Sunday, February 25, 2007

Plagiarism as Thought

Most artists, being obsessed with being original, police their little kingdoms of creation to keep it clean of any overt signs of influence. So many conversations about tracing the date when X saw this, Y saw that, in order to deduce whether or not they came up with the idea/concept on their own. Whether Raymond Red was aware of Borges or Kafka before he made Ang Magpakailanman (He was not, which, according to Art's traditional grading system, makes his film more original, and therefore more excellent.) whether Z painted like that before he saw A's copy of Juxtapoz etc, etc, etc.

This is not an exceptional state of affairs, of course. The entire idea of art as it is presently conceived, with all its Renaissance-to-Romantic era notions of genius etc, enshrine originality as the foremost criteria of quality. When originality is gold, it is no surprise that so many people obssess over it.

The rise of sampling and appropriative art methodologies have put these old assumptions/metaphysics in question, but probably no one has summed up the alternative viewpoint quite so powerfully as Jonathan Lethem does, in the article found here:

Check it out.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Maw of New Media

As of this writing, it is still possible to think of Art as something that is the opposite of Science, the opposite of Technology. Never mind that this was an illusion from the start. (What are brushes, paints, chisels, and violins?) It is still possible to find people who delight in confessing that they fled to the arts because they couldn't handle trigonometry, physics, etc. As the years pass, this conceptual division is going to become harder and harder to understand. It's going to sound like that ancient Chinese taxonomical text that Borges said Franz Kuhn unearthed, which divided the animal kingdom according to a scheme we find manifestly nonsensical. (1. Those that belong to the emperor. 2. Embalmed ones. 3.Those that are trained. 4. Suckling pigs....)

Art historians say that the rise of photography and mass-media technologies caused the world to be flooded with images to such an extent that photographic images now constitute a primary element of our environment, which is why so much art takes off from media iconography. Now: The world is not going to become less technological. Microchips will continue to burrow into every available surface, probably including human skin. Microcontrollers and programs will become a basic stratum of our environment. Their presence/stimulus/fact/irritant will demand response and critique from art, meaning that what we now call "new media" and still hold at arms length from "traditional art," will become coextensive with all of art. It will become art itself.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Imahe Nasyon at Robinson's Galleria!

Imahe Nasyon, the omnibus digital film that includes my SF short "Local Unit," is showing at "Indie-Sine" i.e Cinema 3 of Robinson's Galleria, starting today Feb 21 till Feb 27. A one week run at a real theater. Though who knows? If enough people show interest, it might show at other places. I will of course, post here when and if that happens.

Imahe Nasyon (Image Nation) is a digital omnibus film, 20 shorts by 20 directors.
The project was inspired and occasioned by the 20th anniversary of the EDSA revolution, which does not mean that all the films deal directly with the revolution (or citizen-backed coup, if you prefer) itself. The shorts range from experimental to MTV to narrative. Watch it and take away what you can.

I naturally have favorites and anathema among the films, but as part of a team, I can't be expressing them here, punk critic or not. You guys are on your own on this one.


Raymond Red's Camera Obscura

Just saw Raymond Red's installation Camera Obscura at the NCCA gallery. It's up till the end of the month, which means about a week from the day of this posting. In theory, it is not a conceptual coup: it's essentially a room-sized pinhole camera, something that used to be set up regularly in the 19th century. It's said that one Ibn-al-Haitham built one as early as the 10th century. That Leonardo Da Vinci described one in the Codex Atlanticus is a matter of public record, and so on. Still, everything is obvious once it's been done, and the fact remains that no one living in the current art/filmmaking/photography scene remembers of one ever having been set up. Second, several artists and filmmakers who saw the work remained under the impression that the image was being created with a video projector until suitably enlightened, in spite of the hole being clearly visible, and the hypothetical projector being clearly INvisible. Third, it's a whole different thing to experience the damn thing.

Who knew that a pinhole camera would produce a black-and-white image? Some time ago an unconventional photography teacher had the idea of getting his students to make pinhole cameras out of Nido cans, and stick photo paper in the things. I think Jerry Tan or Roberto Chabet had the bright idea of displaying the prints in Megamall. Of course, it is chemistry lab hell to hand print color prints, temperatures have to be maintained, it involves at least thrice as many chemicals as black-and-white printing, etc etc etc. In short, that the prints were in black and white was no indication that the the live image produced by a pinhole camera would actually look black and white to the human eye.

Of course, the light on the wall contains all the colors of the rainbow. The reason that the image is in black-and-white is that we have 2 kinds of cells in the eye: cone cells and rod cells. The cone cells can process color information, and require relatively large amounts of light to do so. The rod cells can only process brightness, work at low levels of light. In fact the photoreactive pigment used by the rod cells -rhodopsin- breaks down under high light levels. It takes time to re-form. The amount of time it takes for rhodopsin to stabilize is the amount of time it takes for our eyes to become adjusted to dark environments. Now, the light levels in Red's camera obscura (Latin for "dark room") is so low that only the rod cells can work. This is why we cannot perceive color in the image it produces. This also means that it is highly likely that you will not be able to see anything at all upon stepping into the room. Be patient. Enter, close the curtain and wait.

It is a calming, meditative space. The image of the street outside is (aside from being black-and-white) upside-down, and spread out not only upon the wall opposite the hole, but upon one the wall on the left as well. Cars speed up when they cross the adjacent wall, an effect of the keystoning/foreshortening produced by the tilted projection surface. Street sounds are muffled. This inaudibility, coupled with the black-and-white aspect, can give the impression of looking into some fragment of the 19th century, an impression which the passing cars do not dispel, and which the odd calesa* (remember we're in Intramuros, the old walled city. ) heightens. I wouldn't mind having a room in a house dedicated to such a view. Maybe a motel ought to set up a bank of camerae obscura, for lovers of a melancholy bent.


* Horse-drawn carriage

PS Although "obscura" means "dark" in Latin, "obscure" of course means "hidden from view" in English, an etymological detail that seems to resonate with the fact that this installation is located in the NCCA. For those of you in topographical darkness, the NCCA gallery is the lobby of the NCCA building, and the NCCA building is in Intramuros, on General Luna Street (the street on the right side of Manila Cathedral) between Sta Potenciana and Victoria. Camera Obscura is inside the glass-partitioned space to the left of the Main entrance. There are ancient cameras on display inside said glass-walled space and a looping display of Raymond's contribution to the full-length digital omnibus film Imahe Nasyon (see next post). Unfortunately, the NCCA is only open during office hours on weekdays. Cheers!

PPS Raymond says that if you see it at the brightest time of the day, ie late morning till late noon, enough light enters the room for the eye to make out colors: the blue of the sky, greens, (trees?) and bright reds.