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)