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PICKS OF THE MONTH

diskurso art magazine's

January 2021 Picks

Published February 2, 2021

Essay on a semiosis event

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(Essay published 2 February 2021, diskurso art magazine)

DISKURSO art magazine editor Jojo Soria de Veyra breaks down the second impeachment of Donald Trump as a collection of signals, ultimately signifying it as a predictive signifier. All that in this new entry to our Pop Semiotics section. Fearlessly enjoy!

Use of a formulaic-language phrase, political cartoon

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Untitled DengCoy Miel cartoon and its accompanying "La lang" text

(Posted on Facebook 26 January 2021)

IN Filipino, "la lang" (short for "wala lang") means "just . . . nothing" or "just for nothing." Which, as an accompanying text to this cartoon post on Facebook by cartoonist DengCoy Miel, could be read to mean "got nothing better to do, so just drew this to echo some sentiments out there hehehe." Or something like that.
    By his record as both a political cartoonist and a Facebook frequenter with public posts, no one can say that Miel was being cowardly here. So his use of "la lang" in this political cartoon could only be said to be somewhat like radio and TV talk show hosts' recurrent use of the idiom that goes, "bato-bato sa langit, ang tamaan huwag magalit" (rocks raining down from the sky, whoever is hit should not be annoyed). Note that such use of that idiom by a broadcaster would often come after a brave criticism of a powerful person's or group's actions or decision or words, which criticism would also elicit tension among listeners who might be fearful on the broadcaster's behalf of some form of retribution.
    So, though there might be a bit of manufacturing of distance in the use of the "la lang" or "bato-bato..." or "pasensiya na po, pero" (I'm sorry, but) or something else similar, one cannot say that these are utterances of cowardice given that cowardice would simply avoid being critical of anything at all. One can say, therefore, that the use of "la lang," as well as the "bato-bato sa langit . . .," in a political commentary would be somewhat synonymous to a critic's resort to parody or satire, which genres both aim to be seriously critical as well as humorous. We are not much into psychology to posit a conclusion as to why citizens would want to be both serious and humorous at the same time during their criticism of something or someone (is it from being half-afraid of retribution?), but one thing for sure, aesthetics-wise, the serious-humorous combination renders the object of the criticism as totally ridiculous.
    So now let's talk about the cartoon itself.
    We actually all know what it is alluding to: the symbolic unilateral termination by the Department of National Defense of the 1989 UP-DND accord. We say symbolic, for that accord would actually not have prevented the Duterte government, with its rightist penchant for interpreting laws and agreements according to some alleged principle or other, from entering the UP campus anytime. And, in fact, many a UP alumnus have been successfully arrested or killed under the Duterte regime without the need to enter the campus.
    Then again, perhaps the objective, beyond symbolism, is to give access to units, such as those from the not-so-youthful Duterte Youth organization, to enter campus grounds for the purpose of expanding the government's ongoing (unofficial?) surveillance and red-baiting program. That seemingly transparent militarist agenda is what Miel's cartoon is suggesting, particularly in the government's desire to militarize campuses.
    But we would still insist that even such access and consequent presence that would accrue from the said accord's termination would still be symbolic. How? Consider this:
    Miel's cartoon paints the UP Oblation statue in military camouflage. Remember that the green camouflage was invented to camouflage soldiers' presence in a jungle. During the pandemic lockdown, the government ordered members of the Philippine National Police to change to PNP jungle camouflage uniforms during their implementation of the lockdown in the city jungle. Which was funny, given that the city jungle's mostly grey color rendered the green camouflage more visible than not. Here, the context of the camouflage was already changed.
    The same with the UP-DND accord's termination. Access by and presence of military or paramilitary elements on campus is there not with the interest of apprehending more supposed would-be communists, for the simple reason that that objective can best be achieved via some real camouflage, e.g., the colorless camouflage carried by undercover "penetration agents."
    Nah. The desire to give access to paramilitary elements in the UP campus (remember that the UP Guardians have long been in existence on campus) is there not to put more eyes on student recruitment of activists (which recruitment, by the way, could be done [and may have been done] off campus), but is being advanced in the same way that the Philippine war on drugs was announced (like announcing to laundry thieves that barangay tanods will start roaming the barangay neighborhoods from 6-12 pm) without any druglord or cartel named as the war's ultimate targets.
    That is why Miel's cartoon is rich. Even though the UP at Diliman campus has the appearance of a jungle, the DND's implied announcement that it would henceforth be sending in paramilitary presences inside the UP system's campuses has all the makings of a de-camouflaged camouflage.
    It's as if the DND is merely trying to accommodate a stupid American red-baiting request that it knows cannot succeed outside of silence, and so are resorting to loud things that are merely for show. Or perhaps it's doing that out of confusion, given that the Duterte regime prides itself with being a friend of the Chinese Communist Party.
    The only way by which this militarization of campus environments can be taken seriously (and not la lang) is if there had been a request that came not from the United States of America but from China, who may be eyeing the Philippine nationalist left as the armed enemy of its newfound internationalism.

