BEMBOL DELA CRUZ
Fear suppresses our thoughts and actions. To the body, it evokes agitation and aversion, and to the mind, senselessness and futility. Its hold is uncontrollable--our reaction almost instinctive to the objects and thoughts of terror, accompanied by sweating, trembling, or a loss of control. For the mind and body, fear is the death of sanity.
Bembol dela Cruz (b. 1976) recognizes the universality of death in contemporary reality, amid and beyond the contexts of the pandemic era. By directly depicting images that signify people's fears, their weight becomes a controllable experience: masks as illusions, dry leaves as old age, and mortality as skull become uncovered from their symbolic dormancy. In exploring the concept of mind-body conditioning, body bags are installed meditatively, perhaps evoking an obsessive-compulsive reaction to both conceal and reveal the phobias that kill our saneness. Each shows a characteristic actuality: some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live.
When one considers the natural existence of death, one might see fear as a companion that reveals what is dear to us: the fear of deception becomes an appreciation for sincerity, the fear of old age a celebration of youth, and the fear of mortality as determination to live a life well. Given our conditioned mental reactions and bodily sensations to the uncontrollable universal motions of life and death, an equanimous outlook might keep a person stable, sane. One learns to die by learning how to live: observe reality as it is--not the way you want it, but the way it is. (John Alexis Balaguer)
Awash in the language that dissolves the boundary between “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from…” that which is not spoken and is that action that is equivalent to “causing Change in conformity with Will” already approaching the identical by virtue of categorization and in the haze of floating letters that surrounds the two names that produce these functions will one day be lost and yet will remain resplendent despite the middle being emptied out to affix only their initials with significance and maybe if and only if the association is reinforced by proximity or paradox or paroxysm or parallel lines that cut through dissimilar planes with one above and one below and another as what appears to be a reflection that hovers about without the weight of expectation or the illusion of distance from the source or from the body or from the lights that flash until there is an explosion that ruptures wakefulness and its connection to what is understood as a dream but perhaps all that is solid too will disentangle itself from itself to become steam or smoke only to solidify momentarily before revealing the fluid that runs through the structure and leaks through exit wounds and meet as multitudes elsewhere or as a song with a ceaseless rhythm that stutters and strobes and stops and unravels the territory that moves in accordance to the invisible and the indivisible and the limit of the possible which is no longer worth consideration as it has already happened yet nothing has changed except for the dimensions of what acquires its shape by first losing it down in the archives that have yet to formulate their structure yet already telegraph their own collapse as they conceal or convert or comprise what the outside is outside of.
Davao-based artist Judelyn Villarta is no stranger to festivals in Mindanao. She has been an avid attendee since she was in high school finding joy in the general atmosphere brought about by people coming together to celebrate their culture through performances, costumes, and parades. Sparked by her desire to promote indigenous cultures in Mindanao, her fascination with festivals led to her graduate thesis on Kaamulan Festival in her hometown Bukidnon, her first solo exhibition. “A Glimpse of Bukidnon” in 2018 and now with “Never ending joy”.
A direct translation of the T'boli word helobuno, this exhibition is the artist's portrayal of the T'boli community's Helobung Festival which usually happens in the second week of November. Villarta paints their rich culture as seen in the T'nalak clothing worn by women and their musical instruments such as the two–stringed lute hegelung. She also draws a landscape to represent the joyous spirit of the festivities and to embody the rituals performed to offer gratitude for their bountiful harvest.
There is a great sense of detail sprawled across the canvases in the intricately drawn T'nalak patterns, mixed with scribbles of nature elements such as clouds and water lilies, rendered with a similar precision. The dominant colors echo the meaning imbibed in their textiles: red for courage and love, and black for soil that nurtures life.
From the smallest to the most apparent details, there is a never ending joy manifesting in both the appreciation and celebration of one's culture. (LK Rigor)
Comparable to the concept of a box within a box, Annie Cabigting’s latest exhibition at Finale Art File strips the gallery of its artifice and returns it to its original function as a warehouse, a temporary repository of goods. The installation is composed of a custom-made shipping container with sealed crates arranged in such a way that one is not sure whether they are in the process of being unloaded or loaded into the container. While it is given that they contain paintings, there is an intentional withholding of information on the crates’ labels, which normally would include photographs of their contents. In this case, there are only rough sketches to give a hint of the paintings inside. Furthermore, viewing of the work will be controlled and no photography will be allowed, even for promotional or documentation purposes for the duration of the exhibition. Similar to her previous wrapped paintings, the work proposes the idea of concealment as a form of abstraction and as a possible exhibitionary state. By shrouding them in mystery, she amplifies the viewers’ curiosity and desire to see the works.
