The question of critical valuation exhumed in Lyra Garcellano’s Dear Artist provides a temporary matrix in grasping the tenuous relationship between artistic critique and institutional critique. In appearing within the logic of the market, Dear Artist’s attendant reflexivity apprehends two radical strategies: cynicism and transversality.
Standing above the premises of the gallery, Lyra Garcellano’s practical installation oversees the choreography of the main gallery and welcomes the movement of gallery viewers into the adjacent video room. The multimedia exhibition Dear Artist lies between these two domains of presentation, where it exposes itself to be a space in-between. The transition it provides paradoxically locates the artist’s question and expansion of the show’s title: Dear Artist, how much are you worth? It tethers the provocation into the speculative gymnasium of economies: criticality and complicity. Then, the show introduces a vertigo in a three-minute video of wholes and slices, estimation and division, movement and suspension, and resistance and resignation. The temptation that the sculptural work invokes from a podium continues the antagonism that the show grapples with, instituting a series of reflexivity and visibilizing moments of exhaustion.
The veneer of cynicism under the gaze of legitimating institutions allows Dear Artist to direct us to the renewal of the ancient articulation of cynicism. Contra the term’s modernist self-cannibalistic investment, the artist positions cynicism as a necessity in order to navigate the systems of valuation animated by the network of private and public interests. Ancient cynicism orders ethical ways of living life, which draws from the image of cynic that connotes the activities of a ‘watchdog,’ eventually connecting it to the original vocation of philosophy: to know one’s self in order to live better. When the artist asks about provenance and pedigree, she shamelessly performs her contempt for power, risking herself with wit and humor.
In the wake of cultural professionalization, where the synchronicity of artistic and institutional critique folds into the system it criticizes, Dear Artist marks some nodes to sketch a transversal critique. The struggle to connect these points of resistance maps out the remaining space for action and thinking. This transversality is not merely multiplying artistic strategies across infrastructures. The procedure of traversing exhausted in the show does not resolve the opposition between the individual and the collective. Instead, it attempts to puncture the misguided foreclosure promoted by self-defeating, self-hating and polite auto-critique of contemporary cynicism and opportunism. Here, Dear Artist desires a reading of political potential within the coordinates where it appears—not beyond, not in its withdrawal from the politics of valuation. As the artist stitches together the veil of criticality and complicity, she traverses the contradiction of cynicism’s movement: its refusal to enter the polis and its engagement with politics through its social critique and ascetic search for perfection. Paradoxically, this cynical-transversal becomes political.
Dear Artist’s conjunction of artistic and institutional critique displaces the confidence of valuation and legitimation. It occupies the disjunctures that infrastructures inflict upon the relationships of artists with institutions. As it accepts its vulnerability, it also locates the fragile points of the system where a critical (cynical-tranversal) can strike.