Painting

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DengCoy Miel's "Di Ba Kartunista Lang ‘Yan?" diptych

(First exhibited on the artist's Facebook timeline 28 January 2021)

THIS acrylic and oil on canvas work by DengCoy Miel was started in 2020 and has received worthy applause upon the artist's posting of it on his Facebook timeline, but we suspect the applause is mainly for the artist's displayed skill as well as patience. A few may have announced their awe at a resultant concept ("nice concept, DengCoy!"), but we have yet to read an articulation of that concept, whatever it is, that the perceiver found worth lauding.
    Our own appreciation is just as amazed, even though itself uncertain of its readings upon the resultant, uhm, concept. But appreciation cannot always be articulated in certain terms, if you will, in fact may best be laid out via a chronology of questions. For instance:
    Are the two painters in the painting supposed to be Miel himself? If so, then is he parodying his own cartoonish figuration upon that one canvas, or that other easel canvas, not to mock that figuration but to raise a flag of pride with it, ultimately hurling the entire event's imagery back at the sneering parties questioning the validity of Miel's recurring cartoonish figures on canvas. If this is indeed a parody of that sneer, why are there two of him in the picture? It's not as if one Miel is doing a cartoon and the other Miel is not. Both are unashamedly cartooning on canvas, as if to say: I'm not going to do a Miel version for the cartoon world and another for the painting art world, I'll be the same Miel for both worlds.
    If our reading of this imagery is correct, "correct" in terms of its syncing well with the artist's intention in regards the two painters, even though we know we can't be incorrect in a proper Barthesian world, . . . then Miel would have delivered the message in his title right on the money. For:
    what is a cartoon but an imagistic parody or sarcastic expression? And when, pray tell, has parody or satire been expelled from the high art world? As for the "cartoonish imagery," why would one complain about it just because it was done by an artist who also happens to have been making a living as a cartoonist while not hurling the same complaint at the Renaissance and Mannerist distorters that include the likes of El Greco and Hieronymous Bosch and Breugel? Should New York City have hurled towards Andy Warhol's exhibiting career the question, "di ba advertising artist lang iyan?" ?
    Granted that cartoons often treat of themes that are often fleeting, themes that in the drama world would be treated by the problem play. But that doesn't mean that even the same imagery upon a fleeting issue cannot be reconfigured to treat of more long-lasting issues. In Miel's case, his cartoonish imagery would wax ironic over things historical, philosophical, sometimes even religious and personal. In the meantime, a number (not a few) artists in Philippine painting cannot even convince a lot of us in the audience that they're not just pretending to have something to say, except probably to say that a real artist avoids the thesis and walks only in mysterious paint marks or dream-like compositions. Or something boring like that. Or whatever balderdash from insignificance like that.
    But there's another way to look at the two painters in that Miel painting. The two painters are not Miel, not one of them is Miel, they are two painters talking about that painter DengCoy Miel from the cartoon world who has infiltrated the painting art world. If that is correct, then look closer. Is Miel parodying the two painters' obsession with detailing for a "concept" (that word again) resting in the safety of religious validation? If so, then we should not applaud Miel's own patience for detailing, we should applaud his patience for a detailing parodying many painters' obsession with mere detailing. His is not mere patience, after all. It's more like taking time experiencing all the sardonic pleasure one could squeeze from a cruel bath among the tiny soapsuds of one's lengthy satire.

