All Is Fair in Art and War
nervous reflections on the art of Anton del Castillo
by Samito Jalbuena
An assemblage from del Castillo's Toy Soldiers series
LATE capitalism is upon us. The multiplication of desires is uncontrollable to the point where the world order established by the Allies at the end of World War Two has been unraveling. Soon the balance of forces may have to consider the emergence of heretofore impossible outcomes becoming more and more possible everyday, just like the twists and turns of art.
In Anton del Castillo's body of work, we glimpse the possibility of a certain future marred by the inevitability of war.
"The last great war shook the world to its core and transformed the function of trade."
That the artist returns to the martial subject is a mirror to the global return to conflict. As any hellhound knows, Nietzsche foretold the essentiality of war in societies with growing heroic individualism and personality development. War is also a product of extra income now enjoyed by numerous peripheries on the verge of becoming more dominant than the United States. Perhaps it was America that got itself into trouble when Nixon abandoned the Bretton Woods System which once pegged currencies to gold. By rendering the American dollar as the world's fiat currency since 1971, numerous shocks were triggered. And now, this hegemony centered in the West now seems to be reaching its end.
Now, though Del Castillo the artist is worlds away from outright geopolitical analysis, his work foretells dreams becoming reality. He has said that he translates his sleep sequences into works of art, very much like a seer. And in these works, does he glorify war?
The question rings academic. In an interview the artist states: “I have no preference for the victory of certain nations because I believe that there is no winner or loser in war. All are just victims.” The education of peace condemns war in all accounts because the prevailing status quo profits, backed by thought codes and religions, although they also do the same from the machinery of war. This writer also wishes for peace because of war's waste of resources, but if something tangential might become inevitable, or if the signs in the clouds drum of war as they speak in Del Castillo's oeuvre, shouldn't we interrogate it?
In Del Castillo's work titled Juvenile Traces (2011), from his Conceptual Objects series, the artist presents schematic diagrams through three lightboxes illuminating various handguns---the most basic element required in fighting a war aside from the human killing machine. But Del Castillo's handguns are incomplete; the schematics fail to draw the final weapons in their entirety. Instead, the viewer must connect the dots that the artist has placed along the outline of the possible outcome. Follow the numbers and create your strategy, it seems to say. Are the strides to war a mathematical game of dots?
Fragment from Juvenile Traces (2011)
Most assuredly, they are. But the artwork is also a stop sign, a warning. If history is about progress, what direction is it taking and what is the principle behind that progress? In the real world, armed conflict is a symptom of momentum no matter its naysayer's objections. It is creation and destruction---we're actually living in a low-intensity state of war. An investment to eradicate one's enemies and assure oneself of dominion and security has been the logic of states and the foundation of civilizations. It's why global hawks are always happily on red alert even during cocktail hour.
Such peril is now equilibrium. Such a balance is apparent in Del Castillo's When Ends Meet (2007), a work in oil and goldleaf from his Icon series that sums human activity to be at a precarious standstill in the fight between two opposing concentrations, the Christian and the Muslim, in a teetering seesaw that may soon tip the scales.
When Ends Meet (2001)
If you argue that there's peace, how can you account for the bombings in the capital that never make it to the news? Most obviously, there is a veil that keeps one from seeing.
But in this state of war, and despite its skirmishes, the progression of history continues upwards. The artist makes this observation apparent in another work, Babel (2007), which also talks about the Christian-Islam dilemma. Now comes the deciding moment: To lift the veil.
To see beyond the merely apparent, one must realize that there is something in the seriousness of these artworks that jest. Del Castillo's project has always been about the paradox of human life and the critiques of modern assumptions. His conceptual lightboxes tell us to look more closely and reexamine the blueprint, while the iconoclasm of his own icons betray false gods. There are other series, but they also tell us to question programming.
Foremost among many fault lines is the concentration of the world into only two factions. By adorning them with gold and veneration, Del Castillo points to the glamorization of the mostly Christian West and the demonization of the Muslim East without the possibility of other players and other nodes that seek entry into end-game geopolitics. In these works, the artist criticizes the longstanding military drama that world history is simply a matter of two religions wrestling on the floor.
On closer inspection, the Christian-versus-Islam narrative that the West foists on the rest of the world seeks to make the United States once again the final arbiter of justice and security despite its waning influence. Even in Southeast Asia, a region halfway across the planet, Washington has found entry in local issues, perhaps none more alarming than its moves in the South China Sea. In this theater, China is set as the big bully estranged from its Asian brothers, while America the leader is your best friend looking after your interests. But the truth is simply more than that. This feint recalls a classic Asian exploit found in the Thirty-Six Strategems of the ancient Book of Qi. To deceive the heavens, hide a knife behind a smile and kill with a borrowed sword.
Beware of Asia. We must destroy Asia. The easiest way to do this is to let the Asians murder each other instead of uniting them as one front in the politics of war. Why? Because in a highly globalized world where national boundaries are fast disappearing and where regional alliances are more tenable, a United States of Asia will be more dangerous, more prosperous and more powerful than anything ever seen from the East, including Islam itself.
Of course, there may be other interpretations. By interrogating the Christian-versus-Islam narrative, Del Castillo opens avenues to other possibilities. But his series of assemblages utilizing toy soldiers as found objects to draw negative martial figures (see photo at the top of this review) seems at first glance to be a glorification of war or a trivialization of its effects. If the artist unfavors war, why does he always toy with it?
Like a prophet who hates his calamities, he trudges on like a machine producing objects till the final hour, including a series of Bomb Cans (2015) fusing canned food and war materiel for Tin-Aw Gallery's booth at the recently concluded Art Fair Philippines. Even Del Castillo cannot dispel the belief that wars are looming despite the uplifting vibes of a growing art market that would convince him otherwise.
Bomb Cans (2015)
The last great war shook the world to its core and transformed the function of trade. The next few decades will demand fundamental change in financial transactions where the American dollar will most likely not be used as the backbone of the world economy but will be replaced by something new. As power transfers to the East, expect a conflict to update the function of markets. Shall we all be victims? By mobilizing toy soldiers, Anton Del Castilo tells us to make the most out of the construction. It may even be a false war, but the increase of hunger during those times of famine will make it real. [ d ]
Samito Jalbuena is an art critic, market analyst, lifestyle writer, and contributing writer to BusinessMirror.
Text and photos © copyright 2015 by Samito Jalbuena. All rights reserved.
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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.