The Sculptor Speaks

BenCab at Art Fair Philippines 2014

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After nearly fifty years in the art world, National Artist Benedicto Cabrera should need no introductions. BenCab received his education from the University of the Philippines Fine Arts program, where he majored in Illustration and was awarded an honorary doctorate in Humanities in 2009. He began his practice as an illustrator for Liwayway magazine in 1963, and would take part in a number of landmark exhibitions, including an invitation from Arturo Luz to participate in Young Artists 1968 – an annual event which showcased young talents at The Luz Gallery in Manila.

This marked the first of many opportunities to further his practice. By 1970, the same year he was recognized as one of CCP’s thirteen artists, BenCab would have his first solo show outside of the Philippines, in London, where he would live for more than a decade. Upon his return to the Philippines in the mid-80s, he would join a group of Baguio-based artists, which included Santiago Bose and Kidlat Tahimik, to establish the Baguio Arts Guild. It was also around this time that BenCab would act upon his long-held fascination with the “rich material culture and traditions of the northern Philippine highlands” by making Baguio his home. Here, he would later build the BenCab Museum, where he houses his private collections of his own works, those of “acknowledged Filipino Masters and rising contemporary artists”, as well as “outstanding examples of the indigenous arts and crafts of the Cordilleras”.

The museum is operated and managed by the BenCab Art Foundation.
For this year’s Art Fair, BenCab has created a collection of free-standing sculptures that have been shaped in clay, before being cast and finished in bronze, and bent metal wall-bound pieces. While he is better known for his works on paper and canvas, BenCab practiced sculpture on and off throughout his career and has taken courses as early as the 70s to hone the craft. The images in this series represent his legacy as a lyrical expressionist, drawing from concepts that have turned his images into icons. Pulsing beneath the surface are echoes of his past renderings of the nude body, as well as clothed figures that recall the graceful draping inspired by legendary dancer, Isadora Duncan, and a new character, “Man Thinking” which treads between expressiveness and quiet contemplation, reminiscent of another iconic “Thinker” cast in bronze.

Using small and careful movements to shape the material, BenCab is able to convey sweeping gestures and a broad range of emotion on an otherwise inert object. A mastery of the practice shines through, illuminating how sculpture is a means of re-animating a subject rather than reducing it to mere statuary. As described by Henry Moore in “The Sculptor Speaks” (1966), sculpture is a means to “think of, and use, form in its full spatial completeness.” A sculptor should be able to see the object from every angle—even if he is only facing one side; thus making the craft a fitting metaphor not only for the scope BenCab covers in this collection, but for his extensive artistic career.

This is from the catalog notes I wrote for Art Fair Philippines 2014, which opens today and will run until Sunday, the 23rd on the 6th and 7th floors of The Link, on the corner of Ayala and Makati Ave (across Greenbelt 4/Ayala Museum and beside Landmark).

Tickets are available at the venue. Entrance is 150, discounted to 50 Php for students (just bring an ID). While you’re there, might as well make the most of the weekend and check out Ai Weiwei’s Baby Formula which should open on February 22 at the Ayala Museum, along with Elmer Borlongan’s solo.

Subjective Iconographies

Ronald Ventura at Art Fair Philippines 2014

“Battle Field” (2010), note that this is not exhibited at the Art Fair, but should give a good idea of what you can expect from Ventura’s installation on the 7th floor

Having grown up in flood-prone Malabon, Ronald Ventura is no stranger to the disaster-susceptible landscape of Metro Manila, which often figures into his creations not as any recognizable setting, but as an overall mood. His belief in Filipino resilience in the face of adversity is translated into the layered, complex visual language of his works.

After graduating from the studio arts and painting program of the University of Sto. Tomas, he then taught for nine years with the Fine Arts faculty. As a student, he went from winning competitions to subsidize his education to the speculative exercise of competing in the booming market for fine art.

He was a finalist in the Taiwan International Biennial Print and Drawing Competition in 1999 and also won first place in the Lithograph Competition of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Later, Ventura was named among the CCP Thirteen Artists in 2003 and a winner of the Ateneo Art Awards in 2005. He has exhibited at the National University of Singapore Museum, Institute of Contemporary Arts in Singapore, Akili Museum of Art in Indonesia, and the Institut Valencià d Art Modern in Spain, where he participated in the 2011 landmark survey, Surreal vs. Surrealism in Contemporary Art. He has sold out shows at the Primo Marella Gallery in Milan and Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York, among others, and has also shown work at the Prague and Nanjing biennales.

Through a combination of timing, hard work, and technical virtuosity, Ventura has carved out an impenetrable spot for himself in contemporary Filipino art and is among its greatest commercial success stories. In Ventura’s work and in the reputation it has earned him, we are able to observe the trappings of accelerationism in contemporary art production: wherein his success on the auction block is rarely paralleled, while his techniques and aesthetic remain resolutely traditional.