Public interest ad campaign, social sculpture, the-making-of video

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Video on the making of Ig2 and Pony's December 2020 Don’t be a d*ck! (Wear your mask) project

(Project by Ig2 and Pony launched in December 2020; the above video on the making of the project posted on Vimeo only on 21 January 2021 by Ig2 GEN)

THE notes on the Vimeo post reads: "Canadian creative agency lg2 and Montreal illustrator-artist Pony have a nose for creating awareness about proper mask-wearing. And the results are hilarious. In early December, Pony had an interactive screen installed in the window of her Plaza St-Hubert boutique to capture the naughty ways that passers-by wear their masks. As they stop to check themselves out on the screen, Mr. Lonely, a charming yellow penis, pops out of the end of their exposed noses, courtesy of an augmented reality filter.
    "This initiative, dubbed 'Don't be a dick' or 'Sois pas une graine' in Quebec (graine is a popular Quebec expression for penis) is a fun way to teach people how to wear masks properly — over their noses — while giving them a giggle during a pandemic.
    "For those not in the know, Mr. Lonely is a popular character created by Pony. 'Mr. Lonely needs no introduction, so we thought he’d be the perfect spokesperson for an initiative encouraging people to not be a dick and follow public health guidelines,' said Gabrielle Laïla Tittley, a.k.a. Pony. 'The pandemic has inspired us to think outside the box and find unique, humorous ways to get the public health message across. And that’s more important than ever this holiday season.'
    "'We wanted to create an awareness message based on popular culture and this message can be understood anywhere in the world, regardless of language,” said Mourad Bouaziz, copywriter, and Romain Joveneau, art director, the creative team at lg2.
    "'We believe you can address a serious subject without taking yourself too seriously,' they added. 'By proposing the project to an illustrator-entrepreneur like Pony, we knew we could push the limits and challenge people by literally shoving their behaviour in their faces. Pony’s colourful world is perfect for a pop-up interactive experience to raise awareness of a real problem.'
    "'The animation only appears on the noses of people who are wearing their masks incorrectly or not at all,' said Romain Prache, Director of Technology, Digital Experience at lg2. 'We used the basic structure of a SnapCam filter and artificial intelligence to target people who weren’t wearing their masks properly.'"
    Mr. Lonely made a surprise appearance on the noses of window shoppers at the Pony boutique until the end of December 2020.

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Songs

"Ideal Woman", "Tell Me Something I Don't Know", "Not Your Muse", "Love Is Back", "A Little Love", "Hear My Voice" and "I'm Here" from Celeste's Not Your Muse album

[Released 29 January 2021 as track 1, track 5, track 6, track 8 and track 11, respectively, on Celeste's Not Your Muse album, with "Hear My Voice" and "I'm Here" being track 20 and track 21, respectively, in the album's international deluxe edition; "Love Is Back" previously released 31 December 2020 as a single; "A Little Love" previously released 13 November 2020 as a song commissioned for The John Lewis & Waitrose Christmas Advert 2020; "Hear My Voice" previously released 8 October 2020 as a single and 16 October 2020 as a track on The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Music from the Netflix Film)]

