Moshe Ladanga

Posts Tagged ‘Art world

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


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reproduction prohibited 2008 (digital print ) Moshe Ladanga -all rights reserved-


In the process of going over the drawings, jpegs, films and other media for the website, I started to think of what I was really trying to do with all of the stuff I would create. It’s easy to sift through your work when you are working in one medium, or if you have a particular theme, a focus in your practice. But with mine, I have always loved the thrill of the exploration, of experiment. Hence, the mess!

Being in such a rigorous research-led environment led me to take a look at this mess, and try to figure out if I’m trying to say something with all of these things. I was also wary of my own mind, treading carefully so that whatever innocent joy I had left won’t be at my own mercy, as I have this bad itch for deconstructing anything.

What I saw was quite simple; as much as I am passionate about different kinds of art, my creative practice reflects this love, and the reason behind the diversity is a personal refusal to let my mind decode whatever stirs in me that speaks only in tongues. I was reading this essay by Susan Sontag today, a comprehensive appraisal of Roland Barthes, and it struck me how Sontag sliced through all of the common intellectual tokenisms of his theories and revealed, through Barthes’ words themselves, the essence of his work. She said, as in all great works of art, there is always a succinct pleasure in the creative act, both from the author and the reader. And Barthes’ talent lies in the ingenious play between these two poles. Beyond the typical academic readings of Barthes (the author is dead…zzzz…), there is his sublime use of text as text, and the treatment of the textual as surface; it is far removed from the traditional semiotic understanding of text as having an interior meaning, but builds upon the modernist innovation of seeing meaning from the associations, connections, and ultimately, the aesthetic pleasure one experiences in that moment of lucidity, no matter how brief.

But this play on text as surface is not to be confused with the concept of materiality; this play is not a juvenile exercise, nor it is a rejection of the possibilities of the unknown, the suggestions of the unseen. It is a radicalism that is most subtle, a profoundly subversive hint. What I find quite depressing nowadays when I get to see contemporary art is the lack of craft, and by craft I mean in the way of Barthes, where there is a judicious and skillful play between meanings, a grace even in how things are juxtaposed, and artists now are so prone and given to a stilted and academic sense of poetry. Representation is well and alive yes, but in the Walter Benjamin kind of way, where ‘object-oriented’ art language reigns, where art is reproduction via research.

Sometimes when I see so many young and obviously talented artists take on the risk of entering the art world, I shudder, and I remember the time when I was making my first film, where the biggest scare was the void- the rule of experimental film is the blindfold, where language is invention.

Sometimes I wonder how did it turn out this way, with so much investment towards an empiricism of the aesthetic, this addiction to the ‘new’.

Sometimes I question the ‘questioning’, the turn of the creative practice to a critical one.

Look around and the world is changing. I get this feeling at times that all of these pieces of art will be worth nothing to me, for they beget nothing more than the passing fancy, traces of trends, or in the terms of cinema, a cunning form of documentary posing as fiction. But as of late, I have realized that it is useless to dig and find proof of the reason behind this current state, simply because the current state needs no explanation: it is too apparent to warrant even a bit of civil ambivalence.

What I want is freedom. In the Bacchus series of Cy Twombly in his Tate retrospective, you are engulfed by the sheer mastery of his language, and the freedom that he clearly enjoyed and the absolute certainty of his actions. He is one of the few masters today who does not pander to theoretical trends, and willfully and exhaustingly lays out the ‘way in’- his work doesn’t sit comfortably between viewer and idea, but engages you in its own terms, and is always brave enough to risk illegibility for the sake of honesty.

That is my reason I think I keep pursuing this idea (ideal? If it is still valid, then yes) of creativity, where instead of the concept hogging the klieg lights, it is desire I pull out of the shadows and strive to make something out of it.

Perhaps there is something we all missed when art became so popular and profitable, and I think it is the acknowledgment of the origins of whoever chooses to be an artist; some of us still believe in something, and were left unscathed by the postmodernist wave. I admit it is quite difficult to make art while being aware of the intellectual totems that are the standard already in today’s art world, but the question lurking behind all of this critical ‘plumbing’ is what is it all for?

