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

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