Marina Cruz and the Stuff of Former Lives
Bricolage (or bric-a-brac, or simply, “stuff”) can be defined as both something as well as nothing – a double-bind that becomes the primary source of grappling with a thing’s meaning. That Marina Cruz wants you to look at things could pose a problem in an age where all people do is look at things. Our attempts to create typically result in a toss-up between trash and treasure. We browse through shops with the objective of consuming, demand upgrades on our existing possessions, and are entitled to the luxury of choice even when it comes to the simplest, most innocuous acts; all as a means of somehow extending an otherwise short existence.
There is a balance to be struck between accepting that things are what they are, and in realizing how objects can contribute to a sense of place, as well as a sense of self. “No ideas, but in things,” wrote William Carlos Williams in “Paterson” (1927), a line permeating Cruz’s work, through which it becomes possible to believe that there is a genuine value in the sentimental that would have easily been snuffed out by decades of living in an age of mechanical reproduction. With Cruz, these objects become inscribed with meaning, testifying to their passage from utility to obsolescence while capturing the growth of her clan from innocence to experience.
Like Williams, Cruz follows the same tenets of Imagism, maintaining her gaze on the forms and textures of the material world, particularly on the products of the domestic sphere. This is best presented in In the House of Memory (2012, credited as Marina Cruz-Garcia) which combines photorealistic prints and diptychs of the dresses juxtaposed with sepia-tinted oil portraits of Cruz’s mother and aunt, and flat renderings of the aftermath of a flood which had devastated their family home in Hagonoy, Bulacan.
Resolutely feminine, Cruz’s work engages the enduring legacy of representations that resulted from growing up in a system that both limits and complicates the space inhabited by women, as well as the roles they play. Through photorealistic paintings, prints, and installations, Cruz evokes a world of crafting, provincial life, hand-me-downs, and matrilineal clans, inscribing objects with a worth that surpasses the functional. Women are presented both as nurturers and disciplinarians, mothers and daughters; inhabitants of a world in which they are simultaneously the subjects and objects of their own lives. Although it must be noted that Cruz kept her maiden name.
Cruz’s skill as a storyteller is evident in her capacity to speak of the seemingly mundane in a language and voice that are simultaneously familiar and new. Explorations in the inner workings of the stuff of former lives offers a glimpse, however brief, into the inner life of Cruz’s personal and family ties – specifically between her mother and aunt, as shown in House of Memory, Un/fold (2009) and Inside Out (2012). It should be no surprise that the subject of fashion almost never comes up when talking to Cruz about clothing: looking at Cruz’s work feels more like going through the personal belongings of a stranger than browsing the racks, thus putting the viewer in an awkward position between reverence and disrespect. The only built-in obsolescence she is concerned with is that of memory, making the experience of viewing these old things refreshing as well as unsettling.
“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are in their associated molecules.” Echoing Francis Crick through personal histories, told in the lives of these everyday objects, Cruz’s work allows viewers to craft their own associations of and with these objects from what were once very intimate combinations of narrative and artefact. These allow us to observe the constant cycles of reanimation and demise that are ever-present in the lives of the things that make up our daily lives, thus highlighting the subtle shifts in the details of the relationships between people and their possessions. In exhibitions like Un/fold, Inside Out, and The Connective Thread (2011), Cruz layers fabric with various bits of evidence testifying to the life of the wearer, offering comfort that while the palpable absence of the body leaves matter inert, the aura may be eternal.
There is a weft of spirituality that runs through Cruz’s work. This manifests in her continuing fascination with spaces that somehow remain filled by former inhabitants, and in the invisible layers and stitches that still lay close to one’s skin even as time flies and distances grow. Space has the capacity to summon and contain, as well as to distance and separate. Clothing is a layer that identifies as well as protects the body, but clothing also becomes a medium for narratives about family and intimacy and the fictions we construct around collective life. This coexistence of materiality and spirituality is the contradiction inherent in Cruz’s fascination with inhabited objects: empty rooms, outgrown clothes, and unused furniture from which she sees another realm moving within.
Another theme that repeats itself in Cruz’s work is the nature of reflection, which literally entails looking at your self looking back. This is further explored in a self-portrait Cruz did of herself with a fictional doppelganger while on residency in Vermont, as well as in her paintings of her mother, Elisa, and her mother’s twin, Laura. As it is with her paintings of identical dresses, the work on twins extends the conversations on space and on the specific markers of an identity which is at once shared and divided. Twins mark the existence of identical bodies with remarkably different contents and means for understanding the ways of the world. “When you’re a twin, you share not only a face. You shared the womb, you shared a beginning” says Cruz of her fascination with her mother and aunt’s story.
Now 30, Cruz is now a mother, as well as a teacher. By homeschooling her two little boys, she has effectively turned herself into the subject of a story which has for so long remained central to her body of work. “We were the first to adopt in our family,” she shares, of what would become a long and winding ordeal into parenthood, wherein while waiting for the approval of their adoption papers, Cruz found herself pregnant with what in effect be their second child. “Since the gene skips a generation, I actually thought I could be having twins,” she shares with a smile.
Upon graduating from the UP College of Fine Arts, Cruz went on to mount her first few exhibitions while taking units for a Masters degree in Art Education. She then spent a year handling art classes for high school students at Miriam College, continuing a legacy of teaching that began with her grandmother. While Cruz only lasted for a year in that profession, preferring to produce her own art than to teach it, she continued her support of arts education as a partner and co-founder of the City School for the Visual Arts. This is a labor of love which she runs alongside fellow art educators and practitioners, one of whom is her husband, Rodel Tapaya. “When this place was blessed,” says Cruz of the City School, “the pastor said we have to touch it, so that it would not deteriorate.”