Dave Lock, “Nameless”

I’m currently an intern at the Vargas Museum, and Dave Lock’s solo exhibit, entitled Nameless [in collaboration with 98B], was one of the shows I coordinated and did the notes for.

Dave Lock, Untitled 1 (2013)

In his own words, Dave Lock is a painter of the “nightmare-infested creatures,” seen in his obsessive line work that merges portraiture with organic forms. This technique extends into this series of untitled works, aptly called Nameless, as if to acknowledge the contradiction of attempting to name the amorphous.

In embracing the foremost quality of the abstract, he paints a series asking — instead of telling — the viewer what they see. What appears in these canvases are acts, rather than the objects, giving the viewer forms of encroaching, crawling, and clawing. This demonstrates how even that which is without a name can leave an indelible mark.

It is a mark that poetry responds to, crafted by a collective that may also remain nameless. Text and image gather to contrive the reality that can only be faced, flimsily and in creative confusion.

The exhibition opens on the 31st of May, 2013 at the 3rd floor galleries. It is recommended, but not required, that guests RSVP through facebook.

For more information, please contact Vargas Museum at (+632) 928-1927 (direct line), (+632) 981-8500 loc. 4024 (UP trunkline), (+632) 928-1925 (fax) or send an e-mail to vargasmuseum@gmail.com. You may also check our website at http://vargasmuseum.upd.edu.ph or like us at http://www.facebook.com/vargasmuseum.upd.

Looking For Juan: Revolution

I did the notes for Looking For Juan, Vargas Museum’s annual collaboration with The Center for Art, New Ventures, and Sustainable Development [CANVAS]. This year’s theme is “Revolution”, in commemoration of the 150th birth year of Andres Bonifacio.

Rolf Campos, “Blood and Politics of Our History” [2013]
There is a photograph of Andres Bonifacio that has turned iconic: an undated headshot in black and white of a man with a furrowed brow and a clenched jaw. The same photograph was rendered as a sketch in February 1897, shortly after Bonifacio was installed as the President of the Tagalog Republic—and shortly before his execution. With a coat on his shoulders and what appears to be a cravat tied under his closed collar, this picture is a far cry from the open-mouthed, bloodthirsty supremo carved into the national consciousness through monuments and history books.

It is upon a single photograph of a man whose remains were lost amid the chaos of empire and insurgency that the story of a revolution continues to construct itself. By lending a face to an otherwise anonymous multitude, Bonifacio’s legacy continues to this day in the need to personify the complex problems at the root of every struggle, problems that bear the threat of being abstracted by their own complexity. That Bonifacio’s name now conjures up images of both the everyman and the elite (think of High Street) speaks of an irreversibly fragmented society for which terms of the revolution must be redefined.

While the supremo’s hardened gaze, as seen in that exceptional photograph, has come to signify the struggle and heroism of the Filipino, this signifier fails to address the fraught subjectivity of this personhood that persists to shift as the source of oppression/revolution becomes harder to identify.

Once again (I was) within and without

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Directed by Baz Luhrmann

The decade saw the first pilot to cross the Atlantic in a solo flight and declare in France, “I am Charles Lindbergh.” It saw the spread of mass production, mass marketing, and mass consumption. It brought us flappers, short skirts, the Harlem Renaissance, a woman’s right to vote, the martini, celebrity scandals, the cult of youth, talkies, mobsters, the great Babe Ruth, speakeasies, 104 words for “intoxicated”, Dorothea Parker’s Round Table, the fast-step, and lots of cigarettes and sex…and movement, always movement…

(oh crap I forgot who wrote Higher, a book about the race between the Chrysler building and the Empire State)

First, a short run-down of the things we can thank modernity for in assessing our direct environments, and yet take for granted every day:
• indoor plumbing
• switches
• electric light

Especially electric light. I’ve had a friend say he couldn’t make it out to the neighborhood where I was staying because the roads weren’t lit. It took a while for that to sink in, light being something I take for granted until its absence reminds me that visibility goes with it. At the root of a highly Westernized modernity comes an increasing reliance on the visible and with it, the privileging of the eye.

A turn into the postmodern takes that privilege even further, with the visual asserting its primacy over the material. Beyond making it possible to find one’s way around at night (without which the entire concept of a night life, so central to city living, wouldn’t be possible), electric light now comes to us in the form of a flash from a camera, a face on a screen, or the erratic blinks and flickers of a video game. Light, in The Great Gatsby, was the glow at the tip of a dock, the signal of a border or a (city) limit.

More than being a morality play about what money can and can’t buy, Baz Luhrmann’s rendition of Gatsby speaks to a generation for whom the visible functions as currency in so many ways. Luhrmann proves that even if it was and is already wonderful on paper, The Great Gatsby is a story that needs light to speak for it. As a narrative of the zeitgeist, it became necessary for him to go beyond light and into spectacle in maximizing the potential of Fitzgerald’s words in their translation from page to screen. 3-D? Yup. Lana del Rey on the soundtrack? Fuck yeah.

Gatsby was written at a time when wealth went from being functional to observable, giving birth to the homoerotic sport of comparing wealth, and thus taking capitalism from a game not only of accumulation, but to one of emulation. (Think Bateman. Think Ripley [as in the Talented Mister]) This confirmed the idea that while wealth cannot be available to all, it’s representation could be: a convenience that postmodernity affords us all, much to the chagrin (or pride) of those who bother with the so-called real thing – that which light touches rather than merely projects.

