Omens in Time
"I think I may have entitled this show Buwitre (Vulture) because maybe, this is what is left and picked off after a pandemic – some hefty personal introspection and many, many lessons learned. I am just any woman trying to maneuver my way through a hedge maze of house chores, being a wife, a daughter, a sister, making a living, making sense of a pandemic, and being a painter." Wrote artist Liv Vinluan as she communicated the essence of her current exhibition. The vulture holds a venerable symbol of "purification, compassion, and maternity" in ancient Egypt. The bird of prey performed the necessary service of cleansing the world of stench and rottenness when it was taboo to touch dead bodies. This seemingly morose association to the displayed sentimental works brings the discomfort that is requisite for the idea to permeate through our consciousness.
The work Burning of Manila captures much of our recent days – being witnesses to tragedies as they unfold. The artist asks "What does it mean to make and engage in art in the time of a raging pandemic?" Beautifully merging her concerns, Manila is Burning II shows two young artists paint the inferno that is Manila while standing on a massive floating battleship. In her representations, she brings to the fore trivial inquiries without oversimplification, but an attempt to untangle the complex baggage of being both a Filipino and an artist. She is heavily influenced by the history of art and nation, visibly shown in her use of the glazing technique done by old masters while investigating the cyclicality of our country's narratives. Layering paint and chronicles from dull, dry shades of gray with horror stories on land and sky. The process has a waiting period that creates a push and pull dynamic allowing for space and time for contemplation. Another day, another battle.
It is often imagined that artists live in recluse, inside their creative worlds. In Liv Vinluan's body of work, the contextual plane is rendered more evidently to accommodate an understanding of the interdependence of personal and social conditions in artistic production. The works of art are positioned in intertwined epochs, relating to the artistic vision that is not separate from existing. From where the artist stands, it is clear that as the vulture consumes death, rebirth is not far from the horizon. (Con Cabrera)
BEMBOL DELA CRUZ
And the Rest Was History
In And the Rest Was History, Bembol Oligario Dela Cruz delves into the secret—and often pernicious— history of ordinary objects, as exemplified by the iconic forms of the manual typewriter and the Volkswagen Beetle. Though they look innocuous, some objects trace their roots in the dark chapters of the human story, such as fascism. The Beetle, for instance, replicated by Dela Cruz in life-size scale, was the brainchild of the Nazi Germany’s leader, Adolf Hitler, who commanded Ferdinand Porsche to design a car that was as affordable as the then-ubiquitous motorcycle and would ply the network of newly built roads under the Reichstag. Though production has been discontinued in 2003, the Beetle remains a beloved icon by automobile connoisseurs, prized for its impeccably modern silhouette and efficient engine. In the painting, the car is disemboweled of any discernible machinery and wheels, presenting the husk of what was considered an automotive achievement, as if hunted by the burden of its undeniable past. Though defunct, these inventions have informed succeeding innovations (the laptop and the driverless car), part of the grand scale in the evolution of inanimate objects. Placed within the ambit of the viewer’s attention, these paintings are part visual record of obsolete technologies and part illumination of their history—the medium being the message.
-Carlomar Arcangel Daoana
Draped in the Stars and Stripes, the man brandishing the walis tambo in the Capitol Hill riot is reportedly Ilocano. Although a minority in a predictably white crowd, he is far from the only person of color in the siege. Amidst the Confederate, Tea Party and Neo-Nazi flags associated with the far right, there were a few colored faces carrying their own symbols: the man from Kochi with an Indian flag, several Asians from South Vietnam, Japan and South Korea carrying their own ensigns. Sure, there were other flags: Australia, Canada, and Israel, and even LGBTQ+. Some of them were refugees, some of them guests. A good guest helps their host.
As a part of the world slowed down to stare at the latest American car crash, it was much harder to look away when you noticed the minorities in the details. It's not just schadenfreude when you catch glimpses of yourself.
