Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Art of Buzz

Magnet gallery/bar on Katipunan road in Quezon City, April 20, 2007. The conceptual artist Ronald "Poklong" Anading paired with sound artist Inconnu ictu, who used to play with Lirio Salvador, the Filipino sculptor who makes all those chrome-plated guitar-things. Tengal, the producer who matched the two up for his Conductors of The Pit event, where selected sound artists and video artists perform together, describes Roger (Inconnu ictu) as “the Philippine Merzbow.” Roger uses oscillators stripped from old drum machines etc, which he processes through various effects boxes. Bass, white noise, distortion orchestrated (that night anyway) very “musically:” with dynamics, contrast, tension and release. I found the performance very listenable, except for the parts consisting high-frequency noise at extreme volume (cymbal patch?), which I preferred to hear from the vantage of the gallery on the first floor.

Poklong slotted a DVD consisting of a single, tripod-mounted, out-of-focus shot of some club. He doesn’t VJ. Teddy Co thought the image might be coming from a live camera and kept waving his arms to check if it were so. People wondered out loud if the club was in fact Magnet Katipunan, and some asked Poklong directly, who genially evaded the question. I suddenly remembered him telling me what he intended with regard to the footage he created for F-stop, Yvonne Romulo’s fashion show produced and conceptualized by her husband Erwin.

Poklong’s video for F-stop was basically 4 shots of near-identical landscapes, across which the near-transparent image of a female model would sporadically run across. He said that he wanted people to be unsure whether they had actually seen the model or whether they had conjured her out of their (bored) imaginations. Although I still think that the idea didn’t work in the theatrical context of a fashion show where a million things are happening in front of the screen, the juxtaposition of the remembered conversation and this blurred video click together, and I begin to figure out the shape of the ball that Poks has his eye on, and I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to get it.

Galleries often host people milling around an exhibit, silently having adventures in their minds, none of which have any relationship to any another adventure. Someone thinks painting X is political, somebody else likes the tarry consistency of the paint, somebody else thinks it’s about language, most others don’t think anything in particular but are happy to be there. Now, it may be that most artists are fine with the idea of conjuring such a disparate set of reactions to their work, but I find the idea of a work producing such a chaotic forest of impressions both boring and distasteful. Infinite meanings collapse to zero: Something that can mean anything is no different from something that means nothing.

I think Poks wants to do the bare minimum that will create a buzz. Not buzz as in stoned/drunk/happy, but buzz as in people talking. People's minds going round and round thinking about something. He might or might not want that thinking to take the form of questioning (Did I really see the girl? Is that Magnet Katipunan?) but questioning IS the most self-perpetuating form of thinking. An unanswered/unresolved question/enigma is stable in that it just keeps going round and round. Of course, that is nothing new. Every artist says that he wants to make people think. Where Poklong demonstrates mastery is in the radical simplicity of the questions he poses. The issue of whether a room is in fact a shot of Magnet Katipunan or not is trivial (compared to, say, the issues of poverty/debt/global warming/gender/digital culture/life, the universe and everything) but getting a roomful of people to go home wondering about it is an act of singular elegance. It is like a microscopic version of that prank/work by Andy Kaufman dramatized in the movie Man on the Moon, where Kaufman got an entire primetime audience to think there was something wrong with the reception and pound on their TVs. The simplicity, even triviality, of what the buzz is about means that the art is about buzz itself.

The Art of Buzz! The point is that if the point is to get people to argue about something, they have to have differing opinions about the same question -- a question they all understand -- which means that the question must be concrete, easily grasped, perhaps about something immediately at hand and certainly something about which each person can confidently have an opinion about. By which standard the question “Is that Magnet Katipunan or not” is manifestly superior to something like “Where is the Philippines going?” One wonders whether Poks would go so far as to assert that the social reaction thus engendered is the actual work, the actual thing accomplished. It's certainly exciting to think of it that way.

So it appears that the minimalist, conceptual work actually managed to affect a rowdy club audience. I do have to say however, that the work and Inconnu ictu’s stuff didn’t add up to a greater whole. I liked Roger’s noise/music and I like what Poks pulled off. I even liked the image of the out-of-focus club, but: There was no synergy between the two elements. Either Poks and Roger never really talked, or Roger didn’t really know what to do with the image, or he didn’t think it was his responsibility to follow its lead, or he felt hemmed in by the non-dramatic, La Mer/Music for Airports dynamics it seemed to demand. (I am reminded by an incident involving Brian Eno in which he “orchestrated” a jam in Laurie Anderson’s loft by asking only that the musicians make sounds that harmonized with the view of the New York harbour outside Anderson’s window. ) At any rate, any time Roger’s music became tense or active, sound and image parted ways completely.

No comments: