Material Culture

 February 8 – 29, 2020
Art Cube Gallery, Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Avenue
Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines


Wall Sculptures

Cement Sculptures

Trendy objects that mark the differences of cultural periods, and our complex relationship with them, take center stage in Daniel dela Cruz’s MATERIAL CULTURE.  Through several discrete groups of artworks which can actually comprise solo exhibitions within themselves, MATERIAL CULTURE as a conglomerate solo exhibition can be seen as the comparison between how objects that define the idea of “cool” are valued by a culture at a particular time, how these objects are ascribed with meaning, and in turn, how we allow these meaning-vested objects to define us. What is fashionable, as expressed through trends in TV series, music, slang, technology, and fashion, and other aspects of popular culture, become material for Dela Cruz to create the artworks for MATERIAL CULTURE.  And the artist, through humor, grit, insight, and focus, has threshed out themes which run through the complex relationship we have with them.

A group of his sculptures poke fun at the differences between what were trendy or “cool” for different but coexisting generations like Gen X and Millenials.  Inspired by popular generation-linked terms like Smart Phone and Bingeflix play at how someone living in the ‘90s would have imagined the word if they were confronted by it at that time.  Conversely, works like Fan Page and Type face, visualize how a child now would have imagined what these terms are.  These whimsical sculptures comprise one group of works as they all are inspired by the differences in perception between generations.

A second group is composed of wall-bound collections of objects arranged like cabinets of curiosities.  They contain objects which appeal to particular types of people who are bound by similar likes and lifestyles.  Memory Makes the Woman has sturdy luggage, and an expensive handbag, befitting a female globetrotter whose lifestyle allows for extended leisure abroad.  Memory Makes the Man, on the other hand is definitely male, with objects that show a sentiment for the Starwars saga, books, jazz, and golf.  The others likewise allow us to infer what type of personalities each cabinet represents.  The artist allows us to imagine what person would have selected these objects, and what life they might live.  Dela Cruz prompts us to see that there are patterns in how we consume cultural goods, which allow for these personality types, like “executive”, “hipster”, disgruntled teen, or the like, to happen.  With a little more digging, the artist seems to bring to focus how these “personality types” emerge – are they coincidental, or are they designed? And if they are designed, who designs them?  Are we free agents, or are we being controlled through subtle manipulations in mass media and popular culture?

Seemingly innocuous objects are cement casts of familiar objects comprise another group.  What makes them different though are the brands boldly emblazoned on them.  There are twenty-two objects in this group, but most telling is the hollow block entitled Hallow Block with a mirror image of the brand Supreme.  This of course ties it to one of the most sought after streetwear brand Supreme which has released bricks retailing at $30 USD in 2016, which sold out, and have been resold at e-bay for $1,000.  This of course is fantastical, when we understand that the average price of an ordinary brick without the label is less than half a dollar.  What would lead a person to buy a brick 2,000 times its actual value?  Is the logo worth that much? What values do we ascribe to a logo or a brand?  How much of it is hype? What values do we champion when we purchase an object without intrinsic value in itself, except the values we ascribe to it?  What exactly do we value?

There are no outright answers to these, as the issues are complex.  The brick is not just a brick, when it is stamped with a logo which, for many, represent the empowerment of the marginalized – black, ghetto, street; which have risen to prominence with Hiphop, Kanye West, Beyonce, and so on.  Recently, at Art Basel in Miami, a banana duct taped to a wall, entitled Comedian by artist Maurizio Catelan, sold initially for $120,000 and escalated to $150,000 when two museums bought it, along with the 14-page manual for its upkeep.  Galerie Perrotin pulled out the work as crowds have formed, compromising the safety of the people and the artworks around.  In their statement, they said “Comedian, with its simple composition, ultimately offered a complex reflection of ourselves.”  It is captured in what Andrew Wernick wrote: “Commodities seemed to become even less like functional objects and more like evanescent cultural moves within a sophisticated, self-referential game. Brand names hopped between products unrelated in all but name, while advertising churned over reference, self-reference, and meta- reference in an accelerating consumption devouring of old and new cultural attachments.”

Then there are sculptures of members that make up a rock band; each figure appearing to have been inspired by lyrics of popular ‘90s tunes. Never-Never Land takes cue from Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, with lyrics embossed in the cement base which supports the multi-chromatic metal sculpture drummer.  Sweet Child of Mine is a two-toned metal sculpture of a guitarist swaying to the song of the same title.  And so goes for the three other works.  They tie to nostalgia, and the carefree high school or college days of the GenX audience when things were simpler and fun.    The rock band is flanked by its millennial counterpoint.  The noticeable grouping of works are attuned to local hiphop culture.  The major works are wall bound.  They are of hiphop dancers decked in streetwear in the act of jumping, gliding, vaulting, wall running against vertical corrugated sheets which represent the walls of rundown neighborhoods.   Footprints on the Moon is the largest work, where seeming snapshots of the dancer in motion are captured in sculptural form, defying the definite stability of the wall, and the forbidding text painted over it.  A smaller work, Every Saint Got A Past, Every Sinner Got A Future shows a more intimate composition of one dancer caught executing a dance move in mid-air.  All six works seem to be titled after lines in popular songs. They echo the vitality of the rock band, and present a strong counter culture which exerts itself against the dominant repressive culture which asserts its control through the written signs which negate and forbid. 

Following the logic of his last solo exhibition at the Artfair Philippines in 2019, dela Cruz augments his sculptures with sound and moving image, extending the experience of his sculptures not just in the physical space, but in virtual space. They open up the potential of engagement between audience as passive onlooker to that of an active participant, whose presence and smartphone with the requisite app and internet connection, allows the artwork to unlock a hidden layer of images, sounds, and texts.  They appeal not only to the eyes as traditional sculptures would, but to hearing; treating the audience to a multi-sensory and multi-dimension experience.

In MATERIAL CULTURE, Daniel dela Cruz leads us into the pervasiveness of mass media, pop culture, trends, the power of the brands, hype, and all manner of consumption which touch on our values and our choices.  It is a complex mirror held by the artist to us, by which we look at who we choose to be. We are cautioned of the draw of materiality, and are enticed to question what we do, and why, in a hyper connected world where image is everything.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Ricky Francisco