published at POC.
Mideo Cruz’s “Primetime” is an intricate lattice of contradictions – subliminal vs. sensational, criticism vs. conformity, production vs. preservation, virtual vs. real – resulting in a visual explosion that will leave spectators wondering of its ambiguity or accepting its conviction.
Influenced by Aldous Huxley’s dystopian Brave New World and more contemporary readings by Naomi Klein and Eric Schlosser, investigative journalists and authors of The Shock Doctrine and Fast Food Nation, respectively, Cruz intimates his own depiction of the spectacles of excess, sensationalism and sometimes lunacy of corporate multimedia in “Primetime”.
The artist, known for his thought-provoking sometimes outrageous art projects, is himself not a stranger to sensationalism and spectacles of excess. He is at once victim and predator of both.
A year ago, Cruz was in the midst of one of the biggest controversies in the Philippine visual arts scene. His work, “Poleteismo”, which was part of group exhibition “Kulo” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Main Gallery launched on the occasion of Filipino national hero Jose Rizal’s 150th birthday, drew great flak from religious and conservative sectors of society for its provocative images and installation of religious artifacts and symbols counter-posed with phalluses and condoms.
Local and international media pounced on the issue. Cruz was demonized and attacked in social networking sites. The CPP was eventually pressured into closing down the exhibit and the event had since caused a dent in the credibility of the institution to uphold freedom of expression.
Though Cruz says that the concept for “Primetime” was conceived way before the controversy, the exhibition nonetheless conjures a stinging message of how he views the role of corporate multimedia in society.
In Fast Food Nation, Schlosser writes that the job of the flavorist is to invoke illusions about processed food so that “consumer likeability” is guaranteed. Cruz seems to both mock and embrace such a concept. His paintings are decorated with repetitive almost hypnotic patterns only to deviate in one of the frames, “Bona Fide”, where a backdrop of logos of big multinational corporations is painted instead, a brusque twist to so-called “consumer likeability”.
The test card, commonly recognized as a television test signal when the transmitter is active but no actual program or picture is being broadcast, is thematic in the exhibition. Along with Cruz’s paintings of children in the series, the test card brings to mind Huxley’s “hatchery” from which people are not borne biologically but are hatched by the state in laboratories, divided into castes and conditioned to be happy despite their antipathy toward the state and higher castes.
Such is the power of multimedia that it can dictate happiness, infiltrate minds, bribe consumers, utilize public disorientation and deconstruct public perception to preserve a dominant order. Cruz further accentuates this by portraying people as homogenous clones, rigid, expressionless and faceless, programmed to conform.
The central image of the exhibition, “Radioactive”, is an oil-on-canvas painting of a dark explosion emanating from the ubiquitous test card. It imparts a somewhat futuristic chaotic texture to the whole series. Perhaps, for Cruz, it represents the state of corporate multimedia in its impending collapse – either through society’s continuous conformity preserving the existing hegemony or as a final result of a “revolution” of those who would dare to rebel.
In “Primetime”, the artist is both protagonist and antagonist. To be able to be critical of corporate domination and the prevailing cultural order, he has to engage in “spectacles” of his own and portray these in his own works. He relents that, in his present context, the message of his works can only be sensationally effectual if it goes “primetime”.
view Primetime here.