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: http://visualpond.multiply.com. 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?