Friday, October 26, 2007

Stupid Question

I despise it. It is, in my opinion, an act of speech whose vapidness is comparable to asking an earthquake victim, "How do you feel?" when a 30 story building has fallen on said victim's house and family. I hate it because it is undefined, pointless and wasteful and because of the fake respectability that cloaks its emptiness, pointlessness and wastefulness. It makes the asker of the question APPEAR serious and thoughtful, when he is not being anything of the kind. I refer to question whose general form consists of the formula:

"Is the Philippines Ready for X?"

"The Philippines"
"ready for"
"X" (Not because "X" stands for the unknown, but because the terms usually inserted here refer to new/emerging/poorly understood art forms.)

To ask people about their opinion about the likelihood of X happening in the world is to accumulate information about people's opinions, not about X or the likelihood of X.

Parable: Someone asks 5 lovers of alligator sausage, "Do you think there is a Philippine market for alligator sausage?" One guy says yes because a, b, c, d. Another guys says no, because e, f, g, h. At the end of the discussion, there are 5 opinions and 20 reasons, none of which have been verified as accurately describing anything in the real world. For the question to even begin to have the shadow of a point, it would have to be reframed, critically and specifically, as a statistical question. However, a statistical question can only properly answered by a statistical survey.

It is a waste of time and spit to ask this question of an enthusiast/artist/maker, because you are in effect asking him what he thinks OTHER people think, or worse, what he thinks other people WILL think. Listen: He doesn't know, and his opinion is an enthusiast's opinion, meaning that a positive answer is probably colored by his enthusiasm anyway. An enthusiast or artist might have some expert knowledge about X. He has no expert knowledge at all about what other people think about X.

On the other hand, there are endless SPECIFIC questions that an enthusiast with his store of personal experience could USEFULLY answer. Questions which actually are questions of fact, or useful guides to personal experiment/investigation like: What are the different kinds of sausage? What are the different ways you can prepare alligator sausage? Are alligators farmed, or are they just hunted in the wild? How is alligator sausage different from pork sausage? from beef? Does the alligator's diet affect the taste of the sausage, and so on and so on and so on.

Can we just put a stake through this question's heart? I propose that we should all publicly recognize this question for the piece of emptyheaded fluff that it is and herefter suspect all framers of it to be emptyheaded and fluffy by association and therefore to be just and proper targets for our concerted hilarity and disdain. Kh!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Then again...

Was thinking about what everybody including me were saying at the Daily Disclosures forum re video art necessarily excluding narrative, mtv, documentary (etc). Just realized that my work Eisenstein's Monster (still showing at the Lopez Museum until March of 2008) is roughly narrative (as it can fairly be described to be the account of Frankenstein's Monster's creation as told from the viewpoint of the monster) and, as the sound track contains the entirety of Tony Bennett's "Stranger in Paradise", can also be classed as a kind of MTV. Yet it doesn't seem to NOT be video art...

One possible moral of the story is that if the limits of any genre are pushed far enough, the specimen becomes extreme/outside/weird/puzzling/engaging enough to persuade us to call it art.

Another possiblity is that I was/am mistaken, and that Eisenstein's Monster is not, in fact video art. Or that it is, in fact an MTV. (This could eventually be judged to be the case. Some artworks start out in one category and wind up in another, according to the flow of history. Some of Nam June Paik's looped pieces (eg "Button Happening") used to be called films.)

Another possibility is that the "No MTVs, Narrative etc" rule is equivalent to insisting that a work must somehow transcend/exceed conventional boundaries for it to be considered "art". Perhaps our search for "art" is a search for the strange, the uncontained, the transcendent, the new, or maybe even just the unfamiliar.

At any rate, for this idea to have completely slipped by me for a couple of months illustrates how creation and criticism/analysis/philosophy can SOMETIMES proceed apparently independently of each other. I prefer to make stuff naively, following the trail of fun or whatever, but everything made, (however it was made) should be fair game for analysis, after it's made. Just because it was made in the absence of rational analysis doesn't mean that it should be immune from rational analysis. Evaluation doesn't have to parallel the creative process.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Spinning Jimmy

This is a video of the work I contributed to the Daily Disclosures show. The title is "Spinning Jimmy", which is a play on James Hargreave's "Spinning Jenny," an iconic invention in the history of automation. A lot of artists sort of play on the difference between the virtual and the real, by putting props next to a TV. I wanted to make a virtual image definitively enter the real world by making it perform work. So I made this photosensor-activated crank thing that wound thread around an old VHS spool. Every time Jimmy lifts the sandbag over his head, he winds a little thread on the spool. Heh heh.

Visual Pond, the curators of the show, maintain a blog at

They have more documentation there. Check it out. ;-)

2 Faces of Video Art Part 2

Another sign how conceptual art has somehow co-opted (or seems to be in the process of co-opting) video art: Ringo Bunoan, a curator and conceptual artist identified with the group surrounding Roberto Chabet, was complaining that the one-minute limit was improper, because video art unfolded over a long period of time. Now, from the standpoint of an experimental filmmaker or experimental video maker, it is completely reasonable to make one-minute works, or even works that unfold in a matter of seconds. Hell, commercials run for 30 seconds. Ringo has apparently equated the scale and motifs associated with conceptual video art (prolonged duration, looping, relative static frame, repetition, incremental change, minimalism) with all art made with video.

