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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Game of Thrones

So this is the article I have been working on for a week now. I have been writing midst an unhappy spirit: stuff on my office desk have been misplaced and my college dictionary was in its most terrible condition in years. Yes, I am pretty shallow like that at times. But those are pretty much my necessities when working for the job or for my art geekery.

I would have given Game of Thrones as the gallery’s publication title, but I decided not to for it was unnecessary and it would be too much trending to bear. I’ll use such title for this WordPress post anyway.

Having commissioned by the parishes in Bulacan to have works done for their churches, Raymond “Rain” Libiran has undeniably mastered the structure and form of the altar’s Romanesque arches and pillars and the angles and curves of the anatomy of angels and saints. He initially worked on oil on canvas but later on employed ballpoint pen. His careful treatment on details is manifested in the faces of the people, the drapery of their clothing, and the gears they are wearing. His attempt on a three-dimensional approach to the works is obviously visible through his intricate shading ranging from dark to light strokes. He may have moved to a different media, but he no less incorporated the same concept and imagery.

However, the works included in this exhibition, Black Rain, did not include visions of angels and saints, but a seemingly chaotic group of people. He dispersed different types of people throughout the canvas in a theatrical manner where students in school uniform, half-naked manual laborers, clergy, women clad in Filipiniana, and bululs in sleeveless shirts and shorts coexist with famous people and icons like Michael Jackson, ET, Gundam robot, Pope John Paul II, Roman soldiers with an unlikely peace sign in his chest, and even the angel of death. His altar niches are still present, enclosing a group of people which supposes man’s existence in a troubled world – where everyone else is focused on his/ her own survival, unmindful of other people’s struggles in spite of their near distance to each other. This reflects man’s utter greed and egoism.

Libiran extended this discourse in his chess works where pieces were brought to life, given faces, human characteristics, and cultural identity even. The pieces were determined by the clothes they wear, the armor and tools they possess, and the stance they assume. The idea of power and greed is highly tinted in this set of works as compared to the altar feast, as chess is a game of battle and survival, thus elaborates man’s hunger for power and dominance.

These chess pieces however, pertains to the power of a collective, more appropriately, a kingdom, wherein each piece plays a vital role in correspondence to the game. But each piece’s significance is relative to its capabilities, thus exhibiting differences in social classes. There are key players which possess most power yet their safety has to be ensured. There are of course, smaller men, which have to serve and be sacrificed in order for the higher ranks to survive and protect the royalty. This reflects an evident political situation and power relations between the nobility and the peasants, the difference in castes and kinship. This is indeed a way of life unknown to many, masked by the norms, exposed in subtle ways.

Need visual supplement? Event details and RSVP here.

This Shall Be Out and Read Tomorrow

This is not a teaser, if you would have judged. This is actually my attempt to write about art in a conversational manner. No theories, shallow criticism. Just enough facts and interpretations for everyone to read and understand. I even had to leave it untitled. Comments are warmly welcomed.

If the Holy Spirit has descended upon the apostles to bestow the gift of tongues, Kabunyan and all other nature gods must have endowed artists Leonardo Aguinaldo, Edwin Macadaeg, Jordan Mang-osan and John Frank Sabado hands and minds of creativity and ingenuity.

These four artists come from the Tam-awan Village Artist Group nestled in Baguio City. They have lived and noticed the changes, struggles and resilience of the Cordillera art and society. As witnesses of this incessant process, Aguinaldo, Macadaeg, Mang-osan and Sabado can no less mirror and reflect the current situation of the Cordillera through their works of different media.

Four Folds is a collection of works which revolve around the Cordillera culture from its pure untainted state, to the infiltration of modernity and technology resulting to the abuse of natural resources and gaps in cultural growth, to the colonial influences, preferences even, and socio-political issues. Working in various media, these artists provide the viewers a multitude of perspectives in viewing and staging the Cordillera culture.

Common among the four artists is the incorporation of natural and geometrical patterns which appear in Cordilleran handicrafts and clothing. This manifests the significance of nature in the Cordilleran society such that they include patterns derived from river paths, old tree rings, and crawling vines into vessels, tattoo and jewelry design. These patterns denote the fluidity of the culture – its ability to stand, survive and flourish amidst and along the changes that has existed. Their employment of Cordilleran signs and symbols is also a notable correspondence among the four artists. Their use of different media and their manipulation of these emblems into a variety of ways in order to fully pronounce the message embedded in the images are the features which distinguish the artists from one another.

Edwin Macadaeg’s craft is exemplified in his works made of sand. He portrays significant figures such as the bulul (rice gods) bayawak (rice field guardians) and huts in full color, thus exhibiting the lively and interesting way of life in the Cordilleras. Also evident in his works is his careful demarcation of the ground and the sky. This defines the fine line that separates the gods from man. This expresses man’s lowliness as it also pays tribute to Kabunyan, the divine, powerful, and highest of all gods whom they pray and look up to the sky when in grief and bereavement.

