In the art of Leah Anne “Iyan” De Jesus, there is a literal fusion of machines and human beings.
Gears, axles, and wheels are either attached directly to the body of a woman (the central figure that holds the entire artwork together); or she is being surrounded by these machines, together with the other natural creation of the Cosmos–birds, flowers, clouds, shells of a nautilus, the waves of the sea, just to name a few.
Rendered in exquisite manner using some soft colors and delicate strokes, the works of De Jesus, at least for me, are harbingers of both positive and negative messages about our present reality, about our world, and about people living in the middle of a highly-digitized landscape, surrounding Mother Gaia.
Existing in a Highly Digitized/Mechanized World
What is more appropriate artistic style to use in describing our current era? It is no other than steampunk, an art movement which rose to fame in the 1980s but the history of its concept, particularly in literature, can be traced back in the 18th and 19th centuries–the era where industrial revolution happened. In fact, steampunk is a vision of the future, of how the world will look like with all the machines man created to make his work easier and to produce more products and services for his consumption.
And that Victorian era’s vision of the world is happening right here, right now.
Today we’re living in a highly mechanized world.
Almost everything now is being operated by the button. Since the Renaissance period, the advancement of science and technology has been so fast, that it altered the way we think, the way we act, and the way we see the world.
Nowadays, most of people, especially the millennials, are becoming more and more dependent on machines for them to work and to do business; to communicate; to study and learn; and sometimes, even to think.
Machines have become a part of us, and us, have become a part of them–literally and figuratively–for there are machines that are now directly attached to the body to help it function properly. With these technological advances in medicine, mechanics, and other branches of science and technology, it is not impossible that in the near future, cyborgs and highly developed artificial intelligences (AI) will roam the planet and live with human beings–just like in sci-fi movies. After all, the human body is always considered as a complex, natural machine, with each part has a specific vibration and function.
This is the trend, and this is the future as the author James Redfield theorizes.
Everything will be automated, and with the use of computers and machines, there will be a huge change that will happen in the world economy and the way people interact with one another. As he wrote in his book, The Celestine Vision: Living the New Spiritual Awareness (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1995):
But I believe in the long run that eventually our basic necessities will be totally automated and that our economic life will orient almost completely around the flow of timely information. (p. 178)
I, myself, has been educated about the need of automating government transactions, not only to speed-up the bureaucratic processes but also to avoid, or totally get rid of, corruption and red tape–the two diseases that plague the government. Experts believe that by making all transactions online or mechanized, human intervention in the bureaucratic processes is minimized, hence the reduction of corruption in the government, particularly in terms of government procurements.
However, there is a need to make a thorough socio-cultural analysis about automation of government processes to make it work to transform ICT into a corruption-combating tool. In other words, it still depends on how people use machines.
In a short description of his book, Douglas Rushkoff, a columnist, lecturer on technology, popular culture and the media, and a writer based in New York City has put forward the most crucial issue of the world’s massive digitization:
The debate over whether the Net is good or bad for us fills the airwaves and the blogosphere. But for all the heat of claim and counter-claim, the argument is essentially beside the point: it’s here; it’s everywhere. The real question is, do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it? “Choose the former,” writes Rushkoff, “and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.”
The works of De Jesus are but mirrors where you can reflect on the impact of the continuous mechanization of the world in your mind, your body, and your soul. Moreover, they also bring in the question of the impact of digitization and the high dependency of societies on machines to the environment and to the future of this planet, which is home to millions of other living creatures.
The positive impact of digitization is that it makes our lot easier, our transactions much faster, and we can work in the convenience of our own homes.
However, there’s always a polarity on things. If digitization has positive impacts to the lives of people and to the development of the current society, it has also its shares of “evil.”
“But not all the impacts of increased use of digital media are positive. Research indicates that when humans excessively use digital media it can negatively influence their cognitive and behavioural development and even their mental and physical health. Hyperconnectivity, the increasing digital interconnection of people and things, has the potential to change patterns of social interaction, as face-to-face time may be substituted by online interaction. In addition, greater technology enablement of work (and the resulting fragmentation of jobs) threatens the security of jobs traditionally considered as skilled in the developed world,” says a part of report published by the World Economic Forum in 2016. (For the PDF copy of the entire report, you can download it here.)
And it seems that the women in her works are also reflecting on these questions, as they were, at least for me, appear in the meditative mood.
Furthermore, what is more interesting about her works is, somehow, you are also given a chance to dip into the artist’s soul, for they seem to be also reflective of what is going on inside her.
As Monsignor Charles Pope of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wisconsin, the United States, stated:
I cannot draw or paint. Yet I have always marveled at how some can take an empty canvas and bring it to life with color, form, depth, and shadow. And, little by little, from the painter’s brush and soul a picture emerges. So too with sculpting. A mere block of marble, with each blow of the sculptor’s tools, it comes to resemble the form of a human being or some other reality with nature.
It is also a reflection of her power, as liberator of the lingering thoughts, concepts, ideas, ideals, emotions, and realizations. De Jesus, like any other artists out there, has been enabled by the Universe itself, to liberate through any material, inner longings–not only of their own souls–but the Soul of the World, which connects everything and anything, and animates all creation.
As Michelangelo has said,
Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it… I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.
In her works, she does not only liberate her own imagination, but also the mind and soul of her audience, because the beauty and the charm of her works are absolutely liberating–so delicately painted and designed, yet so powerful as they convey the inner longings and the secret messages of the artist’s heart, her worldview, and how she envisions the world will be in the next centuries hence. And this fact excites me.
As an art appreciator, I am only excited with works that can disturb the flow of my thoughts, stir my feelings, and give me that giddy feeling. But the paradox of it is that, these kinds of works are also the ones that quiet my mind, make my heart still, and make me stop, and just savor that beautiful moment. Just like what the controversial author, Anaïs Nin (born Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell; February 21, 1903 – January 14, 1977) has said:
“I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”
I have to admit, aside from my dear friends Caña and Erwin Pienda, who are also committed to steampunk, De Jesus is also a favorite, since her style, as I have said, is feminine and sweet and powerful.
In the near future, I fervently wish, to see personally the works of De Jesus. And if that time comes, I am sure of my heart and my soul will whistle and grind, like a choo-choo train, that Starlight Express, going to the future. (Re-edited and updated, 01 June 2017; 7:48 PM, Philippine Standard Time)