Salubong: The Problem with Juxtaposition
by Jojo Soria de Veyra
JUXTAPOSITION is dangerous, all artists know that. All artists know that there’s an easy way to pick a fight in juxtaposing one’s antagonist’s face with the face of a fecal material. All artists know what juxtaposition can do; hell, even non-artists know that. Only recently, around January 22, a Facebook post juxtaposed a controversial gown worn by a Miss Universe contestant with a picture of a cake, apparently to provoke laughter.
". . . knowing that this can't be the end of it for justapositional art's sake, we thought we should postpone putting this juxtapositional problematic to rest."
Juxtaposition is such a fun and nifty instinctive tool that artists have been (consciously and unconsciously) using it from as far as historians and archaeologists can remember, perhaps from the day we learned how to breathe. And juxtaposition is such fun not just for satire or irony, it’s also fun to use for the simple joy of pleasing someone. These days, it’s pretty easy to juxtapose via a Photoshop fix one’s significant other’s face with that of a famous star in a beach scene. Voila! You’re with a star in a secret hideaway in Palawan!! . . . Almost everyone on Facebook has used juxtaposition (via an original post or through a repost), and it’s so freakin' common on the Internet and in advertising that we actually take it for granted. Hell, we’ve always taken it for granted. Have you ever heard of a PhD in Juxtaposition, ever?
We take it for granted because we know it like we know our genitalia.
Alas, however, despite its popularity among earthlings, like any joke or witty line, juxtaposition’s effect is not uniform among the men and women of this planet. A cake juxtaposed with a gown may be funny to many Filipinos, but it may not be that funny to a Stella Araneta or another Colombian. Oh, I don’t know, maybe; but you get my drift.
For purposes of hurting, one might have tried to rupture the feelings of Matisse and his barkada by juxtaposing their media image with the image of fauves in our imagination, but I bet ya Matisse et al. simply gobbled up the fire instead of felt wounded by it (I’ll check my art history later). For purposes of having fun, juxtaposing the image of Jessica Soho with a still photo of a gang-rape scene from a pornographic movie might be one hell of a party-fun motif to Vice Ganda’s writers at a Smart Araneta show, but definitely not to a hospital ward full of gang-rape victims. No maybes there.
And so I was not surprised when many Filipinos got offended by the juxtaposition made a long time ago by artist Mideo Cruz in that Kulo Group exhibition---in an installation titled Poleteismo, Cruz juxtaposed Jesus Christ’s representative or iconic face with a wooden sculpture of a human penis which he set on the nose of the Christ’s representative face. We’ve gone through enough debates on this. We've gone through the defenses against the statements of the offended, including my own that tried to call back the Christian traditions of iconoclasm and aniconism, and including the artist’s own appreciation of parody or irony or putting a mirror to someone’s ugly phallocentric face. But here is that picture again:
photo borrowed from https://pininggapura.wordpress.com/tag/mideo-cruz/
Here are views of that show of juxtapositions:
AND NOW, guess what.
Juxtaposition-instigated controversy was again in the news recently after many Filipinos in the social media purportedly took offense at the act of juxtaposing in oil on canvas Pope Francis’ face and figure with those of Filipino show-business celebrities posing as happy poor farmers. Here is that painting, titled Salubong:
Detail of Dante Hipolito's Salubong. Photo from http://www.rappler.com/specials/pope-francis-ph/80446-stars-featured-pope-francis-painting
Like we said, the mainstream media were soon abuzz with the art public’s puzzled reaction. Here are a sampling of these reactions as picked up by 8list.ph, a Filipino entertainment website, posted on January 17: click here.
Take one of those quoted by the website, viz., the artist Issay Rodriguez, who had this to say about the work (or perhaps about the culture of juxtaposing certain imagery with certain personalities' image): “Yung ibang Pilipino talaga, 'hilig pagsama-samahin lahat ng kasya sa isang plato … tapos mahilig pa ilabas yung best spoon and fork pag may bisita. Ganun yung pakiramdam ko sa work niya. Hindi ko alam tunay na motibo ng artist, tingin ko lang hindi maganda ang kombinasyon ng mga nasa plato nya. Medyo masakit siguro sa tiyan, hahaha, religion+politix+celebrities. I dun think so.”
