Moshe Ladanga

Archive for September 2011

Imagination and Language Part 03: Meaning

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Self-Portrait 02

Ever since I got to Manila, I’ve been struggling to get back into my work. Life here is easy- my fortunate circumstances allow me the modern convenience of choice and sloth -ha- but now and then, I get worried.

I do miss London. Relentless drive, a city heaving with ambition, rocketing always, vector-like, to the future. But I have to admit, it was so depressing there. If not for the friends and the easy access to art, then I would have done myself in a long time ago. I developed bad habits, particularly in my work. Yes, navel-gazing, I’ve done that (name any artist who lived in that city who didn’t succumb to that), endless permutations of thought, and my favorite: desperately seeking innovation in technique first, rather than content, rather than, dare I say, meaning.

Manila. I arrived here last December, due to a twist of fate. So here I am, 9 months hence, working to earn money for a personal project, and here it is again. What do I want to say?

Here, among people everyday (back in my parents’ house), it is comfortable and safe. It is also very busy, barely any space to have those long stretches of thought that comes in solitude. Yet there is always  life.

Life is what I missed in London. I understood that life in a 1st world country would be different, but I did not expect it to be vapid and hollow. I would tell my friends my ‘existential’ conundrum, but of course, nearly all of them came from 1st world countries as well, so it was a topic not worth pursuing. But I wanted to have confirmation of what I felt keenly, under my skin, stirring always in pale shapes in my shallow sleep.

There is a certain species of death that happens in that kind of existence (exactly that- life un-lived-in, a mere  acknowledgement of breath), and the drawings that I’ve been making are my way of describing it. I’ve been wondering about this for a while when I look at them, and I’ve always felt that they are really just drawings in the most technical sense. I was simply transcribing what I felt.

Much has been made of the passing of the postmodern in art last year, and it was a complicated ‘death’ (theories never die, they merely devalue as intellectual currency), and craft surged ahead as the new  ‘NEW’. In craft, there is a perceived potential of human connection, an easy way in. We craft with our hands, and the mark is there; the work bears it as much as it is seen.

But as with all trends, it is too easy, and too comfortable to say that making things with our hands again is a way to begin again. One of the many great gifts of the postmodernists (of all, Foucault, in my opinion) is the exploration of the nature of human thought. Yes, it is unfortunately very self-reflexive (not ironic, mind you- YBA’s, there is a profound difference ok?), but rings and sings true: we can not begin again, there is no end in sight, we merely dip as deep as we can fathom, and make sense with whatever we glimpse. Of all the theories from that era, this is perhaps the most evocative of what we experience when we do find time to be alone and think.

Perhaps what we do need to explore is this- we have to turn the whole sheaf of questions we’ve accumulated all these years of critical analyses into a personal one. The question, in a sense, is where we begin again- Who am I in this world? Here in Manila, in this crazy world of wealth and want, of chaos and freedom, it is utterly useless to not ask this question. It is an everyday assault, a dare to make sense of who you are in a place teeming with contradiction.

I used to talk about this with a couple of close friends back in London, and I tried and tried to explain it to them. I think I was trying to make sense of it as well- I was dealing with a bigger contradiction, trying to make sense of the sight of whole buildings made of marble, black granite and limestone, and knowing the provenance of such wealth. Having experienced these extremes, I felt I had to make a choice. Do I go with it, survive and swallow the white pill, or do I go all activist and damn the whole western hemisphere to hell (and multiple recessions- haha-)?

I didn’t choose. My experience was mixed; I love London’s starry-eyed gaze into the future, I hated the inhumanity it espoused. I love meeting all kinds of people, I hated the discrimination that comes with it. I love the honesty that I encountered, but hated the bitter aftertaste. But I did learn something important that changed me, which is to be myself without any regrets. This is the only way I can confront such questions and attempt to answer them.

Chris, a friend of mine, once said that ‘the meaning’s in the making mate’. Yes, and that’s the point- we have try and make sense of what we think and feel through the best way we know how. Language, long the philosophical backbone of many a postmodern critic (and ambitious art student), always had its limits. I never understood why in our MA critiques that this was always the skeleton being flogged about in every debate, a literal ‘bone’ of contention. Language is one of only many manifestations of human comprehension (and incomprehension). To really push into the new, you have to go where language fails.

This is where we have to go. Hand -in-hand, we explore the complexities of how we invent and who we imagine ourselves to be. The questions about questions are over. Language, long at the forefront of interrogation, must give way to uncertainty to gain the necessary weight and strength to deal with the new things we’ll see. To begin again, we have to realise that it never ends.


Written by mosheladanga

September 28, 2011 at 4:10 PM