When Filipino artists Jose Honorato Lozano, Damian Domingo and Justiniano Asuncion were developing the style of watercolor illustration known as Tipos del Pais in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were not just creating an art of Filipiniana representation, but rather mastering a manifestation of the much older art of catering to expectations. An auto-exoticization. As the colonial powers changed from Spanish to American to neoliberal economics, the market remained essentially the same. Skin tone still meant social standing and modes of dress still signified status.
The consumer is not seen. In color, the consumer presumably has lighter skin, if not in complexion then in outlook. The consumer is a connoisseur of the exotic, of folk art, yet never really of the folk depicted. The consumer buys what is expected. What is expected is the retention of a status quo.
Tributes for kingdoms, keepsakes for tourists. Sometimes it's just a matter of scale. Decolonial processes have equipped you with the tools to identify these: the consumer from the consumed, the proletariat from the capitalist, the guest from the host. But they are tools for identification, not emancipation. The borders and binaries are in a constant state of collapse.
Yet a form of feudalism persists, no longer of land and bodies, but of language and minds. Trading dress and lightening the shade of a Filipino or a global social experience does not really change thinking. A terrorist could be a freedom fighter. A guest could be a migrant worker -- no matter how many Star-Spangled Banners, no matter how perfect the American accent.
As soon as you retake the power, another form of power is co-opted. When you center blackness and the experience of subjugated minorities, you tip the balance and something spills over: dark stains on white Manila paper. Reality becomes stranger -- or you become more aware of its absurdity. A brown Ilocano is not expected in a white bigot rally. Yet there he was. All dressed-up. Tipos del Pais. A good guest helps their host. (DC Dulay)
Twisting my Melons
It's often repeated that we, Filipinos, usually adapt to survive. For most of 2020, everyone had to figure out how to deal with all the disruptions and problems that the covid crisis brought to the fore.
There was the ayuda, the jumanji, and the mañanita. With each passing month, it seems like situation here finds new ways to disarm us.
But I think there's something very positive in that, despite all that happened, we look at all the things confusing us and find some way to make it funnier, into something we can enjoy and joke with each other.
The show is a storytelling of the different ways we've learned to channel our energies, of how we can find the comedic within the tragic, of how we route current events into a different dimension of 'hah, anong nangyari?'.
JOEY DE LEON
In the House! (Art... Work from Home)
Joey de Leon, more known as a comedian and a mainstay host of the longest variety show in the Philippines, Eat Bulaga!, displays his mettle in the field of visual arts in his solo exhibition, In the House (Art...Work From Home). As early as the 1980s, de Leon has already been showing his works and collaborating with visual artists, some of whom would eventually become masters and National Artists. This current presentation at Finale Art File reunites de Leon with his first love and joy: of making marks and applying colors on canvas.
These paintings of varying sizes were accomplished during quarantine, which is still in placenationally. With the time and space to sit down and paint, de Leon’s initial forays were attempts to make sense of the current reality of the pandemic. For instance, in “No Mas Face!,” de Leon explores and makes fun of the ubiquity of face masks, with “face” transformed into the visual pun of “peace” and “fish.” Taking into account that “mas” is the Spanish word for “more,” the title means, “no more face,” which directly alludes to how the masks have totally obliterated the face of wearer.
Words, both as titles and typographical presence in the paintings, are important elements in the works of de Leon. In some cases, the words lead to paintings, as de Leon gives puns, idiomatic expressions, and Biblical verses a visual interpretation. For instance, in “Uni-corn,” the horn of the mythical creature is transformed into maize. In “And Blessed is the Fruit,” a still life turns into a devotional painting, with the fruits forming the shape of a man in contemplative prayer, his avocadoseed-eyes trained on a full moon.
What is sustained as some kind of a theme in this exhibition is how numbers are arranged into scenes of Biblical import such as the Nativity and Crucifixion, putting a new twist on numbers as being “figures.” Working with numbers, de Leon states, gives him the constraint in order to imaginatively come up with his cryptic compositions. The order the universe as expressed by numbers and the magic of divinity through the religious themes fuse in these works.
