Rachel Mayo – The Shadows of Philippine Contemporary Art

Two things bothered me at a recent show at a Manila gallery: the current works of an old favorite painter whose works today can be described as “blah” and the new image of this particular gallery whose reputation at one time deemed the place as “respectable” and “prestigious.”

This particular gallery had been known for a long time as a good source of “Filipino Art” – aesthetic quality, strong social, historical and cultural sensitivity and a good roster of serious artists.

This gallery reached a reputation for high quality Filipino art and gained a certain level of integrity. It is a source for Philippine representation in internationally organized artistic events such as biennials and showcases, second only to CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines).

However, things do change. What was once a showcase of rather strong original Filipino artistic creativity is now a place for “holistic healing”. Today it is a center for New Age fashion – a trend in spiritual pursuits and human balancing involving higher gratification of the senses (scents, meditative music, natural beauty products, yoga, etc) – all in the hope of bringing about a sense of internal peace and external harmony where art becomes merely part and parcel of the whole process.

It is a response to the growing complexities of contemporary life, an extension of postmodern necessities. Despite the high technology that allows greater comfort and convenience, life on earth has become increasing difficult and poverty in all its forms continue to be a force to reckon with – the poverty of the spirit, moral poverty, emotional poverty – including artistic poverty.

One particular and essentially basic problem that touches human beings on a more immediate and incisive level is economic poverty and the Philippines as a Third World country is a clear example of how such a poverty could destroy the soul and spirit of individuals vis a vis, its collective society.

Such is the essence of this particular gallery’s new direction where art has merely been relegated as just one of its wares, but an art that is spiritless and uninspired.

Why does economic poverty destroy the very essence of art making, turning artists into compromising and helpless individuals, and why do the dark powers of galleries and the media eventually suck out the spirit that feeds art?

These days, for an artist to survive, he must contend with a scene of what has become a marketplace for shysters. Artists complain these days that the going rate for some newspaper features is P15,000 ($365 USD).

Everyone continues with the charade that art continues to thrive along with a caravan of “art critics” to complete the circus. So we have here, an artist who paints colorful flowers or geometric shapes that would easily go with the young and moneyed client’s sofa, the gallery that promotes paintings along with other products, the “art critic” who has a truckload of adjectives – and everyone is happy, for a seemingly functional machinery is in place and there will be food on the table for the day’s work.

Money is indeed the cause of all evil. It’s power can influence though it never has in any way been acknowledged openly in the arts. The need for money can influence and dictate action and produce. Somehow, money has the power to polarize and identify weaknesses. It enables the observer to detect the corrupt, the weak, and the false. No fool will admit that the reason for his art nor his cause is dictated by money.

It is so easy to defend a cause, make up a PR image of something esoteric that will explain a weak position – so easy to come up with complex theories and agendas to hide the truth from the gullible or indifferent public.

Indeed it is easy to influence public perception. A sociologist, Harold D. Lasswell, described media or its allied PR business as “techniques of influencing human action by the manipulation of representations.” Any “artist” for that matter can be made to be “renowned” and “respectable” and the gullible, whose mere knowledge of art depends on name-dropping will easily agree.

Yes, the gullible is the target of the well-oiled machinery that eventually benefits the pockets of the psuedo-art business we find today, where art no longer seeks to address the soul but rather seeks to gain power in the marketplace, that tests the soul of art and its makers.

They call it survival. I call it the shadows that corrupt the spirit of art.

Rachel Mayo

First published on Rachel’s blog, The Essence of Things, on July 3, 2006. 

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