A Ventura piece often combines conventional brushstrokes, airbrush, and pen and ink into large-scale photorealistic compositions. Drawing directly from his imagination, a Ventura canvas is typically made up of icons from popular culture recontextualized into the experiences of the Filipino everyman. For his sculptural pieces, he often juxtaposes high-gloss surfaces with abrasive ones in a single installation.

Known for appropriating imagery from Philippine history and ethnography, he turns inward for his contribution to this year’s Art Fair Philippines by transplanting the stuff of dreams into the white cube. In the large scale fiberglass installation he has prepared for Art Fair Philippines, Ventura employs his now familiar hyperchromatic sweep over an anachromatic ground.

Using elements that have become something of his trademark, Ventura displays an awareness of the subjectivity of the iconic in a rapidly globalizing environment. Elements from past works—the masked character, the rainbow, and the combination of inky blacks and murky greys, reminiscent of the oil slicks and floodwater that characterize the Metropolis he grew up in—all figure into this space he invites us into, a space in which we learn that even a dream must carry the weight of a cautionary tale.

This is from the catalog notes I wrote for Art Fair Philippines 2014, which opens today and will run until Sunday, the 23rd on the 6th and 7th floors of The Link, on the corner of Ayala and Makati Ave (across Greenbelt 4/Ayala Museum and beside Landmark).

Tickets are available at the venue. Entrance is 150, discounted to 50 Php for students (just bring an ID). While you’re there, might as well make the most of the weekend and check out Ai Weiwei’s Baby Formula which should open on February 22 at the Ayala Museum, along with Elmer Borlongan’s solo.

I Ping, You Pong, We all Pong…on Earth

Louie Cordero’s Pong on Earth at Art Fair Philippines 2014

Cordero 2014 (5)This is from the catalog notes I wrote for Art Fair Philippines 2014, which opens today and will run until Sunday, the 23rd on the 6th and 7th floors of The Link, on the corner of Ayala and Makati Ave (across Greenbelt 4/Ayala Museum and beside Landmark).

Tickets are available at the venue. Entrance is 150, discounted to 50 Php for students (just bring an ID). While you’re there, might as well make the most of the weekend and check out Ai Weiwei’s Baby Formula which should open on February 22 at the Ayala Museum, along with Elmer Borlongan’s solo.

Louie Cordero is a painter, illustrator, sculptor, and the man behind Nardong Tae—a superhero out to save us from ourselves, while cursed with the misfortune of being a literal pile of s***. Cordero graduated in 2001 from the University of the Philippines Studio Arts Program. He was among the artists running Surrounded by Water before co-founding Future Prospects, another artist-run space.

Cordero has participated in both local and international residencies, including the Vermont Studio Center, where he won the grand prize for painting at the 8th International Freeman Foundation Awards in 2003. This set off a streak, with Cordero winning the Ateneo Art Awards in 2004, placing as a finalist in 2005, then being recognized as one of CCP’s Thirteen Artists in 2006. On the international exhibition circuit he is just as prolific, having shown work all over Asia, Australia, France, England, and across the United States.

Cordero draws from folk mythology and pop culture, citing the jeepney, in all its repurposed glory, as a consistent source of inspiration. These elements came together in My We – a multimedia installation based on the “My Way” killings (or death by karaoke) – which was the Philippine entry for Open House, the 2011 Singapore Biennale.

Cordero (8)

For Art Fair Philippines 2014, Cordero has created four fiberglass tables, amorphously shaped and airbrushed in the garish, acid colors that have become his trademark. From reminiscences of having played ping pong with his father at home, he expands these tables’ capacity for narrative by literally breaking their edges and reshaping their borders, effectively eliminating the game’s repetitive and meditative nature. Complementing the display is the prospect of engaging visitors in a sport named for the onomatopoeia conjured by launching a ball back and forth, suggestive of the discourse between the artwork and its spectator.

Using action as material, Cordero’s ping pong tables evade being fetishized as commodities, thus his art practice evolves from one of making objects, to one that sits on the boundary of the participatory. In making space for playtime at the opening, Cordero challenges visitors to go beyond looking, engaging them in both the mechanics and ambiguities of sportsmanship by toying with the overlapping notions of being in it to win, as opposed to just having fun. These concepts are apparent in opportunities for play, but have since become characteristic of art as it is co-opted into the market, where players become brokers and artwork becomes stock.