John Frank Sabado utilizes paint, glue, strings and body fillers for his works. His use of strings as noticeable parallel lines in his works is representative of the Cordillera weaving. His works is a dialogue between the nature, culture and technology. He disperses tattoo patterns on the surfaces signifying beauty strength and courage. He showcases bululs wearing gas masks gathered together surveying the vast area below them to denote the Cordillerans’ wariness of technology and their resistance against its impending negative effects.

Leonardo Aguinaldo utilizes vibrant colors in addressing sociopolitical issues. He discusses the infiltration of technology and colonial culture as a norm in the modern Filipino society by combining familiar Filipino emblems with Western icons. He portrays it in such a way that that it has normally become a part of the people’s everyday lives, neither questioned nor rarely paid attention to.

Solar artist Jordan Mang-osan provides large-scale portraits of the important elderly (Maked-Se and Mensip-Ok) complete with bodily ornaments, including the Bu-aya which is a necklace believed to possess supernatural powers. His three-paneled work of portraits derived from the faces of people around him resonates the identity of the Cordillerans. Its overlapping feature suggests the communal aspect of their society. His method, Solar drawing, employs the sun’s rays and a magnifying glass which is denotative of the union of culture and technology.

As much as their concepts tackle on their discussion and opinion regarding the Cordillera culture, each of the artists’ unconventional media also bespeaks of the same matter. Works of sand, rubbercut, mixed media and the sun are not of the traditional Cordillera art per se. But, utilizing nouvelle artistic methods in exemplifying and portraying images of tradition and culture makes a sensible, profound and significant discourse of the existing Cordillera society.

My Real Name Here

 Manila, June 2011

On Questioning Authenticity

An art dealer delivered two works of an acclaimed artist at the Gallery last Friday. The works are already included in our backroom list even though it will only stay at the Gallery for a week.

Only now was I informed that our Director actually doubted the authenticity of these works. A specialist came by this morning and examined the paintings.

I am not a pro with this artist. I have only examined/cataloged two smaller paintings of him all my life while some others, I just leafed through pages of books and magazines. However (I must be congratulated, for even the specialist himself told me I had pretty profound observations), I was able to differentiate these two works from the other two I have photographed not so long ago. The originals’ strokes were rich and thick. you could distinguish how the artist held his brush only to achieve his desired effect. The image was a nude woman with her back against the viewer. I was drawn to the way the artist swerved his brush with utter perfection to give out a smooth yet plump woman’s bottoms. It was a bit hazy but the gestures, endowed with grace and strength, made it come alive. The artist was inclined to the Impressionist style, Painterly according to Heinrich Wolflinn. But the other two are Linear (again, according to Wolflinn) and has less pronounced brush strokes and gesture. And as the specialist would have mentioned, they have inappropriate elements – a cartoonish feline was incongruent for a 1980 piece. And considering the production period, 1980 and 1975, the paintings should have at least small cracks and crevices.

We are actually expecting the arrival of the artist’s son this afternoon. He is to identify whether these works are real or not. Well yes, who could ever say these works are original or not, but someone who could come to the artist’s studio any time of the day.

Mine and even the specialist’s statements were just opinions.  What we have observed were neither true nor false. We just had our visions magnified so we can observe, examine and critique. It’s a pretty scary job to declare a work authentic or fake. But, I had fun.

***

And so I have realized, our next show shall also tackle on the originality of expensive paintings, mockery and reconstruction. I find it interesting.

I’d be Lying if I Tell you I Didn’t Want This to Coincide With Your Birthday

There might be an ocean of uncertainties right ahead of you, but it definitely makes beautiful sunsets and successful sails.

Today marks an event you’d never imagine would involve your life immensely. But changes do not happen overnight. That’s a fact. Reason why when I got home at the eve of your birthday hours ago, you were the same old kid (little sister) to me the past years.

***

I’d like you to peep through my microscope. This is not as technical as the usual thing, for this shows you the depths of my heart and allows unimaginable magnification of how it is to be Twenty. This is the first time, and may even be the last, I’d allow you to look through it. You may have never seen it this way but maybe one day you will.

You did not actually care what I was doing when I was twenty. All you knew was that we were sharing the same closet we had for years, we were having special dinners every weekend (because you stayed miles away from us for school), and that I occupied (and fixed) your room whenever I visit or stay in my soul’s sanctuary. All of these seemed normal to you; except for the last one which you never really mentioned to me, but I knew seemed extremely stupid to you.

