2020 Series/Volume


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First uploaded January 29, 2020
Last updated February 7


PICKS OF THE MONTH


 

 

diskurso.com's

January 2020 Picks

 

 


 

1


 

"Help Us Help You - Get It Seen To," M&C Saatchi's TV ad for United Kingdom's NHS. In what promises to be another year of demagogic exaggerations (notably concerning flu vaccines, or the supposed shortcomings by publicly-funded healthcare, or the alleged high cost of public healthcare on the individual taxpayer), here comes a satire on everyday people's "drama" around minor illnesses (or around a supposedly unreachable healthcare program for a UK citizen's possibly major illness).
    The NHS is real; it exists and is in the neighborhood, so don't panic. Or, don't believe anything being said about it until you see it. That's what the ad is clearly saying, nothing more, nothing less. Now, Boris Johnson would likely agree with what this ad is saying, if only because he knows it, too, to the dismay perhaps of fellow Conservatives intent on privatizing the presumably decaying institution. So, given those factors we've mentioned, in effect the ad elliptically parodies something else other than ordinary Brits' drama around seeing their kin coughing those simple coughs. We guess some Brits would get the joke, especially those who've been through getting those illnesses seen to, sans the demagogic drama.

 


 

2

Alfred Marasigan. Mass. 2020. Seashells and cement. Size variable

Mass and Volume. A January solo exhibition at Altro Mondo Creative Space titled Inertia showed, among others, a cement sculpture called Mass and a readymade installation called Volume, both of which caught our attention, if only because both pieces' titles instigated semantics to go swinging perfectly between their significance in physics and then in politics.
    One emotion produced by the traffic cone-looking piece Mass allowed us to recall how plastic traffic cones are lightweight and hollow inside. This traffic cone, in contrast, truly looks solid and heavy, unless we imagine a plastic cone is inside the cement where the plastic may be acting as the inner frame and the cement is merely the plastic's cladding.
    In politics terms, granted that plastic is abhorrent for being a disaster to the environment, but why turn to cement for an external appearance? Is the artist parodying the Filipino's old and eternal worship for the brutalist architecture of so much Philippine civil engineering work that has lived through the decades on to the present Build, Build, Build overexcitement of our Duterte-China-partnering era? And note that while plastic, perhaps due to its many possible colors, has been associated with freedom, Brutalism has been linked by some critics to totalitarian states (dictatorships), although maybe the convergence was just by coincidence.
    Nevertheless, of late plastic
a byproduct of crude oilhas already taken a new context, primarily after having been exposed by the media through numerous portrayals in many a documentary as a symbol of greed by the 1% in this era of Greta Thunberg. Is that why, in this sculpture, the defamed traffic in plastic is now hiding behind the still-adored concrete of our century?
    But if this traffic cone is entirely of concrete and is indeed solid and heavy, to symbolize perhaps a sort of, say, Strong Republic, why does it display shells that seem to have either been mixed with the concrete or embedded in the concrete's surface layer when it was still wet? Is that meant to poke the ribs of politician-backed sand miners who may have hurt a lot of shorelines and river mouths with their sand mining? Or is the sculpture simply emulating the role of barnacles and shells on plastic objects of recent decades that have found their way into our bays? Might this relic have come from one of those Manila Bay reclamation projects that have also housed the pearls of monuments-touting dictatorial regimes? If that, could the cone also be commenting on the depth of our subservience to the murky reefs of a forever-entrenched Philippine plutocracy?
 

