1. Thanks to @ninaterol for sending this my way.

    A fascinating 3D walkthrough of the Spoliarium by Juan Luna. The work was accomplished by ‘karlgustav’ (according to the Vimeo page) of UST.

    Nicely done.

     
     
  2. The Quote

    I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance a a first step towards revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.

    - Alexis de Tocqueville

    The Painting

    Spoliarium by Juan Luna, 1884.

     
  3. This is Guernica, my favorite painting of Pablo Picasso. Guernica is one of the most influential and powerful anti-war paintings ever created; a cacophony of sights that invoked the almost inhuman bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the height of the Spanish Civil War.

    In Basque culture the town of Guernica is one of the central cultural and historical centers. While it was the center of Basque culture it was far from a key military target. Instead it was a symbol of resistance; the only military installation was on the outskirts of the town. The only reason, the sole reason, for bombing Guernica was to intimidate the Basques; to cut out their heart in other words. It was shock, awe, and destroy. The bombing of Guernica was militarily meaningless except as a form of intimidation, a warning to all who dare stand up against the aspirations of Generalissimo Franco.

    Rudolf Anheim wrote: "The women and children make Guernica the image of innocent, defenseless humanity victimized. Also, women and children have often been presented by Picasso as the very perfection of mankind. An assault on women and children is, in Picasso’s view, directed at the core of mankind."

    While George Steer, a journalist, described the devastation:Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques and the centre of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon by insurgent air raiders. The bombardment of this open town far behind the lines occupied precisely three hours and a quarter, during which a powerful fleet of aeroplanes consisting of three types of German types, Junkers and Heinkel bombers, did not cease unloading on the town bombs weighing from 1,000 lbs. downwards and, it is calculated, more than 3,000 two-pounder aluminium incendiary projectiles. The fighters, meanwhile, plunged low from above the centre of the town to machinegun those of the civilian population who had taken refuge in the fields.”

    Picasso was a Basque, at least he was on his mother’s side. So while he had been commissioned by the Spanish government to create a mural, instead he created the single most significant anti-war piece of his generation. A testament to the horror and devastation wrought by indiscriminate warmongering.

    Picasso was a man of infinite creative vision. But what makes an artist endure is the timelessness of his work. Today, Guernica remains as potent as it was in 1937. Not only worldwide, but here today, right now in the Philippines we have elements in our government and civil society advocating for Filipinos to wage war on Filipinos. For no other reason other than it is the simplest solution to a complex problem. A shortsighted solution that will do nothing more than breed further anger, fuel more anti-Filipino sentiments, and ultimately result in further damaging the fabric of our nationhood.

    Women and children will bear the brunt of such rash action, they always do. It is the civilians, the innocents and the powerless, that testify to the utter brutality of ‘all out’ war. In the act of trying to carve out a life of some means, they inevitably end up the cannon fodder for warmongers. Families torn apart, children driven by ‘revenge’ and hopelessness into insurgent groups, only then to end up bullet riddled fertilizer in some distant jungle.

    Today is Pablo Picasso’s birthday. In 1937 the destruction of Guernica in his homeland drove him to craft one of the world’s most powerful paintings. He was railing against the horrors of war; he was drawing attention to the incalculable damage done. Amidst all the beauty he created, he also left a challenging and timeless warning.

    The impact of any war is writ large in Guernica.

     
  4. The Quote

    To the subdued strains of the orchestra there seems to appear in the midst of a shower of light, a cascade of gold and diamonds in an Oriental setting, a deity wrapped in misty gauze, a sylph enveloped in a luminous halo, who moves forward, apparently without touching the floor. In her presence the flowers bloom, the dance awakens, satyrs, demons, angels, shepherds, and shepherdesses dance, shake their tambourines, and whirl about in rhythmic evolution, each one placing some tribute at the feet of the goddess…

    - Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere

    The Painting

    The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, 1486. An almost literal representation of the tale of the goddess Venus rising fully formed (being born) from the sea.

     
  5. The Quote

    On the field of battle, fighting with delirium,

    others give you their lives without doubts, without gloom

    The site nought matters: cypress, laurel or lily:

    gibbet or open field: combat or cruel martyrdom

    are equal if demanded by country and home.

    - Jose Rizal (translation by Nick Joaquin)

    The Painting

    Liberty Leading the People, Eugene Delacroix 1830. One of the most famous of French paintings, it depicts Liberty, represented by the woman, boldly leading Frenchmen in impassioned revolt to overthrow a repressive and antiquated Regime.

     
  6. The Quote:

    …and when a people reaches that height God will provide a weapon, the idols will be shattered, the tyranny will crumble like a house of cards and liberty will shine out like the first dawn.