The lockdown, in providing de Leon the space to touch brush on canvas, has become an opportunity for the artist to explore the flexibility of the acrylic medium as well as new themes. That these works are animated by a sense of play and exuberance is evident, injecting a sense of levity to a form of art notable for its high seriousness. The paintings of de Leon, in their refusal to play by the rules and subscribe to conventional tropes, are inflected with a crackling energy, redolent with visual puns, surprising juxtapositions, and the transformation of numbers as image.
-Carlomar Arcangel Daoana
Loaded with Concrete
Loaded with Concrete presents recent works by Van Tuico. Known for his paintings created with acrylic paint and industrial materials, here the artist propels his creative production further by generating deception in perception. The displayed collection of objects intends to translate construction materials into a sort of concrete language built by loading additional weight and layers of significance. The aim was to innovate and enact an adaptation to the antiquated yet tested. He wanted to optimize innate representations of the familiar within a fairly unfamiliar terrain.
Tuico challenges the words abstract and concrete in this exhibition. Much like the double entendre literary device that has multiple senses and interpretations, he presents different ways of understanding. In his attempts to turn concrete as a language system made visible by the abstract form, movement is both physical and philosophical. Concrete referents are shaped even with spatial and imaginative constraints. To accomplish this exercise, the artist brought together different materials to blend what is common to uncommon grounds. In exaggerating and distorting his weathered materials while referring to Brutalism, it was beneficial to familiarize himself with the form, purpose, strength, and capability of both style and matter.
The artist's body of work is visible gathering performed through his art-making wherein the spiritual reckons up. In the acts of summoning and assembly, the bigger picture of life is rendered.
Mark Andy Garcia
To alternate is to take turns. In our current pluralistic environment, we have developed a conditioning that we can have manageable expectations, but at the same, accept that there is a great deal of uncertainty in living the art(ist) life. This exhibition brings together alumni from the Technological University of the Philippines (TUP), who were also recipients of the coveted Cultural Center of the Philippines Thirteen Artists Awards, to map out testaments to the possibility of sustained creative growth while being supportive to your peers. An apt timing as the CCP recently closed the call for nominations for the triennial awards, these seven contemporary artists remind us of the diversity of the types of art and artists the university in dense Manila has been consistently producing. When Roberto Chabet wrote the curatorial guide for the awards, it was emphasized that the awardees should be "a new generation of artists that promise to dominate Philippine art," who "constantly restructure, restrengthen and renew artmaking and art thinking.”
taas | baba
In a 2020 news feature titled "The T.U.P. Artist has finally arrived", struggle in art life was central to the candid interview, revealing a lot about the group's value systems. Most, if not all, artists here come from working-class families and had to grapple with economic limitations to live and produce art. The comfort and liberty they now experience are products of rising above obstacles as they were able to transform these hardships into fuel in artistic conceptualization and creation. This exhibition then does not aim to manifest a specific statement. But it is a display, a demonstration, of camaraderie that is fostered through time and has embedded amongst them mutual respect.
liwanag | dilim
When asked how TUP shaped the exhibiting artists' competitive nature and unconventional practices, they all pointed at Eugene Jarque, who was a former teacher to most of them. They attest to the inspiration and influence that was dynamic through its openness, honesty, and challenging yet nurturing manner. Of course, the existence of art competitions that was crucial to their production because of the prizes and eventual validations in the artworld was also acknowledged. Inevitably, Jarque attributes this encouraging and alternative thinking to LirioSalvador, the TUP alumnus who was instrumental in lifting the university into the art spotlight. Salvador brought the experimental ethos that was appreciated and embraced by many, especially by the artists in this group. The medley of styles and approaches displayed is proof of this radical spirit.
init | lamig
Jarque's and Valdezco's persistent experimentation with materials, Cobcobo's methods of marking, Paras's and Garcia's evaluation of identity and the self, Fernandez's and Trinidad's fictional worlds – these concerns and modes of making are all by-products of self-development forged in fire that is constant in the midst of the realities in life. Awards and recognitions are but part of the chains of validation in the ecosystem of art. They may inspire or stimulate artists to do better and be better. Ultimately though, it is the sense of belonging, and to be able to cultivate one's creative life to take part and impart in this milieu is central. (Con Cabrera)
This is the debris of labor.
