It Ever Only Tastes like the Real Thing

Exhibition notes for the 3rd installment of ‘The Imagination is an Overused Cliché’ Antares Gomez b.

The title of this exhibition series points to the artistic imagination as an overrated process inasmuch as the terms inspiration, creation, originality and genius point to an ineffable realm of magic and build the myth of the artist as the sole agent in artistic production. The situation presented by such a myth is similar to the story of Genesis in relation to the theory of evolution in that the processes of artistic production are mistakenly attributed to a self-created (and therefore ahistorical) creator—the autonomously inspired imagination of the artist. The imagination as such is purely imaginary and hence, the notion of the artist as genius is merely an imaginary discourse, unfounded and unreal. Contrary to the notion of the artist as a masturbatory font of creation is the assertion that artists and their imaginations are partly conditioned by their obtaining histories and social processes. More specifically, the imagination and the painterly eye cannot be taken as self-sufficient systems since they rely heavily on already existing communication technologies and conventions of visual language. In other words, the imagination and the imaginary discourse of ‘the artist as genius’ are primarily situated in and structured by the symbolic realm of language. This is effectively what Ralph Lumbres clues us into when he paints a photograph form the show’s previous installment. Titled “Painting, Painting!,” it plays off the common phrase of “picture, picture!” and jabs at how Filipinos take pictures of ourselves in every imaginable location. Apart from the possible arguments coming from the framework of ‘the photograph as a tool for the acquisitive eye’ [i.e. that this obsession with picture-taking is likely a tactic for citizens of a backward country to lay claim to objects of desire well outside their economic reach (e.g. real estate, food, leisure time, etc.)], there is also the immediate sense of displacement that comes from the looping relay of a-painting-of-a-photograph-of-a-man-taking-aphotograph-of-paintings-from-photographs, and so on. In the show’s previous installment, we discussed Lacan’s theory of the human being as a decentered animal, which renders the “I” of identity as born of the “other” of representation. In other words, it is only through our introduction to the Symbolic Order of language that we are able to constitute ourselves as distinct individuals. Hence, it is this entrenchment in the Symbolic Order that renders us alien to ourselves or, as Lumbres alludes to: tourists in our own backyard. Again, identity is a construct of language. We are not who we are, or at least, the person in the mirror is not your self. This brings us to the work by Francis Commeyne, which depicts a photograph of the Cultural Center of the Philippines cropped by masking tape in a paper viewfinder. This depiction of the editing processes involved in image production places the CCP within the discourse of a linguistic construct. In fact, the CCP is a prime example of the ‘big Other’ of the Symbolic Order at work insofar as it has made every attempt to write up a “Philippine Identity” and especially given its historical placement as part of a whole complex of excessive pomp constructed to produce a prosperous image for a country mired by massive corruption and inequality. Keeping step with its own hype (the initial source of its eminence), the CCP in turn, with all its influence and capitals (in Bourdieu’s sense), served to construct the Filipino as a noble race, a proud people, a reformed society (Bagong Lipunan), and so on, as opposed to the more

pervasive truths of its destitution as a neo-colony. This isn’t an effort to discredit any or all achievements in the cultural field that may have been made with the CCP’s patronage, but rather it is an attempt to disclose the role of such institutions in the formation of illusory discourses of prosperity, national unity, and democracy, among others. An equally fictitious discourse is that of the subject as dead end, or more specifically, as one who is helpless in the face of history. As such, Aldrin Olaguer draws a parallel to the idea of a paper tiger, a false threat, by depicting a cage containing a bird drawn on paper—a false captive. Apart from those who are actually ignorant of capitalism (largely the uneducated and mostly from the third world), there are those who, despite being conscious of its workings and contradictions, are quite content to be carried along. The Slovenian Slavoj Žižek argues that these figures are the dupes of “ideological cynicism.” He posits that the operation of today’s ideology is no longer that of Marx’s notion of false consciousness: “they do not know it, but they are doing it”. Rather, it is the false choice implicit in “they know it, but they are doing it anyway” or, in other words, the illusion that their unfreedom is really the result of ‘their own free choice.’ Hence, cynics are placed in a contradictory double-bind where, thinking that the precise reason they are not free stems from their free choice, they make themselves unaware of the fact that free choice always stems from an illusionary autonomy from the Symbolic Order. Perhaps it is better to say “I have no choice in my unfreedom.” But even this is an illusion in that the perceived lack of alternatives is only due to the fact that the Symbolic Order offers nothing outside of itself. Thus, Olaguer portrays the position of the cynic as one of false and self-defeating critique insofar as their immobility is caused by insisting on missing the point: that they are but fictional captives in painted cages. Appropriately, by presenting a blackboard and providing chalk with which to write/draw on it, Jerome Suplemento makes a counter-offer, albeit with some irony. Whereas blackboards are predominantly a domain monopolized by teachers and other figures who occupy privileged positions in the field of knowledge production, Suplemento hands it over to anyone who might wish to write. The irony here is that this freedom to write is really only available by the permission of the author. Moreover, the author himself has already written on the board, in paint nonetheless, thus dissolving any illusion of equality among the writings on the board. This condescending accommodation is simultaneously an imperative: “Write whatever you want!” Faced with this command, any real exercise of freedom in writing would have to be formulated inversely, that is, one should write precisely what the author(ity) doesn’t want. Hence, we find the narrow horizon of possibility of resistance. Insofar as the dominant order only ever accommodates forms of resistance that it finds acceptable, these paths will never quite manage to break past its limits. Joseph Soliman’s work brings this matter to the specific field of art production. On his canvas, we see a church and pedestrians depicted upside-down with the figures’ heads replaced by upright Brillo boxes. The images here unerringly bring together the two worlds of religion and art. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu made the observation that the two are quite similar in that they both rely on a profound mystification or misrecognition. He likens museums to churches and art objects to saintly relics, noting that not only do they evince identical notions of sanctity, but also, that in most cases a divine reverence replaces the objective gaze.