Alfred Marasigan. Volume. 2020. Ready-made. Size variable

    The same artist's Volume, meanwhile, speaks of an equally conic-shaped megaphone protruding on a wall as a hijacker of space. A person walking by could hit his head on the hanging object. In politics terms, the megaphone is understood to be a power tool that enables its user to talk down to a populace or a group via amplification. Over-amplification, or unnecessary amplification (and note that the idea of necessity is relative), has been tagged as one of the culprits of noise pollution.
    So, in relation to Philippine reality, which in turn would point to regimes past and present that the above pieces seem to be clearly attacking, the entirety of the artist's show may perhaps be tagged as "subversive," but then by others as a welcome one for these very incitements. For it talks about the possibility of "inertia," wherein the Physics term may be able to transport itself into at best a post-Marxist political context, wherein the engineering physics of monuments-bragging dictatorships might be reified by the politics that those dictatorships would have bred. In that hoped-for inertia, the heaviest of traffic cones will be toppled and megaphones will be used by a demos rallying against the kratos of their lords. When that happens, the masses' voice will have gained volume.
    Artist Afred Marasigan's show will be at the gallery until February 9.

 


 

3





 

First Choice for First Home Buyers, Magnum Opus Partners' TV ad series for Australia's Metricon Homes. We are applauding this beautifully-conceptualized, -directed and -acted TV ad series not just for that mentioned beauty in the individual videos but also for the socio-philosophical questions the series has brought forth anew into the conversation (at least to some folks' preferred sort of conversation).
    Here's how that conversation went:
    Granted that those two first videos seem to be anecdotally campaigning against the virtues or merits of the tiny house movement; why, then, should tiny house movement-favoring progressivist diskurso.com recommend them? We'll give you our answer to that question later. Let us go first to those two last videos of the series, which are talking about a desire for freedom and then, by implication, the high price of freedom that one might first have to save for. Who can argue against that desire to be upwardly mobile and the perhaps-worthwhile and noble struggle to address the cost concern accompanying that desire? Who would protest freedom?
    But, wait. Actually, there would still be people who would signal their protestations against freedom: collectivists, for example, who still exist, would actually frown on the ambition to attain freedom from the collective, to have one's own home separate from the group (or a group), for that ostensibly runs counter to the supposed ideological or economic or anti-consumerist and environmentalist or simply filial charm of having housemates or roommates. One such protestation may come from the point of view of tribal families in a longhouse, or a neo-Nazi group living in one big rural house as a family, or some communist or otherwise Israeli idea of compact communal living, or an extended family, or a single relative fearful of being alone, or whatever else party with a formal or informal utopia that has that kind of take on individuals, couples, community, family, or friendships.
    Let's tackle the high rent issue coupled with the desire for freedom from a crowd of three or more. If two couples (or a couple and a brother-in-law or best friend) can share rent in a situation where lowered daily living cost is a priority or an urgency, why not? But if a couple can afford to rent their own space separate from a sharer, where might the ugliness in that decision to avail of the privilege be? If Robert Frost can say "fences make good neighbors" in a community, why can't everyone say "walls (even yards) can make good neighbors as well"? I believe there are many in the world who would demand some bit of privacy from the crowd (or from friends), which should make that demand universal, given that the common assumption is that there are more people with this demand than there are people who frown on it. For a radical example of a home-sharing situation gone ugly, watch last year's film Skin. :) Or simply study the negatives to living in a kibbutz. I'm sure you, reader, would have your own ready argument for or against having housemates. Just, please, no fallacies like: you car-share, therefore you must home-share. . . .
    Now we can go back to the first two videos that seem to snark at the hype around the tiny house movement. Our view goes like this: the tiny house movement is an affluent movement trying to encourage individuals and families in developed countries to reside in restrictive physical areas with self-confining parameters, parameters from where the inhabitants' consumerism can be constrained (to mention just one goal). Italics should be placed on the phrase self-confining parameters, which means that they are essentially meant for people who need the spatial constraints. In fact, one can live in a tiny home and still have those parameters failing the goal, as when inhabitants in a tiny house still end up having their large garbage footprint on the soil around them, especially when they are placed in a community of tiny homes consuming so much junk food packaged in foils, plastic-coated foils that would gather in the commune's communal burn pit (gross!). In contrast, a couple can live in a "normal"-size house without the need for physical constraints; that is to say, where the inhabitants of that home would be able to meet a lower-trash-footprint goal.
    Those being said, everything in this ad series goes back to people's need for privacy in their own homes, as well as their desire for more space, if that is possible in a certain habitable place's population density. So, let's say that all couples are each given their own home, with ample space each. The protestation one should hurl towards this idea should not be so much in regards to the idea itself as in relation to other factors that may be found within the idea, e.g. certain materials used in the building or in the maintenance of one particular "normal"-size home, the time and energy consumed in cleaning that space, and so on. It is there that the protestation should be, then, not in the "normality" itself nor in the desire for the same.
    So, thank you for this series, Magnum Opus. Even though we know conversations like this over pieces of art are only preferred by a few.