    - Jose Rizal

    The Painting:

    Destruction by Thomas Cole, 1833-1836. Painting number four in his “The Course of Empire” series in which imperialism is critiqued, and pastoralism is promoted, through the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.

     

  7. Useless: A Story about Philippine “Intellectuals”

    It is generally accepted that the Martial Law period politicized and corrupted the military. As well, there was a subversion of civil society leadership at the top of the socioeconomic foodchain. The art of capital cronyism, the repayment of support and favors through preferential treatment in public-private accommodations, undermined Philippine business. It concentrated assets, via government mechanisms of transfer and intimidation, in the hands of a few; a carefully selected and groomed cadre of men and women. Loyalists, who still maintain their patronage ties to the past. We still find visible and passionate defenses of that failed regime and its perverse ideas today. Defenses and gross misstatements that go unchallenged in the public sphere.

    As well the fourth estate, the social mechanism that is supposed to act as both the people’s voice and a check and balance to excess and abuse, was subverted. One of the first orders that went out was to round up journalists who were critical of the Marcos regime. And then jail them. Newspapers were shut down, writers intimidated and jailed. Editors went into hiding; along with some well-regarded and high-profile columnists. The intelligensia was under attack. And in muzzling their ability to speak, to criticize and explicate, to disclose and detail the indiscretions of the prevailing power bloc, one of the safeguards of the people was eliminated. When media and the ability of a country’s intellectuals to speak is controlled, the flow of information, the engagement of ideas, the forms of education are controlled as well. The best, the most effective way to rule with an iron fist, is to manage what people learn; what they discover and understand about themselves. It is part of the reason why an independent art and culture community, a vibrant one at that, is so important. Without it, sans those divergent and clashing views that exist in a dynamic society, a people stagnate. That is what happened during Martial Law. Eventually though, a people find new footing; it rediscovers its soul and voice. Broad response and reprisal follow soon after.

    That is one of the enduring lessons from that period, and any like it in world history. Effective and stable governance is not found through fear and intimidation, it is not found in the continuing miseducation of a people. In the short term, keeping a population compliant through intimidation and ignorance may work. In the short term. But over time, eventually, human spirit rebels. As Edward Said has aptly demonstrated, sometimes the soul of a people is defined in opposition to repression. Art and literature show the way. That is the reason why so much great literature, so much important art, is produced during times that try men’s souls. But the cultural and social process that births voices like Tagore or Rizal takes time. It is not instantaneous by any means. That though is in the case of colonialism from without. What of colonialism from within? What then when a people are trod under by their own?

    The same holds true. However, I truly suspect the process is accelerated in cases of internally imposed totalitarianism. At least initially. Once those early voices are silenced, and the mechanisms for public criticism sealed off, I suspect it takes time for new voices to find their bearing. Control in an authoritarian or imperial environment then does not just derive from political and economic means, it is reinforced through oversight of the intelligensia. That is the untold story of Martial Law: The subversion of the academe and the collaboration of public writers with the Marcos regime. 

    There were historians, columnists, social and cultural commentators, filmmakers, and artists who became part of the ruling elite during the Marcos years. They are still active today; fancying themselves social sages and purveyors of enlightened wisdom. And, in part, this helps explain why so much of the excess and abuse remains untold, unexplained in the public sphere. We still lack a comprehensive and cohesive tale of Martial Law; the reason is the people, the writers and storytellers, who are in the best public position to create it, collaborated. For every F. Sionil Jose, Nick Joaquin or Alejandro R Roces, or Pete Lacaba (public writers and social stalwarts all), who spoke and fought against the defilement of their country, you have even more who joined forces under some sort of ‘nationalist’ claim. In supporting the very regime that denigrated their countrymen, they made a mockery of the term ‘nationalist.’ One prominent example is Rio Alma. A man who fancies himself as a modern day avenging angel of Tagalog-ccentric nationalism; yet he was a speech writer for Marcos. A man who set-up a rival writers guild to PEN, under the aegis of Marcos. He is by no means an exception. Other so-called nationalist social commentators were working hand in hand with Imelda Marcos during those years. Benefiting from that relationship. Is it any wonder that members of our art and culture community frequently shy away from pointed criticisms of Martial Law?

    It was a storyline that played out yet again during the GMA years. The NCCA and NHI were brought inline with GMA’s interests. A negative artistic word was never allowed. The culture institutions were controlled and muzzled. The sad part is some people who were anti-Marcos ended up collaborating with GMA. They committed the same sins decades previously they had spoken out against. There is a lesson to be found here in the damage that results from allowing unfettered power and weaknesses in our institutions to continue.