Christina Quisumbing Ramilo brings focus to the invisible labor behind works of art by using accumulated discards from studios, workshops and the supply stores that she frequents. She brings into plain sight the hours of toil and chaotic reality that come with artists’ noble role in society to enlighten, critique and record. Despite their unique position in shaping culture and politics, most artists live within a precarious economic situation. Unlike other stable wage earners, artistic labor has no fixed value.
With her distinct purist approach, Ramilo handles the detritus with minimal intervention to the conditions they were found in. Contrary to the worthless nature of discards, recycling them poses a more difficult challenge than buying new materials. Their inherent limitations in size, shape, color and quantity are a struggle to assemble, like multiple complex puzzles. These large-scale compositions may appear seemingly random but are the product of minutely deliberate intentions. Grid-like patterns draw our attention to richly textured patina. Hence she treats the material with utmost respect, exploring the relationship between chance and order, error and possibility, revealing the intrinsic beauty in what has already been overlooked or cast away.
Throughout history, the use of humble materials for art has often been a means to dissolve the borders between art and life. Ramilo brings this principle to a more personal level by selecting discards from artist friends: their used paint rags, brushes and sandpaper, and from her own discards, including hundreds of receipts that highlight the endless expenses an artist must be able to cover in order to survive without a steady source of income. Receipts form a portrait of the consumer, and in this case a vast majority of them, apart from living expenses, are from hardware stores—the main source of material for an artist who primarily makes assemblage.
Each discarded item contains clues of the original owner’s purpose. Some sandpaper pieces are more thoroughly worn out than others, with tell-tell signs of paint colors, surfaces and edges they had been used on. Painters’ rags reveal to us their preferred color palettes. Scribbles to test inks at supply stores show us what type of pens strangers have considered purchasing for their needs. These are marks of history embedded into the materials and become part of their character, such that time itself is a collaborator in the finished product.
Ramilo spent many years working jobs that involved art-related labor, including supervising at the painting department of a bronze foundry, part-timing as a gallery art handler, working at an art supply store, teaching art at university and working at the Frick Art Reference Library. Her consciousness on labor intensified when she built her own house as a monumental assemblage of recycled architectural fragments. Approaching her 60th year, a diminishing capacity for manual labor has led her to adapt the scale of her works by making smaller objects installed into groupings that form larger assemblages. As one of the few female artists in the Philippines who constructs in massive scale, she challenges expectations of the type of labor associated with women.
The Tall Gallery has allowed Ramilo the most expansive presentation thus far reflective of her studio practice: often working simultaneously on pieces whose parts have been collected over decades. Inside the white cube, we are invited to see what she sees; the faintest details become more pronounced when taken outside of their daily setting. We are posed with notions of propriety and value and question assumptions surrounding labor. The dignity of labor as a source of inspiration and investigation is given center stage with the overwhelming significance of its debris. (Stephanie Frondoso)
The Naughty Grail
In the exhibition, Naughty Grail, Tiffany Lafuente explores the dark core of the human psyche that underlies the society where we inhabit.
The artist puckishly inserts visual cues that evoke associations between historical and contemporary moments in order to foreground the age-long entanglements of art, life and capital. Rigorous portrayals of the interior, steady frontal compositions and movements created by light and shadow recall the traditions of portrait paintings, particularly of 16th to 18th century Europe, during which the new wealthy emerged from the worldwide mercantile system established along with the colonial aggression. Portrait painting was not just a way for the new patrons of art to record their appearances, but also to visualize, exhibit and assert their taste, wealth, status and power.
