Yes. Man, This is You

Art reflects society as a mirror projects a face. Art is a prism that breaks the image and makes visible the other elements and layers beneath it. Art articulates what the mind and the senses perceive upon recognition of the surface, understands the complexities beyond it, and even formulates and derives pictures from the imagination. This is the main theme of the current hanging from the Carlos O. Cojuangco Collection, surFACES.

surFACES is a set of works which bring about a dialogue between man and representations of himself. It includes small to large scale paintings which basically exhibit the human face rendered in different and interesting ways.

Aesthetically, Roland Barthes defined the face as the thematic harmony of the curve of nostrils and arch of eyebrows and other regions of the face. Glitches and lapses in such may make an undesirable appearance, but perhaps, these imperfections greatly suggest the same imperfect existence of man. Variations of portrayals results to more discussion-laden interpretations. The paintings serve as the mirror, not only of man’s physical appearance, but also of his society and his personally exclusive thoughts as well.

Negative Light, Olan Ventura, Oil on canvas, 122 x 91 cm, 2009

Included in the show is Negative Light II. In this work, Olan Ventura breaks away from the conventional portrayal of the human face. He paints a woman in a negative mode as in an X-ray image rather than in a flesh tone. This suggests deviance in rendering a subject and discusses the vices and deviance in society. His subject is a cigarette-smoking woman working in a nightclub. Such deviants are usually judged by society’s stereotypes, Ventura however, attempts to debunk these notions and makes them seen in different ways. He reverses the color of the image such that the subject too, is viewed from a different perspective.

Balloon, Joseph Lofranco, Acrylic on canvas, 180 x 175 cm, 2009

Joseph Lofranco’s Balloon may seem to be a random splash of color playing along with the viewer’s vision, but it is actually a work in which colors are intentionally layered together to form an abstract image. It would be quite a task to search for the seven faces on the canvas, but knowing that these seven faces are those of significant people who have affected lives of people around the world through their music, philosophy, and politics might give a clue on who’s who to look for. This also exhibits the fragility of man’s belief as he succumbs to these wisdom and pseudo-wisdom.

Like a Virgin, Raymond Legaspi, Oil on canvas, 76 x 91 cm, 2009

Raymond Legaspi’s Like a Virgin may foster such a cheerful and buoyant façade but it does embed meaningful messages. His work is imbued with critical and sensible iconographies. He used the santo (most probably that of the Virgin Mary’s)a Filipino icon of worship, to be the body of the pop icon, Madonna. Viewers may find this either funny (as seen in the light of pop culture and humor) or offensive (so far as religious icons are concerned) but this appropriation articulates serious directives regarding people’s fanaticism, idolatry, and veneration of artists to the extent of worshipping them.

The Believer, Redd Nacpil, Oil on canvas, 122 x 91 cm, 2009

Redd Nacpil exemplifies his graphic tendencies as he portrays a cool, hip, and young imagery of the life of the youth living in the city through geometric lines and burst of color. However, the busy lines denoting the face blurs the subject’s identity and confuses him as to what direction to take. This articulates the problems faced by the youth in our existing society. It denotes how they are having a hard time adapting to the changes brought about by culture.

surFACES is man’s interaction with something denotative of himself – including the obvious and obscure. This is a positioning where man comes face to face with another man in a different structure yet evokes the same character and quintessence as him. This is a confrontation between man, his truths, his denials, and the continuous battle that exists in between the repelling poles within him.

surFACES is an avenue for people to stare at themselves, not in front of a mirror, but affront artworks which bespeak of themselves. For there is no other that can articulate better truths but something that has been clearly laid in front of us.

PS. This is supposed to be my curatorial note for our gallery hanging. Originally without the individual analysis, but decided to put them up anyway just to foster a bloggish character to the article anyway. Hope the visuals are apt for the writing. Also, a less serious title. Photo credits to my officemate, Ali.

If interested in seeing the works, teaser here and RSVP here. 🙂

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Because Kulo Has Been Boiling For A Time Now

The issue regarding the Kulo Exhibition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) has been wearing me off for more than a week now. I actually haven’t seen it nor do I expect to see it soon since it has already been closed by the institution. However, connections in the art world have afforded me with images of the said exhibition.

Personally, I wasn’t shocked to see the images. I have seen and even studied far “offensive” (as others have coined) works before.

I would like to assume that this controversy is indeed a conflict arising from “ways of seeing”. Art requires a certain way of looking.  It requires a keen eye. It requires a specific process to be able to digest and understand visual stimuli. In art, you don’t see things as they are. Things are always beyond what they look like and what they are. Every element is a symbol which has a corresponding meaning which does not necessarily equate to its universal definition. Some icons are stripped off their natural essence so as to incorporate new ones as derived from the other elements around them. I believe this goes the exact way as Cruz’s. But even how deep or profound you might be looking at them, judgment however will always be anchored with personal biases and preferences. This is where some spectators have fall short.

Cruz’s work, Poleteismo, presents a spectrum of so-called Filipino idolatry. Thus, the imagery of pop icons and politicians whom Filipinos listen to, emulate, and even worship, are part of the installation. The crucifix and all other elements surrounding it requires decontextualization (stripping off meaning) in order to inculcate a nouvelle meaning. Therefore, the crucifix should be viewed not as a sacred material, but as a sign with a rather different social significance.

Cruz’s work reflected an overlooked facet of the Filipino way of living – the mishmash of materials (medals, certificates, posters, cards,photographs, calendars, jewelries) stuck on the corners of houses which discreetly and subconsciously affect ways of thinking and living.

Artist Mideo Cruz’s piece from the Kulo Exhibit has already been shown at other museums and galleries. Only now, in its staging at CCP has it caused too much noise. People have reacted, judged and let out words too soon. Government officials and the clergy have been throwing balls of fire to the artist and to CCP. Sensationalism is at its peak again.

I feel sorry that CCP has decided to close down the exhibit. It should have been the institution that have fought for the artist’s “freedom of expression” as it is the one who approved of the work being brought to the public. Some might have said that CCP was not the right venue for Cruz’s work. I would like to believe that CCP would have been one legitimate space for such work as it is descriptive of the Filipino’s belief. And that the clergy and the government has been entirely alarmed of this work, doesn’t it further magnify our existing incongruous society? We declare that we’re free and we’re moving forward, but this mentality dates centuries back. The people who are distressed about this issue are the same Friars and Gobernadorcillos, with the same exaggeration contributed by Hollywood.

I assume that this issue of endless rebuttals is just a matter of perspectives. It is only a matter of looking at things at different angles and looking at them in the appropriate context. Conflicting ideas will of course, be inevitable, but there will always be a common ground as to where peace and understanding resides. This issue have caused too much squalor and damage. Let us move on and focus on things that are meant to constitute our time. Let the government officials resolve relevant problems of the nation. Let the clergy lead in showing people true religion. Let artists continue practicing their art.

*The opinion I have expressed in this post does not necessarily reflect the views of the institution I am affiliated with.