Paul and Inti: In conversation

 
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On September 4, 2018, Saturday, Bellas Artes Projects held an artist talk with Paul Pfeiffer in conversation with Artistic Director Inti Guerrero. 

Paul began by introducing his previous works. One of which is an ongoing photo series entitled Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which he created in 2003 with latest photograph produced this year.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a series of NBA stock photos that Paul appropriated from the archives and manipulated with the use of computer software. He digitally removed all the contextual details such as logos and players’ names and numbers to bring an entirely new perspective to the viewers. 

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Paul Pfeiffer. Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (6), 2001. Digital duraflex print; 60 × 48 inches.

ORIGIN OF INCARNATOR

Next, Paul shared his ideas and inspirations behind Incarnator. He pointed out that the exhibition is not just centered on Justin Bieber—that it has a larger context that some people may not see. He delved into his thought process  and addressed his expectations before starting the residency at Las Casas. Initially, he had an impression that he will work with santo artisans since Philippines is known for its religious wood carvers. At the same time, he was also interested in Iglesia ni Cristo wherein Justin Bieber was scheduled to have a concert in one of the establishment that the church owns, The Philippine Arena. Out of curiosity, he wanted to attend the concert but Bieber cancelled the show. Subsequently, Paul discovered later on that Justin Bieber is a member of Hillsong Church, a rapidly growing global Pentecostal megachurch, and often hangs out with its star pastor Carl Lentz. 

Pfeiffer arrived at Las Casas to research more about the phenomenon of mass following, specifically Bieber’s influence on the youth as a Pop star. He also further explored the iconography of Santo Niño, a child with a superior image. Similar to that of Bieber’s image: a young boy with millions of followers. 

Portraying Violence Without Being Straightforward

Paul discussed that he wanted to depict an image that children are more vulnerable when it comes to violence. A child has a representation of innocence and vulnerability. He projected videos of authoritarian men using children for their campaigns. These men have become known for harming the youth and people, including President Rodrigo Duterte, US President Donald J. Trump, and in films such as The Act of Killing (2012). 

Above are the videos that Paul projected. [from left to right: Duterte’s video campaign, Trump’s video campaign]

The videos consists of Duterte and Trump using children to appeal to the masses during their election campaign. They portrayed themselves as a protector of the youth when in reality ,they neglect the rights of the people. 

Paul further gave a distinct example for his claims. For Duterte, he opened the discussion about Kian delos Santos, an innocent kid that got caught in the midst of the President’s war on drugs.

On the other hand, Trump’s action for separating the immigrant children with their parents and putting them inside a cage as an example of portraying violence towards the youth. [photo from http://asthmma.website]

Lastly, in the film The Act of Killing (2012) directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, he presented the scene wherein children are crying after reenacting the violence - killing communists and burning of houses- that took place in Indonesia. This scene is an epitome of exposing children of barbarity. To the right is the youtube video of the scene.

NO ONE IS INNOCENT

Paul stressed the influence of the national and international media in broadcasting disasters. This phenomena delves into the ambiguous relationship between empathy and voyeurism. For example, the epitome of such relationship is a footage of Justin Bieber visiting Tacloban in 2013 after Typhoon Haiyan.

In the video, children are predominately featured in the midst of a storm wrecked city. According to Paul, this type of representation of disaster is an exploitative nature of suffering and the way the global public consumed this is an example of a mixture of empathy and voyeurism. 

Meanwhile, a mob of fans - also mostly children - are depicted begging Justin Bieber for a selfie. This scene is enough to represent that even the young generation are voluntarily participating in a collective act of self-exploitation. Paul emphasized that this complicates the “innocent” image of children. Trump and Duterte are not the only people who are guilty of using the minorities for their own purposes. In reality, all of us are unknowingly participating in a systematic exploitation of ourselves and others in a circulating mass media.

No one is innocent. Not the public nor the suffering children themselves. Paul concludes, 

Children represent the most vulnerable elements in society, the most vulnerable aspect of people in general including adults, and the most vulnerable aspect of ourselves.” (Paul Pfeiffer, 2018) 

Conclusion

Inti Guerrero acted as the moderator for the entire talk. He guided Paul in constructing his thoughts through questions. He asked Paul in his insights regarding his works and its relationship with Incarnator. He would also raise a question regarding videos that Paul presented and the importance of it with the talk.

At the end of the program, Paul concluded his amusement on how a strong image of a person can influence a lot of people. Taking Despacito as an example, a song with sexual lyrics is sung by children all over the world oblivious to its meaning. This illustrates Justin Bieber’s influence as a global representation of young people. With that said, children are really the most vulnerable to be influence by the older generation.

Missed out the chance to attend the talk? No worries! You may view the art talk here.

 
Bellas Artes Projects