I read somewhere that there is no honest way to make a million, and I still believe that. In the shift from industrial to financial capitalism came a neoliberal worldview that we have come to regard as normal. The contradiction in the equal parts discomfort and delight that is reaped from this worldview is captured so well by Luhrmann, in a two-hour caricature of the 20s, a costume-drama performing what this very generation lives with day by day. This confluence of sensation, celebrity, and spectacle could make The Great Gatsby a movie of our age, written during the period that set it in motion – in which swaths of humanity would be rendered irrelevant not only by the senseless violence of war, but the ongoing dehumanization efforts of vampire capitalism and the accompanying cultures of commodification and spectacle.

This is what makes Luhrmann and co.’s use of contemporary effects – from cinematography to soundtrack– the most clever element in this film. By shooting in 3-D, with momentary lapses to the grain, light leaks, and shakes of a home movie, The Great Gatsby is framed using the same overlapping tools we use to curate and narrate our own experiences. These also highlight the way this generation has mastered and exploited the speed of innovation and the obsolescence that shadows it: in which better communication lines create better ways to make the self visible—and also create better ways to edit or fictionalize that self, thus blurring the boundaries between a personal and an imagined truth.

Yet, the assumption that Gatsby was made to speak to and for the generation of the #selfie (i.e. the cult of the image) remains debatable, considering how slippery the definition of substance has become at a time in which the dominance of financial capital is slowly giving way to cognitive capital. What Gatsby so accurately captures is not only the capacity of financial capital, and the ensuing greed, to corrupt an otherwise good man, but the speed of its movement. Not only was it pointed out that Jay Gatsby was in his early thirties when he made his fortune in his attempts to win Daisy’s heart, the numerous shady phone calls Gatsby receives throughout the day are the equivalent of today’s stock market tickers and the movement from a market of goods to the market of derivatives that manifests both financially and visually.

Gatsby’s life’s work was not the palatial house or the pursuit of Daisy but the persistence of the personality cults surrounding the myth of American success; of which, his own was made doctrine through Carraway’s writings. In writing about Gatsby to exorcise his own demons, Nick Carraway simultaneously immortalizes him while relegating him to the past. As both the subject of this story and its narrator, Carraway enacts the conflict central to the dread of being forgotten–a dread that is echoed and embodied by this generation. As the subject of a story, Jay Gatsby becomes a medium for a morality tale, yet also risks becoming an artifact. Whether he is cast to the pedestal or to the page, in being immortalized, he loses the privilege to speak for himself.

When your life doesn’t seem wholly believable, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the times you’re living it and the times you’re watching yourself having lived it. No one develops film anymore. There are no pauses and no distinctions made between reacting and reflecting. On portable screens, we watch moments we created just seconds ago. Facebook, tumblr, instagram, etc. all provide that technologically mediated pinch allowing us to check if any of it actually happened. For today’s digital natives, the social network is analogous to Carraway’s Queensboro bridge – a boundary between scene and seen, which in this day normalizes the irony of living to be watched.

Let the people who never find true love keep saying there’s no such thing

Toro Elmar’s Perpetual Melancholy (2013; Rally the Troops)

Jakarta, Indonesia

Toro Elmar’s Perpetual Melancholy is about a girl, the way that every story we have revisited on our shelves or in our heads is about a girl: meaning it’s not so much about any particular girl, as it is about the alternate ending imagined in her absence. Like so many love stories built from a myth and told in an unreliable mix of hormones and heartache, Perpetual Melancholyis about its author, who is–presumably–Elmar himself.

Made up mostly of imagined conversations and passing thoughts, Elmar (which may or may not be an acceptable last name–I don’t understand Indonesians) explores the quiet moments that get us through to the promise of catharsis that lies on the opposite side of every mistake. Elmar’s story is not driven by a discernible plot, rather it reads like an internal monologue dedicated to the object at the heart of one’s sorrows. In that object’s absence, Elmar instead confronts the abstractions that have replaced it, in three chapters, respectively: a shadow, an anonymous crowd, and the empty landscape one observes while in transit.

However, Perpetual Melancholy fails to deliver the feeling of perpetuity that its title promises. At 38 pages, the entire book can be finished in less than 20 minutes (“It will be longer when I quit my day job,” promises Elmar)- making it more like a passing mention of a past love than the overwrought wallowing (at worst) or lucid reflection (at best) that comic readers have come to expect of this particular genre.

As if to fill in the gaps in a characteristically unfinished story, Elmar includes a mixtape. “Play the mixtape now,” appears as an imperative in the first of the book’s beautifully illustrated pages. This soundtrack evokes the words that escape the author in his inadequacy to describe the traces left in the wake of a swift exit. A dead giveaway of his age, Elmar turns to music for its alchemical properties, thus converting personal struggles into universal problems (Elmar also runs DIY label, Sailboat Records). Each chapter has a corresponding set of tracks, and if it serves as any clue, American Football’s “For Sure” makes an appearance in the last chapter, creating a sense of optimism about the fates involved in this story and putting an end to the perpetual melancholy spoken of at the start.

Perpetual Melancholy was first exhibited at Cergambore 2013, in Surabaya. Only 20 copies were produced at Rp. 35,000 (roughly Php 140.00) apiece, but Toro Elmar can be pestered for a soft copy through facebook (which is sort of what I did).

Photos were taken from Toro Elmar’s website: http://www.toroelmar.com

The title was taken from a song by Riuh, included in the second track of the Perpetual Melancholy mixtape.