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Exorcising the ghosts in Randalf Dilla’s art

Unearthed, oil on canvas, 2019

At its surface, Randalf Dilla’s ongoing show at the Art Cube Gallery, “Exquisite Derangements,” seems to celebrate the connection between the artist and his audience. Through meticulously rendered hyper-realistic pieces—a signature of Dilla—the exhibition purports itself as a sort of meta commentary on art spaces such as museums and galleries. In the exhibition note, these spaces are likened to “the secular temple in which people encounter works of art that move them in all sorts of ways.” Such encounters for some individuals are like religious transformations. As stated by the note author Carlomar Daona, “What are, in reality, silent, inert objects become powerful conveyors of thoughts, feelings, and ideas, enacting a powerful transference between the artist, the medium, and the viewer that transcends time itself.” 

Dilla perfectly illustrates this image of congregation in Transference, which depicts a group of people standing in front of an artwork in what seems to be an art gallery and, on the other side, an artist in his studio. Dividing the artist and the audience in the work are the frame, the smartphones, and the spatial difference. The work, according to Dilla, signifies the struggle of being an artist. “It symbolizes the attempt to pour emotion and idea into the canvas,” he says. “It symbolizes the artist’s perseverance in creating a masterpiece.”

ARTIST AT WORK Randalf Dilla

As an artist, Dilla has indeed consistently showcased this masterful technique of transcending the conventions of realism. In fact, he calls his style “hypersurrealism,” a marriage between the extreme and accurate figurations of hyperrealism and the dreaminess of surrealism. And for Daoana, this brings out the “vital relationship between the artist and his audience, as mediated by the physical medium of art.”

There is, however, something more to this exhibition than just the typical, worn out abstraction of the artist-audience relationship. Something strange, eerie and, I would say, “hauntological,” which might explain this “struggle” Dilla speaks of. Hauntology, a neologism and concept coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his book Specters of Marx, pertains to elements from the past that persistently reappear and, like a ghost, haunt our present. The late British cultural theorist Mark Fisher, who revived the term, more specifically placed hauntology as a characterization of aesthetics and culture under the dominance of late capitalism—and, by extension, neoliberalism—where individuals are confronted with a “cultural impasse: the failure of the future.” 

The Art Collector, oil on canvas, 2020

“More broadly, and more troublingly,” Fisher wrote, “the disappearance of the future meant the deterioration of a whole mode of social imagination: the capacity to conceive of a world radically different from the one in which we currently live. It meant the acceptance of a situation in which culture would continue without really changing, and where politics was reduced to the administration of an already established (capitalist) system.”

This is a horrifying picture of the Philippine art collecting class, the living ghosts of our backward semi-feudal and semi-colonial society, the architects of our uncertain future.

Interestingly, when asked about what being an artist means to him, Dilla is concerned with being part of human history. “As with how we currently study the artworks done in the past, in the future, our masterpieces will define our time,” he says.  

Assimulation, oil on canvas, 2019

In his writings about hauntology, Fisher echoed the arguments of Derrida that the hauntological was best described by a quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “a time out of joint.” This shattered sense of time is conveyed in cultural pieces characterized by pastiche, repetition, refurbishment, and nostalgia, symptomatic of an uncertain present and a disappearing future or, as Fisher wrote, the “inability to imagine anything other than the past, the incapacity to generate forms that can engage with the present, still less the future.” In the work Visitors, which even Daoana, in his exhibition note, defines as “possessing an indescribable energy,” Dilla presents an image of two young museum-goers in contemporary clothing admiring a painting of horses that was, as Daoana observes, created decades ago, and that appears as if it was inspired by the works of 18th century English painter George Stubbs. In another work, Assimilation, Dilla directly appropriates or, should I say, takes inspiration from Christina, the muse of American painter Andrew Wyeth in Christina’s World, one of the best-known American paintings of the middle 20th century.

Thirty three, oil on canvas, 2020

Following American literary critic Frederic Jameson, Fisher believes that postmodernism (or the cultural logic of late capitalism) is “characterized by a particular kind of anachronism.” One particular example toward which both theorists gravitate is The Shining. A horror film where most of the unnerving scenes and elements, Fisher argues, are derived from the foregrounding of anachronism, such as Jack, the main character, smiling from the center of a 1920s photograph. 

Similarly, albeit unconsciously, Dilla demonstrates this sort of anachronism in most of the works in the exhibition. In Unearthed, which is depicted to be set inside a museum with interiors emulating Greek architecture, he attempts to pay tribute to works from classical antiquity, which, hauntologically, “are yet to be discovered.” Here, Dilla situates a past and a nostalgia (Greek architectural elements and sculptures) that are not his and juxtaposes it with an unknown, undiscovered, or yet-to-be discovered, entity.

Quest for Galatea, oil on canvas, 2019

The point, however, is not to single out Dilla. “Exquisite Derangements,” is only an example of our wider and ever-growing interest and enthusiasm to hauntingly relive our past and even the past of different cultures (which may be rooted from years of imperialist exploitation and attack on culture) than to imagine new futures. Filipino film and media critic Jeffrey Deyto writes in his essay Birthdays @ Permanent Midnight: Hallyu, Time-Travel, and Good Vibes in Dystopia: “The jouissance of reliving the time has become a general encounter of everyday lives.”  

Finally, in The Art Collector, Dilla conjures an entity scarier than any ghost, one that is still alive and among us. The work veers away from the artist-audience rhetoric and focuses on the reproduction of the patron-artist relationship. Unsurprisingly, in his exhibition note, Daoana describes the work as a “homage to the patronage of the collectors who, because of their assiduous purchases, create their own private museums for others to enjoy.” 

The Art Collector, however, is presented as an unsettling image. At a hall of a museum is a group of arms, sleeved with what looks like an expensive suit, signifying a class that is above every other figure depicted in the works, pointing fingers at different directions, unleashing a swarm of money paper planes. Below them, the floor collapses into the void. This is not a homage to the patronage of the collectors. This is a horrifying picture of the Philippine art collecting class that is composed mostly of big comprador bourgeoisie and landlords. The living ghosts of our backward semi-feudal and semi-colonial society. The architects of our uncertain future.

“Exquisite Derangements” runs until Oct. 10 at the Art Cube Gallery


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://mb.com.ph/2020/10/05/exorcising-the-ghosts-in-randalf-dillas-art/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=exorcising-the-ghosts-in-randalf-dillas-art)

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