This is the question that keeps me awake, confronts me on a blank page, taunts me on bouts of self-indulgence, and stirs and stirs all that I never had the guts to say into something tangible enough to create with.

Originality for me starts with this question, and the corresponding action is to shut the mind to all of the other voices so that I get to hear myself first; in today’s hyper/post-anything world, such an action cannot even be heroic (ah, I wish) but all the more necessary to survive.

Written by mosheladanga

August 19, 2008 at 3:30 PM

Of Schisms and Skirmishes

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The seemingly incorrigible combination; Peter Campus, one of the the pioneers of video art, and Douglas Gordon, a leading practitioner of the moving image, had a talk in the Tate Modern a week ago.

The talk was mediated by David A. Ross, the curator of the Whitney Museum in New York. It was a tension-filled event, with the auditorium crawling with gallery types, a smattering of artists and art students. The reason for the tension I think is due to several factors; one being the very rare public appearances of Gordon, who hasn’t given interviews in the last five years or so. Also, which I think is the pivotal reason, is the frankness and sincerity of Peter Campus.

It was quite fun actually; Douglas Gordon is such a personality, relentless in his jokes and jabs at all the edified talk about art. Peter Campus however, was easygoing and friendly, and I liken him to a grand old guru, still passionate about art, but more at peace with himself, clearly happy with what he does. But it was Mr. Ross’s questions that ticked off the tension in the auditorium. It was so banal and art-speaky that the two artists looked at each other and raised their eyebrows. Here’s the link (they got it in MP3!):

There were several issues raised, one being the difference between the generation of artists who grew up in New York among the heady milieu of the 60’s and the postmodern YBA’s here in the UK. Douglas Gordon dissented when Campus talked about art’s ability to help people transcend the glaze of modern life- Gordon said that art cannot be made to elevate something, but rather art should break with tradition and transform itself into something else. But then Gordon talked about his experience at the Slade, in which he lost the pleasure of watching films because he studied it constantly. He talked about the postmodernist phenomenon, in which he felt surrounded by it, and that was the language that he learned, the art-making practice that he had to work with.

I was thinking about this a lot and looking at Gordon’s work, it explains the vicarious nature of his image-making- I liken it to a fetishism of the moving image, in which the pleasure we derive from cinema is subverted into Gordon’s vision, which I think is a personal one. There is a distinct language he uses, and especially evident with the self-portraits he has done with the blown-up polaroids (image above). There is a frankness and immediacy that I find moving and even heartfelt.

In contrast, Peter Campus’s approach is more calm and (in my opinion), confident. In the short film he did with the pieces of glass (can’t find a jpeg of it, sorry), the mood is also frank, even cold, but in the way he directed the actor and the placement of the camera he manages to eliminate “the frame” (the 4th wall in cinema-speak) and simply reveal the image, his message.

The difference is that Gordon’s work still aims to put the moving image into a pedestal (quite ironically), and Campus’ work subdues the art “frame” with the clarity and subtlety of a master.

On a ‘sociological’ note, it was fun to see and observe how the art world is; there was this curator who had the temerity to ask Gordon if he was being hypocritical by selling his work in galleries but at the same time proclaim he cannot stand it- she even called him “bourgeois” (cue hushed tones and turning heads!). Gordon retorted, saying that he treats his career as a job, as a way to earn money, and that he has a function as an artist. Then he ends it with a jab (cue slight smattering of nervous laughter and sharp intakes of breath…) by telling her that he’ll sell her something cheap. My, my, this was juicy stuff-haha!

But the great thing was that it was clear that both artists are passionate about what they do. Campus kept trying to invite Gordon to teach in the States, and Gordon invited Campus for a series of dinners to continue their talk. Oh, and that was one important point that Campus made: what was lacking today’s very competitive art world was dialogue. He said as artists we should engage in it with fellow artists, away from all the art-speak, all the theory, and foster a camaraderie. He sees it as an antidote to the problem we have today, perhaps not only in the art-world, but to the larger sphere of society as well. Wow (for the lack of a better word), what a great man. A Kurosawa in my book:)