Antares Gomez Bartolome
The human capacity for adaptation is only limited by the imagination. The verity of this worn truism owes to the fact that the imagination is one of the most powerful instruments for transformation insofar as it envisions possibilities beyond whatever it is that we currently hold as factual or conceivable. Moreover, the imagination not only affects our capacity to adapt to our needs, it is also capable of influencing our perceptions of necessity. The notion of an ideal world, for instance, can be regarded as a fantasy construct that subsequently leads to seeing present conditions as leaving much to be desired. Such a fantasy generates an imperative to adapt in order to meet needs that only a moment ago did not exist.
The works in the exhibition take off from the concept of adaptations. They are presented both as minor visions of alterity and as contemplations on the repercussions and significance of adaptations as well as the discourses that generate them. Here we are asked what if, why, and what now (or then)—questions of consequence that place adaptation in a purposive context. From the paradigms of industrial efficiency and control, to the idealized body and the fantasies foisted upon it as object, the works here present queries that hope to arrive at a better understanding of the processes that inform change.
The dictum of efficiency is integral to industrial logic, where even the body is regarded as a machine that is fueled, timed, and for all intents and purposes, coin-operated. Efficiency demands as much work from as little material, time, and energy as possible. In light of this, Carlo Aranton presents blueprints for biological augmentation based on ideals of efficiency imposed upon organic form. What looks like a cross-section of Darth Vader’s deathstar is a proposed model for the marriage of compact cellular structure with that of a modern power plant based on Aranton’s observation of parallels between natural and human designs.
Aranton also presents a series of cerebral hemisphere models for both superspecialized mathematicians and creatives. There is a third model that synthesizes the two in the form of his ‘perfected rainman’ model—an überbrain hypothetically capable of creating art, marketing it, writing about it, and possibly even finding a way to buy it from itself while making a profit.
The three diagrams by I.C. Jaucian offer a similar, though more playful proposition dealing with a solution for overpopulation by means of male pregnancies in which the testicles are destroyed in childbirth. In this model, not only is a one-child policy ensured by the explosive vasectomy, but males are also suddenly compelled to think twice about the prospect of intercourse.
Whereas Aranton proposes models for the ideal, Sicuya dwells on the alienating effects of such impositions on the level of the personal. The series entitled ‘Pampalubag ng Loob’ elaborates on the resultant misery from the prevalent advertising notion of “a newer, better you” that is always accompanied by the subtext of the old, inferior self. If even a sampling of advertising is to be believed, one is never quite mestizo enough and resultantly never having enough fun. With this baggage of implied deficiency, the ideal is cast as a distortive lens that serves to undermine one’s self-image.
The paintings denote the contemporary subject’s obsession with modifying his/her appearance to suit the fantasies projected by mass media. More precisely, these self-portraits capture the self in a moment of delusion. They depict conceit as a coping mechanism—an instance of smoke and mirrors designed to fool oneself into thinking he/she corresponds with the ideal.
Calling out like variants of Amy Winehouse’s ‘fuck-me pumps,’ Leeroy New’s breastplates also concern the projection of fantasies upon the body. Immediately evocative of hedonist excesses, the armor prototypes simultaneously exude an overblown desire and a reluctance for its realization. Whereas armor is meant to shield a body from harm, the forms that bedeck these suits belie that intention insofar as their outrageous profusion evokes notions of abuse. In a patriarchal context where rape is almost automatically blamed on the victim, it is safe to assume that rampant sexual objectification is a given. Abuse is not limited to the closed fist but is lodged in the gaze. In this light, these suits bespeak the futility of attempting to externalize or redirect the abuse in order to sublimate the violence and mess of sex by supplanting the self with a prosthetic mediator. That is to say, they illustrate the distasteful result of attempting to hope for some dignity in sexual objectification.
Jaucian proceeds with much the same skeptical approach. With his Loco-Motion sculptures, he highlights the urge for regulation and control that attends and drives the development of technology. Meanwhile, his Ouroboros, symbolizing infinity and wholeness, alludes to a harmonious and self-sustaining life system. It’s attendant diorama offers up one such model where a solar-powered robot produces the sound required by a light-producing mechanism, which in turn provides powers the robot. However, the diorama’s project of autonomous sustainability is unmasked as a fraud. Turning our eyes down, we notice that the system is connected to an external power source, which, while typical of miniatures and replicas, is exaggerated for emphasis. What we have here is commentary on how the green-oriented projects of many institutions and corporations are effectively little more than bogus palliatives meant to hype-up corporate responsibility and assuage consumer guilt. The same people who shout “Clean the Pasig” and host fabulous gala event fundraisers own how many coal power plants? Here the fantasy is the popular one of environmental sustainability despite our own ravenous overconsumption and the fact that the majority of industries would fold if they followed the creed of ecological responsibility to the letter.
Focusing on forms that suggest similarly defensive tendencies, Sta. Juana works on several tropes. In one work, he presents a concave eye whose inward turn suggests a recession into limited exposure and isolation. As a tale of warning, it illustrates the consequences of self-absorption. As a proposed model, it is the cynical shrug of “might as well” in acquiescence to the prevailing cult of the individual. Relatedly, the painting entitled ‘Heavy Back’ also wards against excess individualism. Referencing the common function of tribal tattoos as registers of personal achievement, Sta. Juana proposes tattoos that recognize the roles played by a myriad of others in attaining those achievements.
In a second sculpture entitled ‘Gut Cage,’ a strongbox is made to resemble a ribcage and rigged with multiple padlocks. According to Sta. Juana, it is not so much a defense against intrusive incursions upon the body as a literal cage for safekeeping one’s figurative guts or gut feel—an instinctive form of metic knowledge, which he sees as invaluable to human intelligence as it is able to defy the crystalline monopoly of rational thought. ‘The Last Savior is You’ hails the viewer as charged with potentiality and placed in a position of choice. The ambiguous silhouette, which seems at once to advance and retreat, alludes to the adrenalin-triggered ‘fight or flight’ instinct. Here, in spite of the compulsions for self-improvement that fall under the discourse of evolution, Sta. Juana holds that apart from the will, not much more is necessary.
Would that it were true that all one required is the will to change (and perhaps a shot of adrenalin). But this too is partly built on fantasies—not just that of humanism but also the fantasies of equality and freedom. Sadly, every aspect of human life is beset by the inequity and domination that obtains from our social structures. Even the imagination, while envisioned as a wellspring of freedom, is by no means disinterested and is beholden to power and history. The imagination, therefore, is often limited by the conditions that generate it and even the ideals and fantasies with which we structure life are often turned against us. The damage is done, so to speak, and the works in the exhibition say as much. On the other hand, totally abandoning the imagination would leave us bereft of a guiding vision with which to conceive of alterity and change. The imagination therefore must be scrutinized in order to account for its own limitations, and from there, perhaps arrive at ways to adapt and thereby overcome them.