Lafuente's paintings presented in the exhibition are the portraits of the players of hostile expansion of capitalism that alienate, exploit, destroy and eventually lead into self-destruction. Donning business attire, the anonymous entrepreneurs are self-involved without the awareness of the mischiefs done to them by the ghostly apparitions of the sitters in the classical portraits that they own. The women in the paintings open their mouths big and round mimicking the vinyl sex doll. The nude male model emerges from the painting and messes up with the businessman in his nap. Enlivened by the spirit of the king in the painting, the knight's sword cuts in the game of power abuse.
Lafuente's work pushes further the critique of global capitalism, digs deeper and exposes our voyeuristic curiosity triggered by the images of people immersed in sexual fantasies. It is a reminder that we are already grained in the narratives produced and manipulated by the ideologies of capitalist economic systems. The dense impasto robustly applied onto the canvas vandalizes the image as if to reflect the constant attempt striving to oppose, negotiate and rework on the dominant structures. (Mayumi Hirano)
Same Shapes, Different Each Time
Ornette Coleman’s celebrated 1959 album, “The Shape of Jazz to Come”, prompts Miguel Puyat’s first solo exhibition. Here, the artist likens the process of his art-making to Coleman’s improvisation and unique approach to arrangement where every composition contains brief thematic statements and then, several minutes of extemporization. Similar to jazz, Puyat’s works are configurations that require interaction and collaboration from both viewer and receiver. The production of the work extends beyond the artist’s studio and allows public participation to manipulate and transform the object, far exceeding the artist’s initial plan.
Drawn by a statement where Coleman had once said, “jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night, but differently each time”, Puyat replicated the same sensibilities in producing objects that use basic patterns, forms, and shapes but with the ability to construct different images as one desires. Similarly, free jazz is recognized in its propensity to be controlled through the performer’s actual feelings, emotions, and interactions with his environment releasing the art from any rules and canonical adherence. Hence, Puyat’s realization of the work becomes an exercise in playing and problem-solving; what and how should one make art? What is there to come? Perhaps, the response lies in the way Puyat generously designs his works: removing the boundary between artist and audience or accepting their interchangeable roles. In essence, jazz is absorbed in the same invisible contract of radically presenting something that wrenches the heart and punches the gut.
Miguel Puyat (b. 1993, Philippines) is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice embodies the principal focus of Process Art, where the actions and steps in art production are far more important than the form of the object. Puyat explores a range of narratives that hint at existentialism, nostalgia, and subcultures as he examines the alteration and manipulation of found materials such as existing objects, sound, video, and images. (Gwen Bautista)
some things we call home
The recreation of sensuous surface has long been the allure and conceit of painting. In some things we call home, Go continues her long-standing interest with paper and the interplay of the two-dimensional vis-a-vis space and mass. In these paintings, fragmented scraps-- with their splattering of pattern and texture-- bulge with volume and heft. Folds and tears signal depth and form. An unseen object serves as scaffolding, akin to bones and organs stretching out papery skin. The experiential hints at an interiority.
Inside these packages, Go makes use of toys, reminiscent of her own family and childhood, as references. But in a reversal of gift-giving celebrations where newly bought things emerge from shiny gift wrappers, here, the objects gathered are burdened with memory. Enclosed in seemingly brittle and aged paper, they evoke nostalgic longing. And occluded from view, we regard them in a strange light. In effect the artist is staging a re-encounter, as if from within the creases a toy can tumble out reborn. As if she can offer these old things anew.
Partly a response to the vicissitudes of current times, partly a remembering, her works signal towards the accretion of loss and the rituals of coping. And perhaps, it also gestures to a certain promise. That soon enough, through disparate shapes and ways, the weight of the past can also coalesce into forms of gratitude.
- JC Rosette