Moshe Ladanga

Posts Tagged ‘imagination

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

Imagination and Language Part 02: Intent

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copyright Moshe Ladanga 2009

copyright Moshe Ladanga 2009

What wills us to speak?

There has been a huge amount of scholarship devoted to the investigation of the origin of this particular intent, a phenomenon amongst all human activity. The creative will, if one experiences it, is as powerful as any of the fundamental desires.

To invent- that word has always been a favorite of mine, because it has a tinge of the salacious, of the slip. There are works of art that invent, and there are those that quite sadly only seek to re-make. There is a tremendous pleasure that people experience when confronted with the new, and also a unique joy in discovering something new in the familiar. For me, invention is a bit of both, and never exclusive to either ‘classification’ (art history etymology never really works for artists).

The reason why this is such a contentious thing now (especially here) is the loss of certainties brought about by an ever-expanding and complicated view of the world. I always thought theories were at best, well-informed attempts to understand things, not truth. Truth is an entirely  different animal, and it cannot be tamed ever, even by centuries of knowledge.

This is a tricky thing though; to actually tell an artist friend to clarify his or her intent almost always does more harm than good, but you can see it from a mile away. If the artist is simply ambitious for all things besides the thing, then, as we say in the Philippines, a rat is a rat is a rat. Be a good friend and play the fool. In short, don’t give out anymore cheese, haha!

But enough rhetoric- what I want to say is that intent is a private vocation for those who seek things that are bigger than they are, and the reason for the seclusion is that it is enough trouble as it is, and by keeping it close, we keep it manageable, safe. There still are things in this world that cannot be bought. But to clarify (as experience goes, with so many of my old friends), we are not so strong, and often too keen on proving we are clever enough for the game. I remember counseling a friend, brilliant chap, and he was trying to go back into real work after years in the industry. Funny thing was I expected that he wouldn’t have been able to be creative again, but the fire was still there. He didn’t really lose anything, except the clarity of intent.

In my own way, that’s what I’ve been avoiding. These past two years I’ve been protecting whatever artistic integrity I have left. But the knot tightens and ties itself in.  The strange thing about ivory towers is that they have only one purpose: to keep one thing. So, suffice to say, intent is one thing, but to make it real one has to step out and be brave.

Intent is the shape of will.

Written by mosheladanga

August 30, 2009 at 10:19 PM

Imagination and Language Part 01: Solitude

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copyright Moshe Ladanga 2007

copyright Moshe Ladanga 2007

I have long been an admirer of Rilke, first introduced to me by Katrin before she went on a seven-day trip to Sagada. The now-classic pocket-size Shambhala Press Edition of Letters was my first Rilke, and it was a gentle and subtly persuasive introduction to solitude, the core of my artistic practice.

To relish one’s ability to detach and contemplate things is not just a natural state, but a skill that needs to be nurtured and developed; it is a space that expands, no matter where you are in the world, no matter how you are in this life. I have treasured this gift and have even fought it.

So what does Rilke’s notion of the artistic practice have anything to do with the theoretical issues of imagination and language in art? I dare say it is the key issue, the unturned stone. The omnipresence of globalism and collaborative experiments in contemporary practices indirectly reinforce the need to slow down, to reflect, because the collective rush in my opinion is a quite human reaction to the tightening circle of information, of knowledge, not, as many are saying now, to the enthusiasm that “interconnected-ness” brings.

Yes, revolutions in art owe largely to the influx of difference, diversity, but institutionalizing a social phenomena will not only engender it, but kill it. Sometimes we forget that most theories come from observation, and this precious human facility is the one that takes time, and like a path in the woods, the riches of insight can only be gleaned after traversing the pattern of shadows.

It is an effort to be alone. Unlike the days before the internet, before cellphones, I find myself fighting constantly to be aware of my voice, to hear without prejudice the thoughts I have as I walk. Does anyone remember that fleeting subconscious moment that we have when we encounter a realisation- it felt like stepping into a light-struck place in a dense wood. Today, we often pick through our thoughts as one would pick through clothes; I must think this way, must not think like this.

Imagination and language cannot be deconstructed as Derrida would have brilliantly put it (by putting it to the page, inscribing it to form). Yes, there is an  inextractable, even inscrutable connection, but once we look, one goes into gear. Arthur Koestler, one of my heroes, once described human consciousness as an essentially metaphorical one. As we try to make sense of what is outside of us, we already create- every moment is one of invention.

As an artist, this is important to me. No matter how many pedagogical branches grow from the current trend of specialised art theories, there will always be that moment of consideration, a beginning of a circle. It is the daily choice of stepping into it that I am keen on, and to keep it I have to know what is happening. To speak of what things are, one must see as one is.

Written by mosheladanga

May 28, 2009 at 1:35 AM