Globalized consumption is so boring. It has happened everywhere, and everywhere its effects have been the same. Globalization (or Americanization—which often amounts to the same thing) says the same old story: The old world that was shaped by its immediate geography crumbles and is transformed into a new world that is connected to urban centers in Asia, Europe, and, ultimately, the U.S. Tribesmen turn in their sandals for Nike sneakers; shepherds spend their free time watching Oprah Winfrey. But the once-amazing image of a tall and thin Masai warrior using a Visa card to purchase a cow now only provokes a yawn. The time has come to move beyond the limits of amazement and actually give this economic process proper thought rather than mere reflection.
The work of Philippines-born and San Francisco–based artist Stephanie Syjuco does precisely this. It is not dazzled by the phantasmagoria of planetary capitalism but instead uses its physical and visual commodities as the very material (and subject) of her sculptures, photographs, and media installations.
Syjuco's present exhibit at the James Harris Gallery, Black Market, has three components: one is color photographs of Filipino markets packed with black goods—figuratively and literally. The products and produce on tables and in stalls have been blacked out, and what we see are the people, the market boys and mothers. One picture is all black except for a woman, who has about her that sense of pride we find in the faces of merchants in 17th-century Dutch paintings (a man among what Henry James called his "empire of things"). As if having fallen out of these big and redacted pictures, there are on display small sculptures of commodities that are blackened by latex. It is almost impossible to tell what these objects once were (Coca-Cola can? Sony Walkman?), but now they look like things from the alternate (or negative) universe of our positive galaxy of commodities.
The star of the exhibition, however, is the video Body Double, which is a severe redaction of Platoon, a movie set in Vietnam but filmed in the Philippines. Syjuco blocked out all of the action and all of the American faces—she shows only the surrounding landscape in long and short four-sided shapes that fade in and out. What we see is the beauty and peace of the Philippines. We see its clear and cloudy skies, green mountaintops, big trees, and tall grass swaying in the wind. We also see the source of all things: the sun, which is white-hot with a yellow aura. It's hard to believe that this was once a war movie; the island's geography is so tranquil and paradisiacal.
Syjuco downloaded the film from the web, and so its quality is not very good; but this works only to deepen the mystery of the preternatural (prelapsarian) peace breezing through the trees and the vegetable life on the mountain slopes. Politically, Body Double represents something higher than appropriation, higher than a Filipino American's ordinary effort to reclaim the image of her home country from Hollywood; it is nothing less than the transmutation of an image commodity (Platoon) into a serious work of art. Though not the original, Body Double is the real firstname.lastname@example.org