 


 

4

the official trailer for Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit. So the film arrived in Manila theaters January 15, and by January 24 was still showing on its second week at Alabang Town Center, Ayala Malls Manila Bay, Bonifacio High Street, Glorietta 4, Greenbelt 3, TriNoma Mall, and UP Town Center, among a few more.
    Critic Peter Travers opens his review of the film for Rolling Stone thus: "Itís springtime for Hitler and life is beautiful. At least it is for Johannes 'Jojo' Betzler, a 10-year-old German boy whoís been thoroughly indoctrinated by Hitler Youth. That is, until he discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl at home and, boom, his world turns upside down."
    While recommending the film and commending New Zealand writer-director Taika Waititi's achievements in the project, the critic also cautions that "Waititiís faith in the notion that a child will lead us out of ignorance may be naÔve." We agree. But at least the film succeeds in showing, at least to some of us, how being a Hitlerist is nowhere far from being a boy. The movie's trailer includes this line from the Jewish girl in the film: "You're not a Nazi, Jojo. You're a 10-year-old kid who likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club." For other stories you can actually quote the same sentence; just replace the "10" with a blank, replacing as well "dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club" with something like "to wear ridiculous tattoos and a stupid haircut, just so you can be part of a club." Or, "who likes to make that ludicrous ________ salute so you can be part of the new corrupt team."

 


 

5

"Tomorrow's On Fire" from Oh Yeah Wow on Vimeo.

"Tomorrow's On Fire," Darcy Prendergast and OH YEAH WOW's TV ad for Wildlife Victoria. Not-yet-so-hyped-about Australian animator and director Darcy Prendergast wrote his own verse for this raging animated ad for Wildlife Victoria produced by the creative team at equally underprized OH YEAH WOW. It premiered on Australian public TV and on the Internet only this month, while the 2019Ė20 Australian bushfire season continues to manifest its record-breaking achievements. The ad's audio poetry, accompanied by Prendergast and OH YEAH WOW's animation, the pared-down quality of which adds to the efficiency of the angry rapping's messaging, can only here speak for itself.

 


 

