COMMUNITY ARTS + ART AND SOCIAL CHANGE

posted May 25, 2009, 3:50 AM by Diego S. Maranan   [ updated May 25, 2009, 3:54 AM ]
posted by Catherine Young on May 24, 2009
 
 
 
Lotsa heat during Biomodd discussions:
 
LANI: Everyone can understand images. Images cut across all levels of comprehension. This is what makes it so eloquent, that the murals are part of the environment, free and accessible providing something for people to reflect on. Murals are platforms for images. As my reflection on art in social change, I have chosen this particular visual medium which is commonly seen in the Philippine  and its communities.

Due to the size, cost, and work involved in creating a mural, muralists must often be commissioned by sponsors. Often it is the local government, a business or grants from patronage. For artists, their work gets a wide audience that otherwise might not set foot in an art gallery. A city is beautified by a work of art. Murals exist where people live and work and affect their daily lives. Murals can be a relatively effective tool of social and political change. Murals have sometimes been created against the law or have been commissioned by multinational businesses, politicians and the local government. Often, the visual effects are an enticement to attract public attention to social issues. In the Philippine setting, although the murals more often than not represent political issues, advocacy and community statements, much of these can be seen as aesthetically done art pieces in churches, hotel lobbies and institutions, often renown for their professional nature and notable skills of artists creating them. But let’s not dwell on this……rather let us bring murals as an instrument to represent the social changes brought about by technology and ecology, these two, being core fusions of Biomodd.
 
 
 
ANGELO: I have two reflections on your text. These are just brief sketches, we can talk about it more in depth later if you want.

"Images cut across all levels of comprehension."

This statement is interesting but at the same time a bit problematic from a philosophical/media theoretical point of view. This statement seems to imply there is some sort of universal visual language that every human would understand - which is not the case. The "reading" of images is constructed through cultural backgrounds. The same image may evoke totally different responses for different people. Some images may even be totally illegible for certain people, while being perfectly obvious for others. Your statement also seems to imply that images have a sort of direct 'immediacy'. All other forms of comprehension seem limited (and inferior?) to this pure comprehension. This is also not true. Images are just another way of grasping and constructing reality. And to this effect, they are limited.

"Due to the size, cost, and work involved in creating a mural, muralists must often be commissioned by sponsors."

I think this offers an opportunity to elaborate on the problematic relationship between activism and sponsorship. How can an artist bring out a strong activist message that rallies against the current state of affairs, when he/she's paid by people who's only interest is to maintain status quo? Think about Biomodd questioning consumer society and being sponsored by SM...
 
DIEGO: "Images cut across all levels of comprehension."

This statement is interesting but at the same time a bit problematic from a philosophical/media theoretical point of view. This statement seems to imply there is some sort of universal visual language that every human would understand - which is not the case. The "reading" of images is constructed through cultural backgrounds. The same image may evoke totally different responses for different people. Some images may even be totally illegible for certain people, while being perfectly obvious for others. Your statement also seems to imply that images have a sort of direct 'immediacy'. All other forms of comprehension seem limited (and inferior?) to this pure comprehension. This is also not true. Images are just another way of grasping and constructing reality. And to this effect, they are limited.

Much of the human condition---including our ability to (re)construct meaning from images---is determined partly by biology and partly through social construction. And while some of our biology and our social construction we share with other human beings, some of it we don't. A classic 1969 study (apparently recently upheld by the psychologist Steven Pinker) suggests a universal trend in the way societies perceive, differentiate between, and name colors (http://is.gd/BwRDhttp://is.gd/BwSp). Yet at the same time, colors have meant different things to different people. Death, which is represented by the color black in some cultures, is suggested by the color white in China (http://is.gd/nMzv) and (apparently) by yellow during the Middle Ages.

"A city is beautified by a work of art"

Does it always? Consider "MMDA art", those often-generic pastel marks that the government paints in response to graffiti and other non-state-sanctioned activity (http://is.gd/BxPc) Is that art? Perhaps it is. If it is, is it good art? If art can tell stories, whose stories are being told by MMDA art? Should we believe it? Is it beautiful art?  What makes something beautiful? Who gets to say that it's beautiful, and who told them to say it?
 
LEO: I believe art is man's expression of his perception about himself and everything arournd him, whatever these perceptions may be and how he expresses them.  MMDA art tends to suppress human expressions by setting delimiters to encompass expressions within so called "socially acceptable" norms of expressions.  I don't think MMDA art tells any stories at all, except to function as relics to our country's worsening political and economic condition.
 
ALETA: Others may not agree with me, but I do welcome MMDA's initiatives to do something that nobody has ever done before: take action and mean it. Some of their road experiments didn't work, but some did--I choose to be  content with  that.  I mean is it really that difficult to come up with public urinals, toilets, road signs, walkways and pedestrian lanes, emergency tow trucks. But MMDA did despite  criticisms and 'crab mentality' coming from other LGU's, especially territorial mayors.  MMDA's presence has been a challenge to what I call as Filipino psychology.  For years we were led to believe that there are no solutions to road/traffic problems...that Filipino public transport drivers and commuters are not even worth government time and money. But MMDA just went on doing what they think needs to be done. A lot of balls there.
 
And so if MMDA labels their art as art, let them. It may not even look artistic nor that beautiful to me, but it is a good start. Maybe if a concerned group of artists is willing enough to give MMDA's art workshops, imagine what that can do to a dreary looking Shaw + Cubao + Quiapo underpass. Perhaps if others start taking action alongside all these attempts, imagine the kind of transformation that can achieve through art.
 
Btw, have you ever tried observing MMDA/ streetworkers--they do try their best to take care of plants in the midst of traffic--I caught an image: a lady streetsweeper checking out  a growing vine somewhere between Guadalupe and Buendia (I dunno if the vine is still there) --that to me was beautiful, but is that art?
 
DIEGO: I've compiled some resources for anyone interested in reading up on what other people have said about art: http://delicious.com/dmaranan/whatisart.
 
Here's a particularly interesting excerpt:
"What's hard for people to accept is that issues of art are just as difficult as issues of molecular biology; you cannot expect to open up a page on molecular biology and understand it. This is the hard news about art that irritates the public. if people are going to be irritated by that, they just have to be irritated by that."
 
Here's another one:
"Art is what your mom looks like neked."
 
CATHY: Whee! Molecular biology!
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