By closing with an on-site ping pong tournament—complete with scoreboards and trophies—Cordero places the idea of art as a competitive sport at the center of this spectacle. In the presence of this game (or any game), visitors may choose to watch, join, or leave. The choice to leave becomes a choice not only to abandon the action, but to cast off any pretensions borne upon entering hallowed halls dedicated to cultural expression, in a reminder that these are not pedestals, but tables.

After all, why call it a fair if you can’t have fun?
Cordero (7)

Photos provided by Louie Cordero

“Careless Whisper” was always our song

Eisa Jocson’s Philippine Macho Academy

Except for the bright blue cross that hangs above the stage, there was nothing light–or good, true, or beautiful–about Eisa Jocson’s performance at the opening of Philippine Macho Academy” her solo exhibition at the Vargas Museum – a product of extensive research on “macho dancing,” which crudely translates to male striptease. There was nothing light about it, although it was funny at times–mostly because it was so uncomfortable to watch.

There is, however, much to be said about discomfort in the times when it’s actually necessary. Jocson began her performance by jumping onstage, but that was the only time her feet would actually leave the ground. Through all four songs (something from Ride the Lightning and “Careless Whisper” are all I can remember), Jocson’s body articulated a vocabulary of weight, of heft, of remaining intimidating despite the perpetual observation and consequent objectification that dancing for an audience requires–all the while maintaining the objective of seducing her audience. In doing so, Jocson’s piece manifests how the act of looking shifts once a male body takes the spotlight and begins shedding its clothes.

First, Jocson makes it clear that these aren’t clothes, but armor; and taking us through the steps, she was careful to articulate that when a man disrobes before a crowd, there is nothing passive about it. Despite her classical training (or because of it), we were shown a dance that has no use for pointed feet or delicate caresses. To put the “macho” in “Macho dancing”, one is not entertained, one is assaulted; and every step is a means of taking aim, flexing a limb, or closing a fist, shifting the potential of subservience in the service industries, where even gimps get to wear leather.

What caught my interest though was the legitimating power of staging Philippine Macho Academy in a curated space, and the role of the museum in taking something that exists outside the terms of mainstream society, and putting it on a pedestal. Jocson assigns Macho dancing a vocabulary that translates into a manual, choreographs it, takes it on tour, and finally performs it using bodies that had nothing to do with its genesis. By providing instruction for something “upright” and “respectable”, something citizens should not see and should know nothing about (except as the butt of every joke) Jocson acknowledges the often violent process of taking the invisible framework (the dregs, the illegals) of neoliberal capitalism into the public realm.

Philippine Macho Academy runs at the ground floor and west wing galleries of the Vargas Museum until March 8, 2014.

A Good Man is Hard to Find

He liked his women pretty and young, and as the years passed he seemed to like them younger and younger. Again, this was partly a matter of the times (through the sixties and seventies, girls were routinely becoming sexually active at younger and younger ages) and of the circles within which he moved, whose aging Lotharios enjoyed boasting to each other of their conquests and prized extreme youthfulness as a particularly piquant and exotic delectation. On the other hand, in Polanski’s case, more pronounced urgencies seemed at work as well…Younger girls posed less of a risk of commitment and were less likely themselves to be entertaining any untoward fantasies of parenthood, before the daunting prospect of which Polanski now seemed warier than ever…Finally, though preternaturally youthful himself, he simply felt more at ease with younger women–they were less jaded, had fewer ulterior motives, he could play with them and when not playing he could teach.

Lawrence Weschler, from “The Brat’s Tale: Roman Polanski”, one of Three Polish Survivor Stories in Vermeer in Bosnia: Selected Writings (2005)

And among the crowd that had gathered in fronts of the house, no one intervened. I shouted to those closest to me: “So enter, rescue my mother. In the name of God, I beg of you. Do you want money?…Here, here are ten francs, here are twenty, here are one hundred francs, but go in, I beseech you. … No one will hurt you, it is me he wants…” No one moved. No one.
And then…I heard three deafening shots…I looked at the windows of the house; no one. The miserable man has just killed my mother and my sister, I thought.
So, as if crazed, I made my way into the house with other people. I climbed the stairs and on the first floor I met Luna who had just handed over the revolver to the maid of the villa. He said to me: “Trinidad, you are the cause of all that happened here, you are the cause of everything.”

Trinidad Pardo de Tavera recounting the night Juan Luna murdered Paz Luna y Pardo de Tavera and Juliana Pardo de Tavera y Gorricho, from Ruby Paredes’s essay, “The Pardo de Taveras of Manila,” in An Anarchy of Families, (1995) edited by Alfred W. McCoy

And lastly, here’s a really cheesy looking trailer for a really good movie that shows how ambiguous the terms can get in our attempts to come up with lines of defense and punishment for despicable deeds – Thomas Vinterberg’s Jagten (The Hunt):