More specifically, Bourdieu observes that the field of artistic production is characterized by an inherent need to deny its own objective operations, to mystify them. This mystification is the result of misrecognizing the underlying operations of capital for such iffy substitutes as genius, the sublime, inspiration, and so on. Capital, in Bourdieu’s sense, extends past the economic sense of money or property and includes capital in the social sense (personal networks, family, etc.), and the cultural sense (education, a European accent, fashion, etc.) to the extent that these are able to confer status and other advantages upon their bearers. Hence, his depiction of the art field as a social field with inverted hierarchies where ‘real money’ is looked down upon in favor of ‘cultural relevance,’ ‘aesthetic value,’ etc. To put it succinctly, Bourdieu asserts that it is this failure to recognize capital as the driving logic behind the artistic field that makes artists the “dupes of society” insofar as they fail to realize their subjugation to capital, and furthermore, proceed to spread the illusion that ‘capital doesn’t really matter’. Returning to the matter at hand, Soliman’s reference to the work of Warhol thus alludes to the absurdity of post-modern thinking. By denying the existence of metanarratives, post-modernism effectively ignores the presence of capitalism, globalization, and imperialism. Instead of confronting the reality of the world as generally unified under a dominant order, artists working within a post-modernist framework most often operate under mockeries of relativism such as, “it’s all in the way you look at it” or “well, you know, everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.” Observably, it is precisely this sense of entitlement as an ahistorical phenomenon, as something from nothing (not capital, God forbid), that allows for the artistic illusion of creative freedom in the absolute sense. As pointed out by Suplemento’s work, this kind of freedom is illusionary in that it only ever comes in the form of an accommodation that is inevitably under the control of the dominant order of capitalism. As such, it is in relation to this “permission to communicate” that we turn to what the philosopher Alain Badiou asserts in his ‘Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art’ as a necessity “to become the pitiless censors of ourselves.” Censorship here is not in that general sense of prohibiting obscenities pertaining to violent or titillating content because, in truth, all of these things are allowed and legitimized by the market. Censorship in Badiou’s sense refers to the necessity of painstakingly removing any sense of safety from one’s work, of making damn sure to take the position on the knife’s edge. This knife’s edge can be taken as what constitutes Lacan’s Real. Those instances where the Symbolic Order is rendered incomplete or inconsistent. It is by the Real that the illusion of the Symbolic is exposed as a fiction. For example, to the Imaginary discourse of Imelda Marcos’ pretenses of prosperity and unity we may present the Real of the Philippines’ poverty or of the people’s struggle against martial law; to artistic freedom, the Real of the dictates of capitalism. Hence, we arrive at the challenge of the artistic imagination—that of employing the tools of the Symbolic (art, language, etc.) to plot itself out; to find its limits and present the truths of its fiction. In Badiou’s own words “to render visible to everyone that which for Empire [capitalism] (and so by extension, for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn't exist.” Raphael Daniel David echoes this call to artists with his portrait of the abstractionist Romulo Olazo. David portrays his subject in a vivid and exaggerated photorealism as if to better bring the abstractionist to form. The challenge posed is simple enough: “Get Real.” As you should. 

The Curators

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