HERE are our pick songs from British singer-songwriter Celeste's debut studio album Not Your Muse, released 29 January this year by Both Sides / Polydor:
    "Ideal Woman" is looking very much like something aiming to contribute to the history of mentalities relating to gender and beauty. "Tell Me Something I Don't Know" dismisses perpetuated sexism like something as real as a disease-carrying fly you can't expect to be not around some days. "Not Your Muse" could have had the title "Ideal Woman Part 2," denying man his goddess concepts or idealizing propensities or pragmatic idolatries.
    Of course there are bright tracks in the album, the most notable being "Love is Back," where love gets its full semantic glory opposite suspiciousness or conflict, even hate. The same with "A Little Love," which was probably commissioned for The John Lewis & Waitrose Christmas advert of 2020, where the word kindness takes on a political meaning beyond its usual white-Christmas phony Christian context (you know, the Tory corporate sort of faux charitableness). Of course it's still realist about real love, putting "a little love" as the workable thing to give as opposed to calls for full love for one's neighbors and Dear Leader.
    In the deluxe edition of the album, we'd find the penultimate track "Hear My Voice," which also carries a positive vibe with it, but looking like one that survived a post-truth era. Because if Celeste is going to be religious, she definitely won't be singing a song from theoconservatives; she'd sing a prayer of gratitude like "I'm Here."
    [Click here to read the songs' lyrics and writing credits, as well as the statements about these tracks from British soul's young singer-songwriter addition.]

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Digital ads

#ProtectThoseWhoProtectUs

(Launched January 2021 in Colombia by VMLY&R Colombia)

Amnesty International's #ProtectThoseWhoProtectUs digital ad campaign (four of the campaign's ads above) was created with VMLY&R Colombia.
    The ad agency's press release explains:
    "Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for those who protect human rights and the environment. To give this situation prominence, Amnesty International has launched the report 'Why do they want to kill us?'.
    "The peace agreement signed in 2016 between the national government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) marked the end of half a century of armed conflict for rural, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities whose role was to protect the land and the environment. Amnesty International together with VMLY&R Colombia have launched a campaign to denounce the breach of this promise and to urge the protection of the defenders of these communities.
    "The campaign was created to support the presentation of the report that describes, among other things, the marked increase in murders of social leaders since 2017. With the powerful claim, 'In Colombia, threats are fulfilled more than the laws', the campaign ran on digital media and on social networks. Through conclusive posts politicians were tagged, who it was deemed had a moral obligation and duty to rectify the situation.

    "The action was organically amplified with the public and the media echoing the initiative. Now the same is expected of the authorities who have a responsibility to guarantee the protection of these social leaders who are at risk."

Television series

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Lupin Part 1

(Premiered 8 January 2021 on Netflix / George Kay and François Uzan, creators-writers)

CREATED and written by George Kay and François Uzan, Lupin's first part started airing on Netflix this January, starring Omar Sy as Assane Diop, a revenge fiction antihero inspired by novelist Maurice Leblanc's gentleman thief character Arsène Lupin.
    The son of a Senegalese émigré who settled in France to become a driver, Diop witnesses his father's arrest after having been framed by his boss, Hubert Pellegrini, in the supposed theft of a diamond necklace formerly owned by Marie Antoinette. But not before his father could give him a book by Maurice Leblanc that Anne Pellegrini, Hubert's wife, allowed his driver-father to have.
    Diop's father commits suicide in prison, and the young Diop sets out to learn the science of thievery, subterfuge and disguise to exact revenge on the Pellegrini family.
    Now, we're not going to tell you if this is more of an antihero's story or not, or really quite the revenge fiction sort of thing or not that directors Louis Leterrier and Marcela Said realized for our living room watching. Did Diop discover something about the necklace before or after the implementation of his planned theft? If only after, does that indeed make him a vengeful antihero? If before, does that make him more of a Robin Hood kind of antihero, which would be questionable as an antihero concept from a left-populist angle?
    But what we're really most interested in is whether the TV series succeeds at putting a spotlight on the "gentleman thief" concept itself. You see, the "gentleman" in our time has usually been associated with the "fine male people" of circles like high-echelon Wall Street or the corporations-leaning US Republican Party or UK Tory party or The Republicans party of France . If this association is correct, then the "gentleman thief" idea has just been made valid by such contemporary testimonies as those to be found in documentaries like Dirty Money.
    So, what would this renewed exposure of the gentleman thief concept bring us? An exact-revenge-on-you-by-dressing-up-and-acting-and-deceiving-as-if-I'm-one-of-you kind of art? It would seem so.