Done at a time when galleries and museums all over the world were mandated to close and exhibitions were canceled or put on hold due to the incessant lockdowns, the work offers a commentary on how art has been practically quarantined for the past two years. It also critiques a longstanding disease that has afflicted the art world even before the pandemic - the unscrupulous dealing of works, which has reduced art into mere commodities. As Annie observed, works are bought only to sit in crates in storage facilities and free ports, and often times traded without ever seeing the light of day. The only thing made visible in this process is how the art market is fundamentally irrational and flawed, entrapping artists who unfortunately have little or no control over how their works are consumed. In this exhibition, there is a clear attempt to resist and even possibly subvert the machinations of this ruthless system but like the paintings entombed in their crates, how it will all play out remains to be seen.
The Filipino word busisi translates to fastidiousness, while its adjective mabusisi means meticulous. In the arts and crafts, being mabusisi connotes attention to minute details. The fastidious task is normally done in the context of a lengthier time frame [in this case, 2 years of lockdowns].
Busisi characterizes Patis Pamintuan Tesoro’s approach to graphic arts and textile design. Italso articulates a unique Filipino sensibility that permeates her drawings, embroidered textiles, and fabric collages.
BUSISI ON FABRIC
As a textile designer, Tesoro has worked with local weavers. Much of her efforts have been centered in Kalibo, Aklan where piña is still woven today. She has also worked with the artisans of Lumban, Laguna to embroider piña cloth. In the 1980s, Tesoro was at the forefront of the production of piña-seda [a textile that combines pineapple and silk threads] and piña-abaca[pineapple and abaca fibers]. She also admonished the use of natural dyes and the farming of plants that produce these pigments.
After more than 30 years of an extremely demanding pace in the fashion business, Tesoro moved to the more rustic setting of Putol, Laguna. Life slowed down as it seemed. Here she cultivatedan environment, which reflected her philosophy of harmonious co-existence with nature. Salvaged wood, vintage metalwork, assemblages of tiles, and interjections of folk crafts made up her habitat. “I don’t throw away anything,” Tesoro exclaimed, and she kept creating spaces out of these accumulations.
This propensity for salvaging bits and pieces was evident in her assemblages from the shop’s precious retazos [remnants of textiles]. Over the last four years she designed tapestries that combined printed cloth, embroidered nipis [a generic term referring to fabrics made from fine fibers of abaca, pineapple, maguey, raw silk or a combination of these in the nineteenth century., as well as hand-dyed materials – Sandra Castro]. Unsatisfied with mere patchwork, she guidedher atelier in the application of various surface decoration. Beadwork and obsessive stitching introduced texture on an otherwise flat surface. They also layered new forms over the existing patterns.
In contrast to the flourishes of traditional embroidery on piña cloth, Tesoro’s compositions of the diaphanous material produced vivid geometric patterns. Pieces of natural, sepia, and black colored piña were combined to create checkerboard, argyle, and bricks – all reminiscent of 20thcentury pattern design. There were also references to the triangular linework of indigenous ikats. Running stitches traced the seam lines of the panels. While emphasizing the graphic compositions, the needlework also imbued the works with a more personal stamp.
A hand embroidered flower or fern occasionally emerged to disrupt the repetitive motif.
The rogue patches certainly belonged to a bolt of embroidered piña. Was it for barong or a traje de mestiza created in Tesoro’s atelier? In any case, the tiny peculiarities contributed micro histories within the larger story of a tapestry.
BUSISI ON PAPER
Each day, Tesoro get ups at dawn. Her desk is populated by various mugs of colored markers. Her workspace is equally packed with mementos, maritatas, and cuadros on the walls. She draws with discipline, filling in every centimeter with line and color. She then posts anything of Putol on Instagram [a portion of the house, a blossoming tree, or a harvest] with the greeting “Good Morning Philippines.”
On handmade paper, images of Philippine life begin to emerge. Costumed rural folk, forest animals, idyllic scenery, and a profusion of domestic flowers seem like fantasies from a distant reality. However, they merely reflect a real life in Putol. Tesoro inhabits this environment, as well as its barrage of color and pattern.
Tesoro’s discipline as a textile designer is palpable in the articulation of petals and tendrils that bear a striking resemblance to the bordados of her dresses. Renderings of borders, baskets, and weaves also have a strong affinity to batik patterns and the graphic quality of other SoutheastAsian textiles. The elaborate borders may resemble lacework and other patterns found in folk crafts.
Much like her works on cloth, images on paper teem with palamuti [decoration]. All leaves are variegated with contrasting colors. Faces, which were rendered in puffy clouds of flesh, aredecorated with tattoos. Subjects melt with elaborate, kaleidoscopic backgrounds.
BUSISI OF IMAGERY
Tesoro’s textile and graphic arts are unabashed celebrations of ‘Pinoy baroque’ – often dismissed as horror vacui [In visual art, horror vacui, also referred to as kenophobia, is the filling of the entire surface of a space or an artwork with detail. In physics, horror vacui reflects Aristotle's idea that "nature abhors an empty space.” – Wikipedia].