I have to say I don’t like the co-optation of the term, but let’s lay that aside for a moment. I’m thinking: that the field/technology of the moving image appears to present two main problematics, or areas of exploration. On the one hand there is the problem of alternative sequential meaning: how can you sequence images if you leave out narrative, documentary,mtv? Then there is the problem that the kind of conceptual video art Ringo is familiar with seems to tackle. As it doesn’t seem to be concerned with the problem of shot sequence, I’m thinking that it’s concerned with the shot itself. Using film terminology, perhaps we can say that its problem is the problem of alternative shot meaning. What else/how else can the shot mean? This seems a likely way of putting it, as it appears to be one of the major problems the conceptualists address, ie: what/how else could a painting (ie a single image) mean?

In short, I'm thinking that although the one-minute video pieces and the video installations are both art and although they both use video, they are two different kinds of video art, in the sense that they require different kinds of viewing attention, address different problems, and that you need to use different sets of conceptual/critical tools to talk about what they are doing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Notes on the Daily Disclosures Show

Dammit, really falling behind. Although it's pretty clear in my mind that it's the artist's job to infect the culture with his ideas and that he should therefore put some effort in documenting ie publicizing his works in order to spread said infection, it's really quite difficult to make stuff and publicize it at the same time, especially if, (as in my case) the making part primarily consists of ironing out mechanical/logical/electronic/physical glitches in the damn things. After a long day of bughunting, the LAST thing I want to do is stare at a computer screen. Anyway. This show ran from 2007 Oct 12 to Oct 16 in a corridor of the 5th floor of the EDSA Shangrila Mall. It was produced by Visual Pond, a group of very young, very intelligent curators who have decided to dedicate a major portion of their activities to curating video art. As even Time magazine knows, and most of the art writers and critics here still apparently do not, video art is very nearly the new mainstream in all the big art biennales, accounting for over half of all submissions. As usual, it's taking a while to catch on in the archipelago, but hopefully the increased speed of gossip/communications in the 21st century (blogging, text, etc) and the cheap video equipment made in China or smuggled in at the pier will shorten the process of culturo-psychological penetration.

For those of you on multiply, you can check out the documentation that the Visual Pond girls uploaded there here: There are photos, and mp3s of two talks. One was a primer on copyright law by Atty Louie Calvario of the Intellectual Property Rights Office, and the other an open forum in which I, Jun Sabayton and Teddy Co were speakers.

Anyway: The show featured works that basically fell into two categories: a bunch of one-minute video works for the One-Minutes Foundation, and a bunch of video art not bound by that limit. Those video works that were not part of the one-minute video series included both "pure" (simple?) video pieces that existed primarily as DVDs that could be displayed on any video monitor, and video installations, which incorporated physical hardware aside from the video monitors and DVD players.

Although the visual artist and curator Ringo Bunoan grumbled that an exhibit in a mall corridor did not do justice to the works, there is something to be said for the virtue of sheer mainstream accessibility. Shoppers with probably no previous acquaintance with video art stopping to furrow their brows even for just a few minutes, without having to commit to the act of entering a gallery's front door...I dunno. I like it. That aside, the show had a bright, contemporary feel overall, incorporating pop furniture from Cubao X and huge flatscreen monitors on grey pillars, all cables neatly tucked away inside.

The show reflected the dimly-lit and groping nature of cultural digestion, not only in the presentation and content, but also in the curatorial process: judges from divergent fields, (film, academia, visual art) struggling to find common criteria by which to judge the works, submissions that were NOT video art (documentaries and MTVs among them), artists themselves wondering whether they had actually made a piece of video art, and all looking for some kind of positive definition of what the hell video art is to light the way. Even Ringo demanded a definition, but tellingly stood at a loss for an answer when I asked her how she knew HER stuff was video art: what was her definition?

For a practitioner of her history and stature to have no definition should be enough to make one suspect that such a definition will NOT be forthcoming. Nor will it. As was eventually thrashed out in the highly vocal, SRO open forum held on the 16th, video art (and very possibly all emerging art forms) has to be defined NEGATIVELY, ie by what it is NOT: It's not animation, it's not MTV, it's not documentary, it's not narrative. The apparent unavoidability of a negative definition seems to be a logical consequence of the fact that "video art" is the current name for the project of finding alternatives to known ways of sequencing images. In other words: we currently know how to sequence images in order to make narratives, MTVs, documentaries and animation. Video art (and it's previous incarnation of experimental film) asks: HOW ELSE can we sequence images? To ask "how else" is to begin by knowing what you DON'T want to do, ie to explore by knowing the negative of the answer. In short: we have a negative definition BECAUSE we explore in a negative space.

(An interesting logical consequence of this idea is the possibility that we will ONLY be able to arrive at a positive definition once video art ceases to be an exploration in negative space, ie when it has died. ;-))

I am a bit disturbed however, with the current identification of the entirety of video art with the motifs and concerns of conceptual art. When did the two terms become synonymous? Although I am attracted to the conceptualist approach myself, surely there must be video art that is NOT conceptual? There was a work there that was essentially a big pink particle animation explosion. Ringo insisted that it was not video art, that it was only "a special effect." I was watching it myself thinking "this is very pretty, but yes there is no concept behind it..." when it occurred to me that there are a lot of pretty, ie decorative paintings, paintings that have no concept behind them, but we don't refuse to call them paintings. For a moment there, I thought I saw a possible turn the future could take: a new, defiant rejection of the conceptualist valorization of ideas. The rebels would call their stuff New Eye Candy and insist that revelation proceeded from sensuous and preverbal intuition. Heh heh. Will this future arrive?