Film

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The White Tiger

(Limited U.S. theatrical release: 13 January 2021; Streaming release: 22 January 2021, Netflix)

WRITER-DIRECTOR Ramin Bahrani's film adaptation of the eponymous Man Booker Prize-winning debut novel by Aravind Adiga could definitely pass for a loud socialist realist film that the world of cinema happened to have produced, except that it also bashes socialism's own corruptibility and insincerity, therefore a ripe material for postsocialism. In the end, it's just a fine contemporary social realist work that allows us a renewed glimpse into the seemingly perpetual and all-too-real depressing axiom that says all overly-wealthy people got there only through either degrees of crime or degrees of double-dealing politics. Some among the rich would protest, but Bahrani's screenplay and Adarsh Gourav's sublime acting could just maybe convince even the least cynical among us.
    Namrata Joshi of National Herald: "It ends up as an insider's take on corruption and caste and class-divides in India..."
    Karthik Purushothaman of The New Republic: "Through [a] climactic nod to Naipaul's merciless depiction of underdeveloped India, no matter how many fortunate individuals might escape it, Bahrani's The White Tiger subverts the standard-issue poverty porno..."
    Mark Kermode of Kermode and Mayo's Film Review: "A film about a culture of servitude and inequality in modern India..."
    Eric Marchen of Rogers TV: "This slick-looking Netflix production gives [Bahrani] his biggest canvas yet resting on the shoulders of Gourav's impressively-wound performance."

Music album

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On All Fours

(Released 29 January 2021 by Rough Trade Records)

THEFORTYFIVE.COM: "‘On All Fours’ doesn’t totally rewrite the book, but there’s a new concision to Goat Girl’s sound, an urgency that stems from personal as well as global upheaval."
    Mojo: "On All Fours exists in a queasy, half-awake state that feels like it could slip into a nightmare at any moment."
    Uncut: "Taken as a whole, On All Fours is an impressive balancing act, creating something fresh from the group's diverse influences, and managing to remain subversive even while it embraces Technicolor production techniques."
    Paste: "Londoners have kept the spirit of their previous lyrics, concentrating on issues like climate change and mental health, but On All Fours proves more challenging and, ultimately, rewarding than the immediacy of songs on their debut."
    AllMusic: "Both nervier and more confident than their debut, On All Fours is a huge step forward from a band that's well-equipped to bring post-punk's legacy into the future."

Music album

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Spare Ribs

(Released 15 January 2020 by Rough Trade Records)

POPMATTERS: "Sleaford Mods' 11th studio album runs a glorious gamut from righteous anger to poignant introspection in a masterpiece of incisive cultural commentary and fully realized artistic vision."
    musicOMH: "Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson’s observations are so pin sharp, albeit wrapped up in his own unique lyricism, that it’s almost a civic responsibility to listen to him."
    Northern Transmissions: "On one level, Spare Ribs displays a remarkable musical effrontery, having a go at assuaging humankind’s vulnerability; on another level, it provides commentary on the world’s present predicament, investing the mess with a frisson of urgency magnified by the presence of others in the same boat."
    Paste: "While Spare Ribs follows a disjointed train of thought, it’s a train of thought that accurately mirrors what life has been for many of us over the last year, as the apocalyptic and the mundane compete for our attention."
    Mojo: "While the band’s fury at corruption, incompetence and duplicity remains fierce, Spare Ribs is a strikingly layered response to harder times."
    Exclaim!: "Andrew Fearn's minimalistic, catchy-as-hell beats are still propping up the antics, while Jason Williamson continues to deliver his run-down, guttural ramblings like the drunken, working-class hero we all presume him to be."
    The Line of Best Fit: "What they also bring with them this time ... is a freshness, and a revitalized sound that offers them new sonic avenues to explore down the road. Spare Ribs is not only a great album, it’s an essential album to kick off 2021."
    AllMusic: "Not even a global pandemic and repeated lockdowns can crush their spirit, and Spare Ribs feels like a hearty, timely, and well-deserved two fingers up to the powers that be."
    The Arts Desk: "We’re here ... mostly for the sardonic, sweary, sweaty, swaggering belligerence of a man who writes his verse while sat in the car outside his home."

