All of the Form
by Patrick D. Flores
Yason Banal is drawn to the deep structure of the global image, the kind that circulates translocally and survives translation, and so is misrecognized as coherent, or coherently universal. It is not, however, the image in the fullness of its conceit that intrigues him; it is how it is made to cohere, to come together through bits and pieces of its inevitable but repressed dispersal, in other words, the abstraction of its nature as thing, its motif, the reductive condition of its appearance, and the instances or the intervals at which it fails to hold and therefore exfoliates like design so sleek it belies its surplus. There is so much density inscribed in this appearance that is stripped off, lain bare, alluding to a supposed essence that is shorn of detail or ornament. The first moment in his art is the procedure of making the thing fall apart, only to be set up again as a thing in a gesture of negative critique, but this time within the structure of the social that it has repressed and insinuating itself as an internal contradiction. The latter is the third moment of reconstruction that runs the range of forms: the installative that references the architecture of eviction of bamboos; the cinematic that syncopates the rhythm of amassing in art fairs and political protests; and the archival that surfaces lines from the industry of knowledge with the use of Poly (methyl methacrylate) or plexiglass, urethane or polyethylene or tarpaulin, and a cold cathode gas-discharge light like neon. In these efforts, always there is the keen technique to foreground the alchemy between what the artist terms “abstraction and document, social sculpture and design culture.”
This foray is part of the continuing conversation of Banal with the discourses of institutional critique and the minimal. He mentions Donald Judd, for instance, as a cipher. And it is interesting to note that in some of the interlocutions on Judd, critics would cite the artist’s own critique of a fellow artist, Roy Lichtenstein. Of the latter’s work in 1963 and 1964, he would first say that he was “puzzled by their being comics” and their “obsolescent composition,” after which he would argue: “The actual form is very unlike the obvious format” and that “the traditional composition isn’t all of the composition, all of the form.” From this, he concludes: “It is social comment and it’s visible.” Surely, Judd here is struck by the ability of Lichtenstein to probe the work of language as well as the labor of its abstraction, paring the image down, for instance, to the printed dots or casting into high relief the ubiquitous thought balloon. Banal would take to these lessons well, hinting at an afterlife of the minimal in a postcolonial milieu in Southeast Asia. But he would intimate at the same time a shift in both the minimal armature, the abstract quality, and the political economy of the sign and its travel across localities, a “redistribution of the sensible” that involves the movement of people as well.
In this task, Banal is an attentive observer and a diligent student of certain tropes, in all their sensual particularities, that are in themselves articulations of the current technology: the pixel, for instance, that is a consequence of a certain mechanism in the transfer of data; the gibberish that scatters on the screen when a file is opened in an incompatible format; the search engine that aggregates information and may lead to a blank site; the digital generation of an interminable line that is actually a loop; and other aspects of reification in a hypermediated world of “intense proximities” and intense discrepancies in the same vein. This said, the artist also revisits supposedly residual modalities of facture like the Super 8 and the book and the photo essay and through which he would quote certain affects and habits like the flickering celluloid montage or the highlighted passages of book that leap out of the page like fluorescent light, or the reticent travelogue and the intimate portrait. Then there are contemporary patterns on tarpaulin banners drawn from indigenous design, on the one hand, and a wall painting of the results of a Google search for abstract painting, produced by both machine and hand.
Central in this is the disruption of coherence or facile translatability by way of the manipulation of scale or in the intervention of a fault, a glitch in a system that is disturbed biologically by a bug or a virus or a human error. Consider some instances: the colorful glitch in a documentary image depicting demolition created by opening the image file with a text editing software, an opening up of one form via a different format and then adding critical essays to the image’s code to create and color the glitch; the slow downloading capacity of limited broadband that creates partial imagery of searchable data; the abstract hyperlink that connects to a document that is also at the same time a portal; the ultra-zoomed in and highly pixilated image of social realist painting and natural catastrophe.
Reflecting on Banal’s preoccupations leads us to a the proposition offered by an exhibition at the Walker Center in 2010 titled Abstract Resistance, a title taken from the eponymous Thomas Hirshorn work, which the artist himself cogently describes: “In my work I show photos — some enlarged by photocopying — of exploded, dismembered, destroyed human bodies. My concern was not to show dead people but to show the absurd destruction of human bodies from Afghanistan, Iraq, 9/11, London suicide bombers, Bali, Israel, etcetera. We do not know what that looks like…For me, the image of a mangled victim of a bomb attack or the image of a suicide bomber reaches a degree of abstraction way beyond what we can conceive with our imagination. I wanted to confront this degree of abstraction with the degree of abstraction of Art, of abstract Art.”
Yasmil Raymond , writing in the catalogue of the Walker exhibition, points out that “an abstract resistance, in the broader sense, is the work of art that refuses an idealist narrative of normality while confronting the commodity of comfort with a barricade of contradictions and irreverence.” In the same document, Marcus Steinweg advances “Nine Theses of Art,” the last three of which prove pertinent to Banal’s own assertions: “Every assertion of form is indebted to making contact with formlessness. Making contact with formlessness corresponds to making contact with truth. Art’s making contact with truth opens it up to universality.” This takes us full circle, as it were: how “abstraction” intuits the ungraspable and inevitably crafts the form of the global. Simon Baier calls this the “subject matter” of abstract resistance in the current world: “The affirmative repetition of effacements in the name of absolutes or the farcical attempt to trace the singular instance of events, in the language of commodified object of financial speculation.”
Yason Banal invites us to contemplate this “blank stare,” this plenitude that is so dear.