REFLECTION ON MIDEO CRUZ’ POLITEISMO
Dr. Feorillo A. Demeterio III
Vice Dean, College of Liberal Arts, De La Salle University
I did not have the privilege of experiencing the Politeismo of Mideo Cruz, as the whole exhibition Kulo was closed the day I thought of going to CCP and see for myself this installation in the context of the whole show. But since the controversy it created is aesthetic, philosophical and cultural, I, as a professor of Philippine studies, am compelled to make sense out of it using the fragmented footages and snapshots that I saw on television and the internet.
I propose that Mideo Cruz’ Politeismo be analyzed using the Dada movement as the overall framework, because his installation is indeed a representative of this genre. But a problem arises here, owing to the fact that even for the classic and traditional arts, the average Filipino tends to have a very low aesthetic literacy. If we cannot expect the average Filipino to be able to plumb the meaning of realistic painting or sculpture, the more that we cannot expect him to make sense out of Dada installation. I believe that this gap between an artist’s expression and the people’s capacity to read such expression is the root of the controversy that we are currently experiencing.
In the context of the Dada movement it is very difficult to talk about what is beautiful and what is ugly, because Dada art is designed to critique social and cultural norms in a shocking way. Just think of one of its most famous exemplary pieces: Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain,” which is just a urinal that is mounted on a pedestal and audaciously signed by the artist. What for us may just be rubbish is actually a powerful artistic criticism of the pretentions of classical and modern aesthetics that deified the names of the great masters.
But why does Dada have to be shocking and “ugly”? According to the German aesthetic theorist Theodor Adorno, a conventionally beautiful art will only make us think that the world and society are truly wonderful, and therefore we should not do anything that might spoil their beauty. But a shockingly unconventional art will make us see what is wrong with our world and society, and therefore goad us to address these shortcomings. Conventional beauty will lull us to sleep, while shocking “ugliness” will wake us up and propel us into action.
In the context of the Dada movement and the avant-garde aesthetics of Adorno, the question “is the installation Politeismo beautiful or ugly” is simply not the right question to raise, because the more appropriate ones should be “what is it that is being critiqued by this installation,” and “is the installation successful in critiquing such thing/s.” We were not able to raise these more appropriate questions because we framed Cruz’ art in the context of classic and traditional aesthetics, and in the context of intolerant Catholic theology.
If you will ask me the question “what is it that is being critiqued by Politeismo,” based on the fragmented footages and snapshots that I saw, I think it is critiquing several aspects of our psyche and culture. Cruz could be making a statement against our cluttered aesthetics that tends to fill up all available spaces with bric-a-brac and kitschy items. He could be making a statement against our more literal polytheism that is manifested in the way we enshrine together several Santo Ninos, Virgins, Angels, Buddhas and other Saints in one altar. He could also be making a statement against our more subtle polytheism that makes us worship God side by side with our other gods and goddesses: the movie stars, the politicians, money, sex, America, consumer goods and others. The bottom line intention of Cruz’ installation is to show us a mirror image of our unhealthy psyche and culture. Persecuting him for showing us such an “ugly” picture, is just like smashing a mirror for reflecting our ugly faces. Just us we remain ugly even after the mirror is reduced into shards, our psyche and culture would remain unhealthy even if we lynch Cruz.
If you will ask me the question “is the installation successful in critiquing such things?” My answer will be more complicated. On one hand, judging on the uproar it created, we can say that Politeismo delivered its potent punch on us Filipinos, and therefore it is successful. But listening to the contents of such an uproar that failed to go beyond the accusations of blasphemy and the prattle on ugliness, we can say the Politeismo failed due to the simple fact that the average Filipino is not ready to deal with Dada installations. Closing the whole exhibit Kulo is not only unfair to Cruz and the other 31 participating artists, it is also missing the opportunity of educating the Filipinos, especially the young ones, on the meaning of Dada and on the problems and ills of our culture and society.
(article is written by a friend and it's copied here verbatim with his permission)