You knew the reasons why I opted to do so. You witnessed the whole course. From travels, to reunions and finally that moment where all came to an end. You lacked the words able to comfort me. Instead, you pulled a string from your heart and tied the pearls and stones that were my tears. Maybe, that made you really think how stupid I was.

You knew another reason. I could call this place paradise and even replace Burnham’s bust with mine. You knew how I fell in love with the people, their way of life, the culture and it’s every little detail that I wanted unharmed (untouched even) and considered my own. I knew you understood me for this that I got you to come with me to unknown yet beautiful places.

There’s one more reason I am just uncertain of whether you have deliberated true or untrue. I was twenty when I became the epitome of “escapism”. I always tuck away the city’s noises via a five-hour trip to the mountains. That was when I read too many books (other than my school readings), written fragmented prose and poetry, and cried only for myself.

You haven’t seen it that way. You haven’t read me between the sighs and laughs we had together. But I see you, dear little sister, a lot like the person I was two years before. Although you were more of a daredevil than I was – a lot stronger, a lot experienced (you’ve got far more credits under your belt) but yes, still a lot careless. Be wary kid, take these few pointers from me, but life will teach you more. You’ve only been twenty for a few hours and there’s certainly a lot for you out there. There might be an ocean of uncertainties right ahead of you, but it definitely makes beautiful sunsets and successful sails.

I am not usually this nostalgic nor this preachy. I normally talk to you in some weird language only the two of us can understand. It sounds funny, but we are somehow already serious that way.

That, and a HAPPY 20th BIRTHDAY, my little Pau.

Keep Your Head and Drop The Gun*

Everything that can happen in a day, happens in a day.

Relieved, Overjoyed, Moved, Proud, Pained, Loved.

***

Here’s a journal entry from January 2010:

Everything was finished his morning. Our year-long battle has finally come to an end. I can’t consider it a victory or defeat. We weren’t in between. We were floating.

It started the same months last year. I’ve cried buckets of tears, mentioned the worst of bad words, and cursed every human being/institution that was digging for our graves.

It is a bottomless pit we do not deserve. We had shortcomings but they were not in any way equal to what they have decided for us. It must be the other way around. They should be the ones pushed into the abyss they have dug themselves. Who are they to implement justice without listening for truth? It’s a shame for them to implement law and order when they themselves make the words devoid of their natural meaning.

But we are not to topple down the pit they have prepared for us. We wont let it end just like this. We were in this together from the start, so we will be in the end. I have you and you have me, and we have more people who care and believe in us. We will still smile and laugh just because we can and simply because there’s no one that can stop us.

And for you, old fag who cant stand on your own feet, who doesn’t know context clues, who doesn’t know how to use your articles well, who runs to your mom who’s a poser academician, who comes to thesis defense without a Review of Related Literature, whose character is just as fake as your nose: I hope that you are happy that people suffer for your materialism. I hope you get a chance to grab a dictionary and find the words trust, friendship, and truth. I hope you get a lot more people to love and appreciate you and lastly, thank you for making us/UP ASS love each other far deeper.

***

This goes the narrative a year after:

This sounds weird and relatively pathetic, considering I am already out from school two years now but I finally got my Transcript of Records and my translated Diploma. My real Tagalog Diploma though was misplaced somewhere in the Records Section of the University Registrar. This is not new though, but the people from my college promised they’ll work this out.

This delay is merely a result of some utterly shallow matter I better not recall – though it actually made some of my academic moments rather sweet and victorious. It all felt like Graduation once again. It was a re-enactment of the rite. The Transcript of Record handed over by the clerk behind the glass window was like the rolled paper given to me by our College Dean.

Honestly, I was lead beyond that memory. I was back to the nights when I had to put the mouthpiece on mute because I was talking (and swearing) to this poser academician over the phone chattering about NBI, The Philippine Collegian, and her notes to the University President. I traveled back to the meetings with my professors and College officials as we lay-out possible solutions and remedies. Meetings like those always end up with hugs and encouragement from them. I was brought to humid afternoons when I had to be excused from class (and even miss quizzes from Psych) just to have briefings and question and answer portions.

Yeah, I only had twelve sheets of paper in my hand, with the Centennial hologram in each page. Yet I felt all the pain and trauma my last year in college was. And that, certainly, felt a lot like freedom.

Or it might also be because I was overwhelmed by the Sablay and Sunflower Season. But yeah, I felt like I am free and totally out of college, even though I honestly long to be back. Sigh, there’s only two more months to decide whether I’d be getting a Master’s degree.

Also, I checked up on my College Org. I got the chance to have lunch with them before their Snap Elections. But it’s no ordinary lunch. Just last week, a faculty from our Department was appointed Director of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. He said that such honor occurred because of the exhibition my College Org has organized with him. I can only feel proud, blessed and thankful.

It’s over. We ended up winning.

***

*from Stars’ Today Will be Better, I Swear!