6

Ian Victoriano. Rogues Gallery. 2015. Mixed media on canvas. Dimensions variable

Rogues Gallery. This Ian Victoriano installation consisting of six small canvases painted in 2015 reminds us of similar portraits shown at the artist's third solo exhibition last year, at X Gallery at Pigar x Pigar. The above 2015 pieces were not in that show and is having their first appearance in the artist's current and fourth solo show, his first at Altro Mondo that opened January 15.
    The eponymous work in the show, Rogues Gallery also makes us recall Blind Man's Mirror, a fresh Victoriano piece when it was entered into that diskurso.com-curated 2018 show, Allegoria. A similarity in Blind Man's Mirror and Rogues Gallery's intent was probably what made us ignore the portrait pieces at the Pigar x Pigar show last year that looked similar to Rogues; instead we got attracted to another series of Victoriano watercolors, and picked that for our June 2019 picks of the month list.
    First, let's talk about that 2018 piece, Blind Man's Mirror. About it, diskurso wrote in the Allegoria shows's online catalogue:
    "What Victoriano intends to dramatize here is the fact that the viewer of this abstract work, or of another abstract work, or a non-abstract work for that matter, would always virtually approach the work of art blind. The reality that the art-piece viewer would intend to grasp according to his physical vision (whether itís a vision made easy by the mimicry of verisimilitude or made hard by the abstraction of a mimicked haziness, darkness, or vagueness) is always going to be his mirror: how he sees things is how, and ultimately what, he is going to be.
    "You could say that this work is almost the positive representation of the much-maligned artistís position that says 'what youíd see in the painting is what is going to make it of any value to you.' Victoriano seems to have appropriated that approach and made a thesis out of its more serious and definitely non-ridiculous possibility. . . .
    "It is in all this sense of pitting your reality against someone elseís as confronted by the picture that Blind Manís Mirror becomes an allegory of human existence itself, or, in a smaller world, of art viewing itself, replete with all of mankindís attendant prejudice and myopia as well as openness and receptivity.
    "It is also as if Victoriano has offered the show its halftime test piece: an allegory of allegory-offering and allegory-accepting, testing like a psychologist or philosopher who can and cannot be here."
    Well, guess what. Three years before we saw Blind Man's Mirror there was already this aggregate of Victoriano little pieces made in 2015 that already showed the artist's interest in blinding his viewers so that they could see themselves: Rogues Gallery. Let us talk about this further:
    1) With the concept of "rogueness" behind this installation of six small canvases, the viewer is confronted by questions not only of who to him would fit into the frames but also whether roguery to him is firstly a positive or negative conduct.
    2) The viewer as potential painting buyer would also likely ask himself, "Why am I, or why would I be, interested in having these canvases on a wall at my house? Is it so I can have reminders of these characters' existence, the way a hitman must have pictures of those he needs to confront next? Or is it so that they can serve as portraits of my rogue heroes on my own private wall?"
    The installation becomes a conceptual work, then, pitting both the positive and negative ideas of rogueness against each other as we also confront ourselves and what we are all about. If Blind Man's Mirror tackled the positive and negative of our respective blindness, Rogues Gallery points to the kind of rogues that each of us want for company.

 


 

7

a trailer for Bombshell

Bombshell (but seen from the point of view of the TV series The Handmaid's Tale and WBUR.org's Sean Burns' December 2019 review of the film). Look, we're not recommending that you watch Bombshell (released this January in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, India, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, and Brazil) when it arrives in the Philippines later this year, in case there's been a theatrical release order for it. Well, okay, we are and would, but not for the reason that it's a 100%-honest addition to the Wikipedia category-roster of "Works about Fox News," because it's not. Because we do agree with everything WBUR's Sean Burns said about the movie last December, opening that review with the caveat "The enemy of your enemy isn't always your friend." His review's title, "'Bombshell' Takes Down Roger Ailes But Ignores Fox News Toxicity That Allowed Him to Flourish," says everything about his positioning of the movie.
    Remember the portrayal of the character of Serena Joy in the TV series The Handmaid's Tale, as a symbol of a Christian-right Jesus feminist who would later fall victim to the verily toxic society she helped create? That's what we're recommending you watch Bombshell as, as a portrait of the many Serena Joys in a certain conservative propaganda outlet, noting all the while the absence in the narrative's sexual harassment victims of any self-criticism by them towards their own role in the white nationalist program to implement the verbal harassment of various Others. Burns was quick to caution our applause for the film after seeing how the movie ended "on such a bogus, rah-rah Megyn note," adding that "itís hilarious that the closing title cards forget to mention that almost immediately afterward she (Kelly) was booted from NBC for defending blackface. I must confess that before seeing this film I was a little confused about what exactly the term white feminism means. Thanks to 'Bombshell', I get it now."

 


 

