‘Gyre Dominion’: Jose Olarte Digs Up Meta-Commentary for Industrial Progress

July 8, 2024

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By 

Elle Yap

Is all progress good progress? Jose Olarte’s Gyre Dominion struggles with the question throughout his exhibit, showing in Mono8 Gallery until July 18. In it, he  utilizes symbols of industrial might and power to probe how we portray the reality of industry. 

The artist said that he researched different dams across the country, including the Angat dam in Bulacan and the Caliraya dam in Laguna. While he highlights the positive things they provide, like electricity and light, he also finds himself ruminating on their negative side effects and how they reinforce the practice of imperialism and foreign rule.

He points out the underpaid and overworked laborers treated badly in the project. Olarte also underscores the displacement of indigenous groups and farmers from their lands. “These projects are instrumental in driving neo-liberal capitalist forces as they are more used as structures for profit,” he said. 

Defining Progress Through Infrastructure

With that mindset, Gyre Dominion finds its footing by dissecting power structures of society, including the literal power-generation dams mentioned earlier. The exhibit has a grimy, bare-concrete look akin to Nine Inch Nails’ music videos of the 1990s. Olarte’s chosen aesthetic contributes to this feeling of dread. 

"Downward Spiral" by Jose Olarte. Photo by Elle Yap.
“Downward Spiral” by Jose Olarte. Photo by Elle Yap.

He uses an interesting mix of low and high technology to create strange visions to entrance the audience. “Downward Spiral,” for example, is a wooden plaque with an ouroboros symbol at the center. The artist uses a holographic image to create the effect of the snake eternally circling around and eating itself inside. 

A stack of televisions showing the lush mountainside. Photo provided by Mono8 Gallery.
A stack of televisions showing the lush mountainside. Photo provided by Mono8 Gallery.

Multiple parts of the exhibit mix the old and the new to make a point about the decay of industry. On one side of the room, multiple televisions stacked up together show footage of lush mountainside. One looks at it and realizes that it presents the areas lost to progress, how industrialization destroys the environment instead of working for it. 

Perspectives and Schematics

The centerpiece of the exhibit, “Forced Perspective (Six Degrees of Separation),” uses two televisions showing eyeballs while they stare passively into the distance. The artist took the eyeballs from images of the current sitting president and vice president of the country. It sits on a table held together by chains, while a mirror glows above with the words “Main Character Energy” on top of it. 

A mirror with "Main Character Energy" written on it. Photo by Elle Yap.
A mirror with “Main Character Energy” written on it. Photo by Elle Yap.
Two televisions with eyeballs showing in each screen. Photo by Elle Yap.
Two televisions with eyeballs showing in each screen. Photo by Elle Yap.
"Forced Perspectives" by Jose Olarte. Photo by Elle Yap.
“Forced Perspectives” by Jose Olarte. Photo by Elle Yap.

Another work showcased is “Tertiary Growth.” A collage of different mechanisms used in building a dam, it deconstructs the pieces as a way of discussing the idea of power further. We see the different important parts of a hydro-dam, from the gears to the propellers to the engines that power it. Prominent on the side of “Tertiary Growth” is the information of the Japanese company that we assume provided the tools.

"Tertiary Growth" by Jose Olarte for "Gyre Dominion." Photo by Elle Yap.
“Tertiary Growth” by Jose Olarte for “Gyre Dominion.” Photo by Elle Yap.
Close detail of "Teritiary Growth" by Jose Olarte. Photo by Elle Yap.
Close detail of “Teritiary Growth” by Jose Olarte. Photo by Elle Yap.
Close detail of "Teritiary Growth" by Jose Olarte. Photo by Elle Yap.
Close detail of “Teritiary Growth” by Jose Olarte. Photo by Elle Yap.
Detail of a propeller and an engine for "Teritiary Growth" by Jose Olarte. Photo by Elle Yap.
Detail of a propeller and an engine for “Teritiary Growth” by Jose Olarte. Photo by Elle Yap.
"Tertiary Growth" by Jose Olarte for "Gyre Dominion." Photo by Elle Yap.
“Tertiary Growth” by Jose Olarte for “Gyre Dominion.” Photo by Elle Yap.

The collage incorporates various components and imagery associated with a hydroelectric dam. The pieces include items resembling turbines, gears, pipes, and other mechanical parts commonly found in hydroelectric systems. These elements are arranged in a dynamic and somewhat chaotic fashion on a grid background, suggesting a sense of movement and complexity.

Exploitation at the Core

The exhibit highlights how the exploitation of labor benefits only a few. Olarte notes that the dams probably enriched foreign companies, investors, and high-level officials more than the public.

While hydro-dams offer cheap energy to nearby residents, they also harm livelihoods, farmer and indigenous rights, and the environment. This industrial progress often subjugates those within the system.

“Gyre Dominion” explores the complex morality and politics of energy production. It reveals how marginalized people are sidelined for industrial gains, even as many enjoy increased comfort. Jose Olarte challenges us to question if this is the only path forward.

Related reading: Stainless steel ribbons clads Petersen Automotive Museum in LA

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