Harsher were words from the Facebook art community ArtPhilippines (a Facebook community which has always been configured as a public group), where artist Gromyko Semper floated in a January 11 post this proposition: “i say kitsch, cheesy propaganda that would make the Pope himself vomit in disgust! WHAT SAY YOU?” The link in the post pointed to an original public post by one Aisha Ronquillo on the wall of the public group Filipino Freethinkers [Updates and Announcements]. Ronquillo stated in her January 10 post: "In an ambiance of rural peace and prosperity, Dante Hipolito created an art form which he termed Composite Realism. Here, Gov. Vilma (Santos) is shown as a farmer, with leading stars Gary Valenciano, Sen. Grace Poe, Marian Rivera, Dingdong Dantes, Coco Martin and Kris Aquino who are also costumed as country people in the festive welcome.
"And this, my friends, is the reason why the Philippines can barely produce astronomers, philosophers, inventors, and scientists."
Meanwhile, Marian Rivera, one of the celebrities featured in the painting, had a different angle on her January 10 public Facebook post: "Inspiration begets inspiration. This motivated visual artist Dante Hipolito to paint Gov. Vilma (Santos) with Pope Francis in the 29” x 24” oil on canvas titled Salubong. A distinct style of vibrant rural realism, it follows Pope Francis’ didactic intentions.
"Dante did this by redefining art, what he terms as Composite Realism, which is the smooth interplay of filmmaking elements of production design, photography and digital art based on his experience in stage production and advertising. Thus, he creates a distinctively exuberant depiction of country life on these basic principles.
"In an ambiance of rural peace and prosperity, Dante shows Gov. Vilma as a farmer leading stars (from left) Gary Valenciano, Sen. Grace Poe, Marian Rivera, Dingdong Dantes, Coco Martin and Kris Aquino who are also costumed as country people in the festive welcome."
Still, the painting’s artist was soon picked up by the mainstream media for his comment on the public reaction and to tell his motives and so perhaps to lay the gone-viral controversy to rest. A paolohipolito account on YouTube also uploaded on January 15 this video shot of Unang Hirit's interview with the artist to iterate the artist's explanation:
When the painter talked about an inner private truth, perhaps he was speaking more about a primacy of motive in the production of his art over its social contextual resultant. For true enough, as some have noted, Hipolito's painting was exhibited (or was intended to be exhibited) at a gallery in Intramuros and was not exactly intended to be a merely private painting, as this YouTube video by GMA News and Public Affairs uploaded on January 13, 2015 attests:
So, there you go. What else is there to diskurso on, right? All things now clear and that is that, right?
HMM, maybe. But knowing that this can't be the end of it for justapositional art's sake, we thought we should postpone putting this juxtapositional problematic to rest.
However, instead of debating with our co-members at ArtPhilippines on whether there was ill motive or intellectual motive behind the painting or not, or whether the artist’s motive matters to a critical appreciation of it or not, we at diskurso thought it might be fun to squeeze more juice from the issue, not from a sociologist's take but perhaps, and why not, from the artist himself!
And that's exactly what we did. We messaged Mideo Cruz who messaged Dante Hipolito. I friended Mr. Hipolito and quickly started an exclusive thread on my Facebook wall with two of my diskurso.com pals present (although managing editor Simkin de Pio could only join us for a short while due to pressing painting deadlines for an upcoming event). Semper was invited/tagged later in the thread, but he opted to let go of the issue. Here is what transpired during that, our Facebook face-off venture:
But what else is there to diskurso on? All things are now clear. And that is that.
The poststructuralist notion upon structures' "value-laden" and "ethno-centric" order and meaning as illusory, superficial, and relative, stands. Along with Mideo Cruz we here conclude that, in a real democracy, the conflicts upon an artwork's meaning must henceforth be appreciated in our parts as very much a part of the artwork. [ d ]
Jojo Soria de Veyra is the editor of diskurso. Marcel Antonio is a painter and the publisher of diskurso. Simkin de Pio is a painter and the managing editor of diskurso.
Text external to the Facebook thread © copyright 2015 Vicente Ignacio S. de Veyra III. All rights reserved.
© 2014-2016 diskurso art magazine online. all rights reserved.
diskurso is an independent, Philippines-based online magazine on art aiming to veer away from a present mental landscape replete with the customary peacock and weasel words that continue to service the art industry.