Layer upon layer of themes and pattern result in dense compositions, which mirror the exuberance of folk crafts. Images from indigenized Catholicism, folklore, horticulture, and domestic life converge in a joyous cacophony. They also offer a perspective that essentially runs contrary to the trends that dominate the contemporary art scene, particularly its affinity for the more tortured expressions, abstraction, and minimalism. They are also slices of a real lifestylethat she has carved out in Putol… unhurried, connected to the land and the Filipino soul. In Tesoro’s kabusisihan, it’s always a ‘good morning’ in the Philippines.
GINO GONZALES, 2022
Leaving a legacy is not about memorializing one’s achievements in stone or statue. There is an indelible force that seeks to be shared when one aspires to impart a story for the next generations. Raffy Napay (b. 1986) takes this principle as an artist and father in Mananahi by grounding in a reflective acknowledgment of the forces that created his artistic inclinations, and his storied thread and textile works.
Growing up with a seamstress mother, sewing not only was a livelihood, but a way of life-- the experience of weaving becoming deeply rooted into the artist’s creative process and values. In “Araw-araw na paghinga” Napay meticulously uses brightly colored threads with an expressionistic gesture, each stitch and pull on the canvas laden with personal, primal force. The effect seemingly forms young blades and grains of rice: the seedling as breath, an evocation of sustenance and new life. The act of weaving thread by thread and installing the murals altogether connote a layering of foundations similar to making home. Napay likewise sews scrap textiles together as floral blooms in “Makina ni Nanay” presenting alongside the works his mother’s sewing machine bestowed to him, as witness to the artist’s history and process.
The word mananahi invokes both mana, inheritance, and tahi, stitching-together. Napay’s works therefore are a continuation of the legacy gifted to him, and a recognition of his role now as father and provider. Thus, working with thread becomes akin to breathing-- with every natural breath preserving and bestowing life. After all, what we leave behind is more than a commemoration, it continues in the gratitude of those whose lives interweave with ours.
(John Alexis Balaguer)
It Takes a Village
It was almost twenty years ago when Elaine Navas first began to show a series of works called ‘grocery paintings.’ These were paintings of chickens—dead, packed, and dressed, or about to be cooked. These were images based on how they would appear in supermarkets and onto the kitchen table. And for poultry or even other livestock ingredients, these frozen images are the images that the new generation and populace have become more accustomed to; and probably their only glimpse to a creature’s previous existence before they would become part of someone’s nourishment.
Navas painted them before they were cooked. No other form of homage could have been more sufficient. And the way she drew and painted them, in bright and painstaking detail—no other showing of reverence could have been more committed to an image’s final form before their transformation, and before they completely disappear in this world.
It is a way of making contact—to be one with it before finally making it part of oneself. And maybe to honor it, while drawing out the glory from its perceived mundanity as an unexceptional consumer good. And it is only through an artist such as Navas where we are given the chance to meditate on such interconnectedness:
“When you see a painting you made, you remember what was happening in your life at that point in time. When I made (those) grocery paintings, it was when our family was starting out with toddlers, young children, and I was learning how to cook.”
For Navas, artistic practice is never detached from the personal. In It Takes A Village, she responds to another episode in memory, one that is more recent, one that is tied to the pandemic. She relays her own experience into these new drawings what she saw from good friend Manny De Castro’s farm, who was raising chickens and roosters at that time. When livestock and poultry become vital because of the instability that lockdowns and quarantine brought, the idea of sustenance extends from frozen goods to their actual farms, and in a way also extends the image of the ‘ready-made’ into its more variable and mutable origin—the living source. Whether farmbred or domestically taken care of, it extends also our idea of oneness with these creatures, and in Navas’s portrayal of them, she expands the idea of homage—not only to the creature’s more dignified state but also to the idea of self-sustenance and sustainability, while viewing these works as a continuation of Navas’s ‘grocery paintings.’
These drawn paintings, as Navas would like to refer to them, are made by applying oil bars on canvas. There is something about their achromatic portrayals and polyptych frames that evoke simplicity and purity—a kind of ‘matter-of-factly’ representation, where these creatures instead of being rendered for glorification are presented as modest beings—but not unremarkable. It may have something to do with their sketch-like appearances, which demonstrate an ephemeral quality. And in Navas’s attentive and fervent depiction of their bustling feathers, their resplendent crowns, marked by grittiness and their seemingly resolute gazes—we could sense a certain warmth within the bond that the artist has forged by drawing them. As if she has drawn them to honor their daring.
And it is along this desire of paying tribute Navas has chosen to call her show and to name her paintings. With their titles corresponding to names of elder family members and mentors, she is an artist who knows that representation can be an implement to address matters beyond what is being represented—whether deeply personal, or deep in memory, or deep in the souls of creatures great and small: the artist knows that the cycle will never be complete without the community.