so left out in your (equally mythological, by the way) ocean of preferences.”
     Indeed, Antonio’s symbology does try to cover all the grounds of his personal semiotics, from where he works like a free jazz artist who starts from A, goes on to B and C and D and so on, and later goes back to A. This is what decides for Antonio’s process of adding or replacing images to a composition. For instance, in Antonio’s 2012 work Elective Affinities (not in this show), the artist’s philosophical bent started as a visual pun on the egg in Magritte’s own Elective Affinities, which latter piece was itself a pun around the title of a Goethe novel on chemical affinity. In Antonio’s version, the egg was a bright female thigh near the groin; the Goethean chemical incompatibility, meanwhile, was dramatized by the painting’s male figure’s seeming rapture directed not at the female figure but at another object of interest: a book. The Goethe theme went to Magritte went to Antonio went to Goethe. Or was this Antonio’s self-critique on possible incompatibilities within his own symbolist erotica occurring in that surrealist space between his symbolist intent and his audience’s reading?
     In his new works, as in Two Girls Reading a Book, Antonio’s self-critique on possible incompatibilities within his own symbolist erotica is illustrated by the distances occurring between objects of intellection (e.g. books) and the knowledge pursuer, between knowledge pursuer and the disinterested, between what could be knowledge and what could be pop rumor, as if that last portrays symbol reading itself. Indeed, in 2013-14, two girls (or boys) reading a book, or reading a painting on a wall for that matter, has entered the gallery of the mind way beyond where Picasso’s work with the same title could go when it attacked our eyes in 1934.
     The Mystery of the Butterfly Wing, meanwhile, compartmentalizes individuals into profiles with props. That makes that title quite apt, considering that in science that would precisely translate to “the mystery of diversity”.
     Then, Antonio takes this compartmentalization farther in Untitled (with big fish), where the partitions are more psychological than spatial. The cubist-collage format as dream generates a social take on urban alienation.

Untitled (with big fish), 43 x 54", acrylic on canvas?, 2013

     Finally, in Pandora, the psychological partitions turn into portrait images of self-immersion, this despite the image in the background of a relational activity (a relational activity which could in itself be a product of a self’s or the involved selves’ selfishness). Self-immersion as self-worship? We know better, of course; judging from all the Antonios we have seen through the years, any self-immersion is really an immersion in the distance between the self and something or someone else. Self-immersion as the root of all evil? Perhaps.
     Indeed, with this collection’s dizzying array of intelligent significances, it is already a cause for celebration that in spite of the commercial popularity of the many sorts of Marcel Antonios peddled to the art market these past two-plus decades, a popularity enough to content an artist towards luxuriating in the routine of mass producing his success, the Antonio thesis has proved once again that it will never ever be dead in its tracks. Year after year the BFE thesis develops. Well, perhaps it has really only just begun. [FIN]


Marcel Antonio’s new dive into symbolism


http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/155715/marcel-antonios-new-dive-into-symbolism-2