    The fact is, in so many ways, our intellectual and academic communities in the Philippines have let the country down. They are supposed to be detectives and storytellers. The men and women who not only unearth social ills and iniquity, but are challenged to heal those wounds; to show ways out of the morass in which the country has found itself. Without public writers and artists digging deeper and creating new perspectives a country, and its people, will never evolve. That is the situation the Philippines finds itself in today. Our public writers and historians, with a few notable exceptions, are caught in some sort of cycle of pseudo-intellectualism and perversely twisted and superficial nationalism. Their changeability and lack of intellectual integrity comes most to the fore when commenting on political situations. Very few actually write from positions buttressed by research or even organic philosophies. More than anything, so many writers and historians are bound by ties of ideology and patronage. Those ties also encompass student-teacher relationships. One of the key issues in our historical community is the sheer reverence in which older historians are held. To write an opposing view, or critically of their positions, is almost forbidden. At the very least, it is frowned upon. 

    World views that are so bound by personal relationships or ideology result in almost worryingly limited commentary on all issues. It is the same when it comes to understanding history. It results in superficial understandings of the self and nation; past, present, and future. There are current examples of this limitation. For example, the on-going PCSO expose is one. There are many who glommed onto the pronouncements of Manoling Morato with nary a critical question asked or evidence-backed substantiation requested; yet remain curiously silent concerning the Commission on Audit reports detailing the excesses and errors of previous PCSO leadership. Well, except in the case of attacking wayward bishops. Consistency and constancy are in short supply sometimes.

    Even more amusingly, there are those who spoke glowingly and in whole-hearted support for Jose Rizal and his philosophies; describing in detail how he was their hero, and how his words and deeds were inspiration. Yet, defend warlordism as not only necessary, but appreciated. Our own history belies the very idea that concentrating power in the hands of a select few (and allowing political dynasties to flourish) is worthwhile. This distressing mutability in the basic philosophies results in almost humorous inconsistencies in positions on issues. And publicly, the act of framing and contextualizing issues is quite rare. More often than not, analysis, and criticisms there in, occur almost in a vacuum. Multi-disciplinary thinking remains elusive. And that is a continuing failure of our education system.

    The burden of not only identifying, but offering avenues to repairing, extant social ills falls most heavily on the art, culture, and intellectual community. The reason is simple: They have the ability to do so. In accepting the mantle of being a public historian, writer, artist, or journalist they are dedicating themselves to a higher calling; to national service in a sense. That is the reason why arts and culture are usually among the first civil sectors that are silenced in a totalitarian regime. In driving them underground, the public mechanism for ideas and resistance is abrogated. What else is art, but subversion?

    And that is what concerns me the most, on an intellectual level. It is not just how broken the system is, or the type of people who inhabit it. It is the fact that the road to redemption for the Philippines has become muddied by the very people who should be shining a light and creating paths out of our current situation. Instead of being the backbone of a strong, informed, and dynamic intellectual community, they have become withdrawn, elitist and even intellectually incestuous in a way. Their ideas of what it means to be Filipino are stagnant and old-fashioned. Instead of discovering new perspectives on the country, the same old hackneyed ideas are repackaged in pretty, albeit superficial, forms.

    But, serving the public good does not necessarily mean always being against government. What it demands is something far more difficult than that; because let’s be honest here, the easiest path is just to always be contrarian, to always try and tear down and criticize. Instead it demands adherence to a core set of beliefs; ideas and philosophies from which all personal ideas and positions derive. That means not allowing things like private relationships to influence. It means focusing on issues of content, and not personal likes and dislikes. I remember one writer telling me that he was most proud of the fact that he angered his friends and opponents equally during his career. If everyone agrees with what you have written, then what you wrote is meaningless.

    That is the challenge for the next generation, our generation, of artists and writers. To break the shackles of repressive historical and social thought and the strictures of perverse ideology. In other words, to come up with new meanings on what it means to be Filipino. For me, that starts historically. But for others? It has to begin where passion is found and where new ideas can flourish. Else we are failing ourselves and we will continue to stagnate.

    In a sense, we are even worse off than when we were colonial subjects. At least then there was fire and passion and energy to discover and create a new and cohesive nation. Verve that today seems to be in short supply.

     

  8. "But what does art mean to all of us. If that art, if that life, has been only of use to you, but not to others."
    — 

    F Sionil Jose. June 3, 2011

    A line from his amazing speech during the Cultural Center of the Philippines tribute for Alejandro R Roces.

    In other words, artists have to figure their works within a larger calling. They must create, not only worthy works, but art that speaks, that crafts, that brings together and unearths or repairs. Else that ‘art’ just becomes another form of masturbation. Art, to be truly great and meaningful, has to have a higher purpose.

    And art can be found, not only in physical representations, but in a life lead. A life dedicated to something greater is a form of art in and of itself. Put on a performance to inspire.

