Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Dissecting the Monster

Another post where I go into the ideas/obsessions/processes behind the creation of a specific work; in this case, Eisenstein's Monster. See previous post and also Making Sausage (14July06)

The Invite

Below is an excerpt from the brief for the Dime A Dozen exhibit. It was written by Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez, one of the show's two curators. She showed it to me in early February 07, and asked if I thought I could do something with it:

How does an artifact, a motif, a fetish make the jump from elite item to kitschy icon? And are they able to make the journey back in reverse?...Dime a Dozen hypothesizes on how rarities... slip into the domain of pop and the banal—rarely able to regain pristine cult status in their original form. Artists working in a variety of media will be asked to virtually take iconic Lopez Museum (and other known museum) pieces on this potentially perilous journey...

So: the theme of the exhibit was the decay of iconic artwork. I know nothing about Philippine art history, and would probably be the worst person to comment on the field. Even up until a month ago it was not absolutely clear to me that Luna the painter and Luna the general were two different people. Also, I am not really into making art about art. I would have passed on the theme, except that I had been thinking about the process of meaning decay a few weeks earlier and had even blogged a paragraph on the subject. (Boredom As A Work of Art, 20Jan07)

...the fact must be faced: art can die. The energy an artwork contains for the viewer is a product of energies and cultural tensions/issues that the viewer's milieu have engendered in the viewer. The English director Peter Brook tells of a magical moment in a bombed-out basement in London in the 1940's: a clown on a stage recited the names of dishes he yearned to eat. According to Brook, the clown reduced the starved and rag-swaddled audience to tears. Then the war ended, and grocery lists lost their power to induce lachrymal reactions (in English audiences, anyway). An artwork is a wire between concentrations of social energy. When the distribution of social energies change, the artwork becomes a wire in a vacuum. (This is also the same process by which old art might reacquire power/relevance)

So I thought I'd give it a shot. As I said above, decay is one form of change, but change can occur in the opposite direction: things can grow, multiply, and renew. I decided I would try to instigate a process of growth by growing new meanings in the drawings of Hidalgo.

The Why

Why Hidalgo, and why the drawings? Well, I liked the way the drawings looked, first of all. The rough sketches had a spontaneousness and a power of suggestion that the finished oils didn't have. Second, a drawing that had two sketches of an arm in slightly different poses made me think that I might be able to animate the drawings, a technical idea/problem that excited me. Lastly, the fragmentary images of human body parts made me think of the story Frankenstein's Monster, a story about new life being created out of fragments which resonated with the enterprise of growing new meanings.

I've always loved the myth of Frankenstein. I got hooked on the myth as a kid, probably through TV or comics, and plowed through the novel --in all its turgid, 19th century phraseology-- at a very early age. As a science geek, I immediately identified with Victor, while Shelley's warnings against scientific hubris went in one eye and out the other. The myth inspired me to try to electrically revive a dead dragonfly once I discovered that the turntable of my father's stereo was badly grounded, and delivered powerful electrical shocks (I must have been around nine). Frankenstein's Monster was one of the reasons I decided to study biology.

Accordingly, I shot some drawings and cut some studies. It didn't take more than a couple of passes with Photoshop and Aftereffects to conclude that there was not enough material in the drawings to create an animation made solely from the drawings, at least, not enough to transmit the information that I wanted to transmit. It was at this point that I got the idea of recreating some of the drawings in 3D with the eFrontier program called Poser.

As I mentioned in the post about making Sausage, I generally cultivate a kind of tame, controlled paranoia when making art. I look out for signs and portents, parallels and corroborations in the universe; what Carl Jung called synchronicities. When I was about halfway through making the soundtrack, I discovered that Hidalgo's middle name was Resurreccion. Bingo!

Hypermodels and Hyperreality

The director of the Lopez Museum, Cedy Lopez, said she was having trouble describing the work to journalists, especially the part about the 3D figures. Was there, she asked, a term for the process of creating 3D analogs of 2D art? Something like animate, or morph? Well, no, there wasn't. Which meant I was free to dub the process myself. I decided to call the process hypermodelling. It's a good word, for several reasons.

1) It makes reference to hyperreality, a word coined by the writer Umberto Eco, which describes the state when a copy becomes indistinguishable from --or more powerful/fascinating than-- the original. Better than the real thing. Glamour photography is all about hyperreality. A photograph of Sharon Stone embodies sex incarnate. Sharon Stone in the flesh is just another blonde with bad skin.

2) It echoes the words hyperspace and hypercube, which refer to 4-dimensional space and the 4-dimensional analog of a cube, respectively. The two words come from multidimensional mathematics, and so lend a kind of mathematical glamour that is appropriate for the computationally intensive process of 3D hypermodelling to possess.

3) It contains the word model. Hidalgo would have used human models as references for his drawings and paintings. A 3D hypermodel can be thought of as somehow returning to, copying, exceeding and replacing the human model that the drawings copied.

4) It is grammatically versatile. It can be used as a verb: "The artist hypermodelled the drawings," and as a common noun: "The artist created a hypermodel of the drawing".


The primary element of the soundtrack is a processed version of Tony Bennett's cover of the song Stranger In Paradise. I processed the song through a bandpass filter to make it sound as though it were playing through a radio or gramophone, and created an audio layer composed of the song lyrics spoken by a text-to-speech program.

The 20 monitors are playing 5 layers of synthesized audio that I thought of as the sound of the resurrection machine. In fact, I saw the physical being of the work as a resurrection machine-- as a big black, monolithic THING that was processing Hidalgo's drawings.

Parable and Action

What I like most about the work is how it walks what it talks about. It presents a parable about the creation of new life, this is what it "talks" about. At the same time, it is actually creating new life, ie creating new meanings in Hidalgo's drawings: A visitor who has seen the work is now highly likely to be reminded of Frankenstein when he sees Hidalgo's drawings. Heh heh.

No comments: