DINA GADIA: CONVENIENT CULTURE PROP
There is something haunting about the familiar. With its sense of comfort, the promise of security, and the beauty of simplicity, the ordinary lulls us to complacency and lowers our guard down with the reassuring thought that everything will stay the same because it has always been like that, the signs portending the truth. Most horror movies do establish that trend, of an innocent beginning that rises to a dramatic pitch when things move from bad to worse, subsequently breaking the absolute peace. Dina Gadia's artwork does the same effect with accompanying intensity. Using images culled from the past are quaint and harmless, dormant, distant, immutable. They create a separation from anxiety.
Not only does the idyllic setting portrayed in the pictures fool the viewer to submission, through the exploitation of sentiment as rendered from iconic landscapes, whose old-fashioned purity borders on kitsch that sets the viewer up to such passive behavior, but much more than that, the pathetic display of innocence allows the insertion of riotous punchline that punctuates the viewer's expectations with a resounding shock. With this in mind, the introduction of taboo subjects like sex and death pervade throughout the works. So that, visual finesse becomes part of Gadia's tactic to provide the way of humor to disseminate her cryptic messages.
Death, for example, is such a depressing topic that could destroy an artwork's popular perception. To tackle the subject of death in art, there are a couple of things that could be done: to take death seriously so as to maintain the power of fear, and its obverse, which is to scoff at death to overccome its paralyzing strangehold. Gadia's solution is to utilize humor as a coping mechanism as well as an escape hatch out of the death trap. When death is an unimaginable enigma in our lives, to make it caricatural and anthropomorphic, will provide a solid target for one to attack that is which conceptually abstract.
By appropriating found images from popular culture before, in which their curious juxtaposition altogether unlocks the blind romanticism of its milieu towards new discourses of historical insight and cultural discovery, Gadia therefore provides the facility to explore sensitive subject matter without being doctrinaire, whilst further allowing wit in the initiation of audience participation. Such jarring combinations of diperate material and context, accordingly, allow unexpected associative interpretations that intuit unconcious social meaning, rather than simply signify already received ideas. Thus, it becomes fantastically unsettling when Gadia combines something that appears three-dimensional - such as a realistic landscape, with two-dimensional cut-out objects and figures that would then occupy the space. This contrast produces an alternative reality believable only in its irrationality, where paradox is the only ruling condition.
In the form of augmented reality, Gadia had produced life-sized painted figurative cutouts that could be installed site-specifically anywhere. This is like her collages rendered in three-dimensional form, wherein the flat figures disconcertingly invades our physical space - they who exercise the desire to do something yet unable to do so because they are actually inert. This picture is not totally out of place considering that the actors mime ordinary actions from life; yet what is strange though is that the figures don't have any definition, no personality, no depth, no life, except the ones we attribute to them.
So through this collage aesthetic, Dina Gadia creates a universe of codified lyricism.
A group of young ladies fondle and pet arcade replicas of dinosaurs, further adding ambiguity to the term of "monsters:, and the posing the question whether monstrosity follows appearance or does it refer to gestures that defy convention.
Regardless of their naked beauty, the particular trait of overflowing hair that completely covers the face transforms women into ugly monsters. This image points to female monstrosity as sublime, transgressive nature, where woman was born from man's rib, from a bone (noting Gadia's collage of a man with bones, all pun intended), and accompanied ("kasama") by the proverbial snake in the garden.
Women become part of the stable, an exotic pet not far from the designation of "Black Lightning".
Men are ugly and have to wear masks - they are "despoilers", always taking gorgeous women as their token reward.
And if they do turn out to be real, heroic, strong, or handsome, it would be "uncanny".
Men burst into flames during a deadly duel, with devil may care attitude of bringing the world to its end as long as their passions are culminated.
"Kiss tomorrow goodbye" is a fatalistic farewell, with a pretty local damsel kneeling on the ground to plead his lover, a man in white, not to leave her. He is resolute, wanting to go beyond to pursue his destiny while leaving everything damned behind, while his face is placed behind mask of ugly anger, which is an externalization of what he truly is - a monster.
Hunters redefine the axiom of headhunting while scaling a mountain full of imbedded heads as they explore "the great outdoors".
A question is posed therefore, asking whether fantasy is a faceless activity, some hopeless search, which rushes nowhere, performing a rigorous play for everyone to achieve through the shutting down of rational insight, by way of dreaming.
Dina Gadia's collages and paintings are immediately appealing for their sense of cultural nostalgia, where the pull of sentiment adds to the perspicacity of her cautionary meditations on sexuality and prevalent social conventions. Her work is reminiscent of classic Pop Art that employs surrealist shock tactics of colliding images and texts to elicit unconscious meaning. Gadia avoids the common rote gestures of photorealism, using instead a style reminiscent of bygone poster and billboard design, where the de-skilling of the painterly mark becomes a statement about the triumph of artistic sovereignty over technical alienation and commodification. Thus she exchanges mindless mechanical mimicry with the warm humanist cynicism ruminating on obsolescence. Dina Gadia spearheads this hardcore foundation of painting without giving in to languid and lugubrious attempts.
- Text by Arvin Flores
FAST CHEAP OUT OF CONTROL
William Burroughs will be name-checked at some point, figured might as well front-load it, and in the manner of laying down the law at that. There are other referents, of course, but Burroughs is the source of the Nile, so to speak. His influence over many things has been so over-emphasized as to reek almost of cliché and certainly of laziness to invoke, but it’s impossible to avoid. What’s relevant here is his central process, the cut-up technique, which involved the inserting of other people’s text into his own and a shape-shifting of form as an aftermath, a literary method that smacked of ritual, of casting the runes. No wonder he nursed this adamant belief that it was a conduit to sorcery and who’s to say it isn’t. More pragmatically, it was the primordial voltage for mash-up culture, and you can sense its trace elements in everything from plunder-phonics to fan fiction to hip-hop. But his name comes up, too, out of how he had this obvious kinship with pulp, with science-fiction and horror primarily, with superheroes and erotica, with its flamboyance and hysteria.
The relevance of Burroughs goes beyond how the title of Dina Gadia’s new show, Primal Salvo in Vibracolor, has all the shock and tang of a Burroughs title, which of course it isn’t. Pulp is also the base matter of her collages and paintings and installations, and her fundamental process the mash-up, willfully mismatched juxtapositions of art and copy. The art here being dated, banal images from old encyclopedias and lifestyle magazines and vintage advertising, which are in and of themselves, signifiers of conflicting modes: utopia and repression, obsolescence and nostalgia, death and memory. The copy being garish and bombastic pulp titles, some taken verbatim and some themselves mashed up, serving as commentary, as counterpoint, as annotation, as re-contextualization, as punch line.
And that last qualifier is far from a dis, given how the sense of humor in the work is prevalent to the point of being insidious, another thing it shares with Burroughs, more so when it leans towards a queasy strangeness, which it does most of the time: the panther growling over the dinner table spoils in Fangs Into You , the caveman lugging hollow blocks in Everything In Modernation, the spiritualists trying to exorcise the blancmange inThe Spoiler and those creepy hairy things in the two works called The Hair! The Hairrrr! In some cases, though, the humor achieves the give-and-take immediacy of a stand-up routine. There’s the matinee idol lothario peeking out of the garish pink bed as the Tagalog word for “hell” floats ominously in Let the Love Flow. And the dolled-up socialite, dressed in minty cobras with the word “karanasan” (“experience”) emblazoned underneath in Display of Hard-Earned Callousness. Or the three manicured men having a laugh in nothing but their undies, immaculately bereft of wrinkles, under the insinuating logo of the defunct Manhunter comic. And in A Cultural Weekend Exploitation Away, the word “holiday” hovers gleefully over a cartoon model peddling a cannibal rite like a game show girl. There are nuances to mine here, sure. The “ho hum” sign in We All End with Lines of Aging Cliché I is a riposte to the ubiquity and dominance of the Hollywood sign, which it emulates in size.And the two young girls in We All End with Lines of Ending Cliché II and shackled by the anchor they hug for comfort and safety. Ultimately, its collective dialectical urge has to do with bashing the stereotype, taking it apart and putting it together again. But like any good routine, elaborating further would neuter the buzz, like having to explain the joke.
Fast and cheap and out of control: there’s a catch-all that nails the quintessential ethos of pulp. You could nail the quintessence of Gadia’s work here with it, too.
The thing it slightly misses, on both occasions, is the vibrancy. There is a tawdriness on the surface, sure, but that tawdriness is as much an aesthetic directive as it is a function of osmosis, and it is a tawdriness that is not without its charms. Just as Burroughs recognized a visceral potency in the pulp he revered and appropriated, so does Gadia, and she seems fueled here by her desire to revel in the relative rawness and ugliness of her chosen subjects, aiming as she is for that boiling point in pulp where process becomes product and where “bad” bubbles over into “good”. In many ways, she’s trying to replicate her own pleasures with it and in many ways, she has. Primal Salvo in Vibracolor deserves the Burroughsian allusion. And as mutated and recombinant as its pulp is, it has all its prime qualities: fast, cheap and out of control, right. As deep-seated as its resonances run, its delights are immediate and it’s funny as all hell.
- Words by Dodo Dayao