8

album cover art for AJJ's Good Luck Everybody

Good Luck Everybody. We're sorry to say that the world had to get this ugly for AJJ to reinvigorate their musical produce via all that available thematic material, the inspired use of which would make them so very, very interesting again. After a scan of so many of those albums that appeared in many a best-of-2019 lists this January, it's refreshing to hear again―as Sputnikmusic noted―political music the frustrations of which are, as is appropriate, being beamed towards people instead of towards the band members' own psyche needing calming or cathartic release. These are rally songs, then, for a category that has yet to be written.
    Focus-wise, AJJ's Good Luck Everybody (released 17 January) is nearly a concept album. And the sound seems to generally hark back to early AJJ, more folk (even alt country) than folk punk, except that the band has still got that usual irreverence that's been in their tell-it-as-it-is lyrics-writing ethos that got them into the punk clubs of Arizona and other states in the United States in the first place.
    Here's a puzzle. Is the opening track "A Poem" an ironic piece about the industry of music piracy that could send producers of music to a state of starvation? Or is it actually a proposition that says each song is a poem, the lyrical content of which (along with that content's ramifications in social ethical behavior) would often be dismissed by its audience and simply placed under the attractive rug of its accompanying music? If "A Poem"'s intent is the latter, then it's a rally against support for the self-important asshole poets in songwriting. About the song, AJJ tweeted this: "Poetry owes nothing to the poet, music nothing to the musician." A salute, then, to things larger than ourselves. The music might be very folk rock, but the words are quite undeniably anti-egoist punk rock.
    AJJ's songs here are superior poetry. The bluegrassy tale about the normalization of the ugly in our times, "Normalization Blues," is a collection of efforts to penetrate the collective mind that has been led to accept the normality of the "new normal"; all of these verse descriptions of the Anthropocene could be viscerally spot-on. But much more emotional, perhaps, might be the acceptance of the satiric sympathy in "Body Terror Song," being AJJ's most eloquent gift to women currently being marginalized from the jury seats in states that want to have more say on what the weaker sex could and couldn't do with their own bodies. Otherwise it's an articulation of gender dysphoria.
    Then there's the heart of socialism (today's demonized word by Neoliberal Conservatives, who incidentally are the very farmers of social rebellion of every shape and size), one might say Christian socialism, in the song "Feedbag" that looks to have been reignited by the new era of "dickotry." In contrast to this song's heart, there's the angsty photorealist photograph of American culture as dystopia in "No Justice, No Peace, No Hope."
    Now, people who'll listen to "Mega Guillotine" would likely just smile at the Beatlesque chorus of the song. But it's really an expressionist little ditty painting a Congress that has become so unworthy of the average American's respect, soliciting disgust, even final anger. The song pays tribute to a concept by a Twitter user named @Leyawn, who proposed a Mega Guillotine that could "fit up to fifteen congressmen at the same time." This is of course all in jest, and because sung about by a progressive or liberal won't be no light subject if taken seriously by the other side to start a civil war, the results of which might elate the NRA. Nonetheless, the picture of a guillotine being used by a revolution of the people is perfect, as the power and abuse being alluded to in the song derives from the American Republican Party which, of late, has been intent at dismantling the party's erstwhile republicanism in favor of a return to a monarchism of sorts, with an all-too-powerful King Donald at the helm.
    Then comes "Loudmouth," possibly a critique of progressive voices taking either the screaming metal or trash-talking hip hop route. An outward critique, yes, that is able to self-critique its own position. This is followed by "Maggie," which demonstrates not only how we are like dogs with a master, but also how our masters can be helpless without us.
    Then comes another song of frustration, more lyrically restrained than "Mega Guillotine," titled "Psychic Warfare," expressing how deep the hatred against Donald Trump can go, the reasons for which hatred are told in the verses. Now, we don't know whose deceased voice "Your Voice, As I Remember It" is alluding to and why this song had to come after that song about Trump, but if it's about someone who the songwriter knows and only he and some friends can recognize the voice of ("No recordings were made, / No MP3s, no AACs, no WAVs"), it must be nostalgia that contrasts with what is overwhelming in the present. Or could it be about a silent majority? The album ends with "A Big Day for Grimley," a retreat into a cold desert that closes with the wish, "Good luck, everybody."

 


 

9


 

"Peace to All Freaks," "Don't Let Me Die in America," and "St. Sebastian". Three songs from the sixteenth album by of Montreal, titled Ur Fun, have Kevin Barnes busily painting the toxicity of America in the present. Leaving much of that other love of his, psychedelic pop, outside the door, the singer-songwriter enters a Democratic caucus sort of indie pop that's full of realism in this album, but no more realist than in these three synth-driven anthems.  [d]


 

 

 

 


 

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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.