Friday, April 4, 2008

ART AT THE CUTTING EDGE by Alice Guillermo (excerpted) October, 2003

The dazzling show at the Ateneo Art Gallery of the Ateneo de Manila University, ongoing until September 9, 2003, proffers a new art experience altogether, in the sense of a new way of viewing art in relation to the productions of 50 years ago at the crest of modernism in the country, and in the sense of a new way of making art with the use of an entirely different set of tools. In running commentaries on the walls of the gallery, these present works were categorized as New Modernism (not Postmodernism, nor even, mercifully, Post-postmodernism!). But, it is not our agenda here to set distinctions between these different labels. Suffice it to say that as suggested by curator Fatima Lasay, the label New Modernism applies here in the sense that these present artists who work with computers seek to retrace their steps backward to the time in the 1960's when software programs in video and audio were still in their infancy, thus requiring software developers to invent or create their own programs, and well before Bill Gates could impose a universal platform and commandeer all existing programs. While such an effort as theirs may somewhat appear to be on retrogressive, it however, makes a choice of greater latitude of inventiveness and originality in the use of a computer language that is not constrained by ready-made commercial programs or geared to set directions. This is not to say, however, that they have dispensed or can dispense with existing software altogether; the artist as programmer still works within a wide range of digital possibilities at the same time that he is able to manipulate them or install new commands to hew close to the original artistic intention.

The title of the show DECODE is thus open to a number of meanings. The basic premise is to make a juxtaposition between a modernist painting in the Ateneo Art Gallery collection and a new media work. The contemporary artist "decodes" the earlier work through a kind of digital analysis of it's components of color, light texture, etc., and reorganizes these into a new artistic existence. This is seen, for instance, in the relationship between Joya's Granadean Arabesque and Martin Gomez's D\ILAW, in which the elements are recomposed into grids of perpetually moving fragments, thus revealing the inner dynamics of the original abstract work.
But even more crucial is the difference in the very nature of existence of the juxtaposed works. Painting, of course, is a physically spatial art, spanning over predetermined two-dimensional surface. And sculpture is a three-dimensional art that occupies a relatively variable space. But these examples of new art redefine both space and time in the context of art. They occupy a different space because they belong to virtual reality--as it has been pointed out, a glitch in the power system would shut them out of existence, temporarily or even permanently. Thus, they are beguiling presences or seductive experiences, inviting interactivity or the part of the viewer: you reach out to the moving forms and they respond by cradling your hand or flying out of your grasp. But, at an external signal, they can so easily withdraw back to silences and darkness. They are the interweaving, surrounding presences, whispering or blaring simulacra that tease one's perception and put to question one's sense of reality. Likewise, they also redefine art, for while painting may bear allusions to time and its passage, these present examples run in actual time, may follow a linear narrative but more often are cyclical, multifocal and may continue ad infinitum. However, this sense of virtuality--of virtual volume, for instance--had been introduced earlier by the Russian Constructivist who rejected solid volume for virtual volume in their work's active engagement with space. And this principle was not valorized in a purely formalistic way but as a necessary element in the creation of a new visual language that sought to do justice to a modern technological environment.

New art technologies are stunningly displayed in the present show. Here, for instance is the printmaker Rodolfo Samonte juxtaposing his past and present work: Experimental Cube (1973) and Spheres of Time #2, a print (artist proof) that he did last year in the United States where he has been based for several years now. This work, visually engaging in terms of form and color, is an example of the digital technique of Giclee on canvas (white cotton duck). Though the 1973 work is much subdued in hue and controlled in form but with a satisfying clarity of disposition, one will hesitate to declare the new superior to the old, for the artist was but working then according to the modernist printmaking codes at that time. If the codes he uses in the new work are far different, he is only proving his excellence in his employment of the new digital language.