     
  9. I love the concept of the Take Away Shows by La Blogotheque: Some of the most well-known and successful musicians in the world performing stripped down, acoustic and personal versions of their songs in and around some of the world’s great cities.

    In a sense, it gets to the heart of art, it removes the artifice that so often accompanies commercially successful artistic endeavors. There are moments of true, astonishing, beauty; when a musician connects with his audience, an audience that moments before was unaware that a performance is about to occur.

    And there are moments touched with a tinge of melancholy as well. At the heart of the endeavor, I believe, is this subtle challenge to the modern mindset of disconnect. We consciously and unconsciously withdraw ourselves from our surroundings. Most obviously when we are commuting and traveling, but not only then. We manufacture these contained pockets of space, and rarely breach them.

    Those moments that demonstrate the disconnect offer a challenge. A world-class musician sitting on a street bench performing acoustically, just them and a guitar, a song that almost any pedestrian around would have paid to hear, is ignored. Or at least, not given more than a cursory glance, a flick of the eyes as they pass. But, even in those moments there is an elegance found. The artist doesn’t care. They’re lost in the music, performing for themselves, being lost in their creation. It raises a long-overlooked question: For whom does an artist really perform?

    It’s a question that challenges all creative endeavors. And reminds that art cannot ever truly be separated from people.

    I mentioned it briefly earlier, but what I love most about these performances is that they strip away the commercialization that has become too prevalent in art. We forget, but art is more than whatever minor monetary value is placed on it. Art is about expression, not only of a person and their ‘feelings’, but on a social level. It has to reflect the moods and moments of a culture, of a people, to truly resonate. Sans that, we are left with something approaching vapidity. Art, at its core, is an argument; it’s a debate and discussion, a relationship, between the artist and his audience. I fear that is sometimes forgotten in the mad dash to create what others may appreciate.

    The performance above is Aloe Blacc singing an impromptu performance in a restaurant. The performance page can be found here. I highly recommend checking out the full list of performances at La Blogotheque. It’s an incredibly eclectic and diverse group of performers that includes Phoenix, Bon Iver, Josh Rouse, Noah and the Whale, Wilco, I’m From Barcelona, White Rabbits, Sigur Ros and others. And by others I do mean some of the best musicians in the world.

     
     

  10. A Brief Note on the National Museum

    Almost a year ago to the day, the National Museum and other cultural institutions (CPP for example) found themselves part in parcel with ex-PGMA’s attempts to ‘stack the deck’ so to speak. The board of the National Museum and the CCP were summarily dismissed, contravening existing protocols, and new boards were instituted. As with the dismissal of the existing boards, the composition and creation of the new boards did not follow protocol or precedent. Worse even, the board of the National Museum was composed of individuals with scanty cultural and art credentials to say the least. By all appearances, political favors were being paid off.

    The example of the NCCA during the GMA years provides insight into how culture and arts can be subverted for political expediency. Culture and arts should be separate from political by-play. Art is not only the expression of a country and it’s people, it provides a medium in for self-exploration and analysis. Art cannot just be for art’s sake. It has to criticize and uplift in equal measures. This is a component long missing from our communities. Art cannot just be for derogation, it also has to be a vehicle for identity formation and understanding. That is the importance of art and culture. It is why they have to be outside of the political process, even when they focus on criticizing politics.

    Yet, the NCCA became one of the leading institutions of a new censorship. Ideas apart from what the ruling members saw as acceptable went unsupported. That is the type of attitude and atmosphere that GMA sought to perpetuate. To stifle voices and to control the mediums of understanding.

    There has been some concern, a lot actually, that Aquino, as opposed to understanding the power of the art and culture communities, instead just did not care. This can be just as damaging as attempts to control the communities. Thankfully, the reconstitution of the National Museum board at least indicates that someone in the administration understands the need for support of our history and culture. Three appointees in particular signal this: Corazon Alvina, Felice Sta. Maria and Father Rene Javellana, SJ. Cora was the long-time Director of the National Museum, who frankly performed miracles on a limited budget and even less political support. Felice, of course, is highly experienced in culture and the arts, both from an institutional level and as a contributing artist. Father Javellana has done wonders at the Ateneo de Manila in promoting the arts in innovative ways, and demonstrating that art based programs can help target and alleviate poverty.

    One other important development is Pagcor finally turning over the Php170M that was owed the National Museum. To be frank, much more financial and political support is needed to truly improve the National Museum, but it is a start. An important gesture at that, one that I hope is the first of many.

    Culture, history and the arts are necessary components in nation-building; something I fear has long been overlooked by the technocrats. These developments offer the slight hope that this is an idea the Aquino administration is finally beginning to understand. Supporting the culture community means much more than wearing barongs and watching pretty dances. It means helping a country understand and re-evaluate who they are as a unique people.