Music album

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THE FUTURE BITES

(Released 29 January 2020 by Arts & Crafts)

AMERICAN Songwriter: "Despite its dark, cautionary subject matter, The Future Bites is Steven Wilson’s most powerful and commercially appealing set to date."
    Slant Magazine: "Conceptually, the album revolves around a post-apocalyptic vision of an overly materialist society, and while the electro-pop trappings are almost never 'happy', they serve as a slick backdrop to the dystopian landscape Wilson envisions."

Public interest ad campaign, integrated marketing ad campaign

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The pandemic that kills 8 million every year

(Released January 2021 in Finland by TBWA Helsinki)

CIGARETTE-BURNT surgical masks. It's the imagery that TBWA Helsinki has scattered in Finland through print media, billboards and the Internet on behalf of client Cancer Society of Finland.
    Its strength is carried by the most popular motif in our pandemic time that in these photographs has been ruptured by what's clearly the round end of a burning cigarette. This imagery has got elements of both comedy and horror. But, finally, the completed compositions using the image bring home the point that the word "pandemic" does not always refer to a situation caused by a virus, that it could be the result of a disease called hardheadedness that's a product of the human comedy of horrors brought forth by a tobacco industry consisting of manufacturers and consumers both wary of the science.

Internet branding promotion

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The End Infusions' 1:47-minute direct marketing video ad

The End Infusions' complete line

The End Infusions

(Released 23 January 2021 by Niiiice Worldwide)

WHAT a way to get attention. Niiiice Worldwide's self-promotion gimmick is both a demonstration of one creative agency's quirky sort of creativity and a backhanded cause-marketing communication effort. Niiiice.

Television series episode

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A trailer for the Euphoria special episode "Fuck Anyone Who's Not a Sea Blob (Part 2: Jules)"

"Fuck Anyone Who's Not a Sea Blob (Part 2: Jules)"

(First aired 24 January 2021, HBO)

JADE Budowski of Decider: "This special installment of Euphoria slows things down and presents a truly gutting character study and a breathtaking performance from Hunter Schafer."
   Angelica Jade Bastién of New York: "This second Euphoria special seeks to detail the impact of the stories we tell ourselves on the shape of our own lives. Jules's relationship with her body, desires, romances, and family prove to be fertile ground in this manner."
   Annabel Nugent of The Independent: "The episode is a clear indicator that Schafer wasn't being used to her full potential in season one."

Television special

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Death to 2020

(Streaming release: 27 December 2020, Netflix)

WRITTEN and produced by Charlie Booker, with Al Campbell and Alice Mathias directing, this Broke and Bones-produced mockumentary was a fair fare for post-Christmas waiting for New Year's Day and the promise of a truly new year.

    Being a mockumentary, it should be clear that this special mixes true information with satire. Incidentally,  that sentence should lead us to realize that satire is often about ridiculous truths, is it not? Especially truths like, say, someone's chronically lying face and pouting mouth or someone else's pretty pathological re-sharing of statements from Fox News or, god help you, 4chan. Well, okay, not everything here is satire. Some are simple jokes, like that one about Joe Biden's age, which we're sure Mr. Biden has the contrasting humility to laugh at and shrug off. Contrasting, we said.
    Netflix should have one like this each month, considering that Fox News has been flaunting its own kind of mockumentaries on a daily basis, and those from the alternative right's "version" of truths.