What’s the point in exhibiting several hundreds of monoprints of two nude homogenous models featured in a variety of poses and perspectives shot before a spot-painted backdrop?
Are we expected to meticulously decipher the meaning of each one to its every minute detail? Do we belabour on nuances of androgyny of the she-boy versus the “genuine” woman? Do we revel in their depiction of asexuality? Do we feast on the nakedly sensational or confront and criticize the gall?
Do we interpret each nook and crevice, each flawlessness and imperfection? Or do we focus on our own reactions to each print, and from these perhaps gather an understanding of our own pleasures or revulsions?
In Mideo M. Cruz’ latest exhibition, the point is the spectacle itself and the excess in discourse it invokes.
Spectacle of Excess is the third and last in a series of Cruz’ exhibitions stimulated by Damien Hirst’s contemporary artworks and goaded by the grandiloquence of mass reproduction in the present context of neoliberal globalization.
Hirst himself is no stranger to “excess”. Since 1999, he had figured in numerous controversies for employing “assistants” to sustain his art, the authenticity of his works questioned. Yet, despite and in spite of them, he remains Britain’s richest living artist – an emphatic slap in the face to his detractors and critics of so-called conceptual art.
Which leads us to thinking, is Cruz’ latest venture in presenting a volume of relatively low-priced digital prints his own testament to the inevitability of mass reproduction of art for profit?
Elizabeth Grosz argues that “art and nature share a common structure: that of excessive and useless production, production for its own sake, production for the sake of profusion..” In so saying, she explains that art in its very essence is excess – “the excess of colors, forms, materials...from the earth to produce its own excesses, sensations with a life of their own..” For Grosz, art is “seductive excess” that appeals only to the sensations. Art “attracts and allures...makes one notice...alerts one to a spectacle (that) it becomes part of a spectacle”.
However, art cannot be divorced from the realities of artists and what drives them to be complicit with a system that continues to enslave them. The reality is that artists’ motivations are closely linked to the reproduction of their own realities.
It was Georg Lukacs who pointed out that the artist “does not create in perfect freedom, simply out of his own mind.” This is because the artist cannot be independent from the very source of art – the life of the artist in particular and the lives of the people in general. Hirst’s impertinence in patenting his “concepts”, however ingenious they may be perceived in contemporary art, is a mere reflection of the doctrine of monopoly and surplus production in the neoliberal framework.
As Karl Marx stressed, surplus labor creates surplus value, and surplus value as profit engenders exploitation. In the mass reproduction of art, it is incumbent that we take into consideration the economic circumstance of the artist as the dictator of his consciousness, and thus, essentially, his reasons for doing his art.
What is the difference, for instance, of Hirst’s commercially-reproduced spot paintings from the Mabini street artists’ copies of artworks from various genres for sale in the tourist market in Manila? Mabini artists have always been put down by critics for being commercially oriented. However, the Mabini street artists, from whose ranks were borne the likes of Cesar Buenaventura, Papo de Asis and Paco Gorospe, “masters” in their own right, will never be able to match the platform, accolade and super-profit that Hirst enjoys and extracts from his assistant-manufactured surplus reproductions.
What, then, is the point of several hundreds of monoprints of two nude homogenous models featured in a variety of poses and perspectives shot before a spot-painted backdrop?
As always, Cruz’ art intends to provoke critical thought by portraying images of the otherwise typical but in intense, this time, bare-naked detail. To some, P1,000 a piece is going for a song. Several hundreds sold and Cruz, not unlike the Mabini artists, will get the maximum surplus-value for his art.
The huge difference lies in the role of the artist as the exploiter and the exploited. It can be argued that the Mabini artists, Cruz and others like them are exploited by the very system they thrive on. Hirst, on the other hand, represents the privileged class that preserves the same system.
The point? The point, still, is to change it.
~Sarah Katrina Maramag
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