Shooting to Kill

Jel Suarez, Never Missed/Never Will
June 3 at Underground
2/L Makati Cinema Square
2130 Chino Roces Ave.
Makati MM

The visuality of a political regime is typically at its most striking in journalism, whether in state-sanctioned reportage, or mainstream media coverage. Among the images that have found their way into a nation’s consciousness, we find a young woman mourning the death of her partner, weeping while cradling his broken body, children squatting candidly around the candles where a relative had fallen; here is a bloodied altar in a home said to have been raided by plainclothes policemen; here are more policemen doing push-ups as their Chief looks on, appearing to berate them; here is a Christmas party at the mall, held for children who had lost their parents in the ongoing war.

Hanging over all of this is a closed fist – iconic of the promise for change that continues to resonate with the millions who maintain their own promise of unwavering support, amidst the gunshots and the rising death toll.

Photo from the US Embassy protest dispersal, from GMAnews.tv

These images come to us—viewers and citizens—in fragments, often attached to headlines that fail to capture the reality on the ground: “the ground” often feeling like another country altogether, a dystopia far removed from the absurdity coming at us through social media. That everyone has a camera and an internet connection these days fulfils a steady demand for something new to look at, whether out of habit or out of indifference: the friend making dinner, another friend’s winged eyeliner, flatlays made to look as if they were taken in someone’s impeccably clean home, and more art, always more art.

Then in this steady stream of the inane and mundane, one image somehow rises to the surface. It is a foot.

via Louie Cordero

It is not even a photo but a detail from a photo: the foot is zoomed-in and scaled-up to fully occupy a heavily pixelated square. A foot trapped under a tire, flexed, tense, probably numb from the excruciating pain of being crushed beneath a van driven by one officer Franklin Kho. A foot – dismembered several times over, first beneath the crushing weight of Kho’s vehicle, then removed from its context, captured digitally, edited onscreen, then posted online where it is subjected to the malleability of individual opinions.

Collage, as a medium and method that borrows freely, often with irreverence and good humor, finds a natural fit in this layered act of dismemberment that has come to define how we interpret information in the age of Post-Truth – resulting in a confusing visual language made universal through the collapse of time and space made possible by globalization.

Collage succinctly describes how living in the Age of Information has altered not only what, but how, the eye sees; in which acts of dismemberment illuminate the dangers of allowing violence to go the way of banality, pointing out our complicity not only as viewers, but as consumers of this violence. Cutting and pasting traces outlines of the carnage, while taking care not to make a spectacle of the pain of others; asking instead, in times like these, what is art supposed to achieve?

In Never Missed/Never Will, Jel Suarez confronts how the injustice we often see online, becomes reduced to the mundane: “Never missed” referring to the recent waves of state-sanctioned murder that, in their ubiquity, now barely merit a reaction. By rearranging what we are used to seeing, or what we expect to see, Suarez’s collages turn an aesthetic gesture into a critical method, foregrounding what we lost when our capacity to express outrage became reduced to mere icons.


Jel Suarez (b. 1990) is a visual artist born and based in Manila, PH. Her craft is in the practice of collage, intricately cutting catalogs of old masterpieces, as well as contemporary exhibition catalogs. A fascination with draperies and structures allows her to explore collage as another form of painting, in an attempt to produce alternate ideas, narratives, and landscapes. (paraphrased from Suarez’s profile written by Syar S. Alia on http://rimbundahan.org/jel-suarez)

Advertisements

On the Naming of Parts Unknown

“Blood Moon” from Moon Cycle series, serigraph, edition of 4, 30″x10″

Alex Cu UnJieng, Jouissance
20 April 2017 at Hiraya Gallery
Makati Shangri-La Mezzanine Level
Makati, MM

It’s a flower, a hoo-hah, a woo-woo, a purse, a pussy, a pocket. Rarely will we have the gall to say the word out loud. Young women in particular are taught to call it by any other name, anything but what it actually is: a vagina.
By calling attention to this signifier of the abject – of both birth and blood, creation and destruction, and violence, always violence, Vancouver-based printmaker Alex Cu Unjieng raises the multiple ways that the vagina is interpreted in polite society. For this, the title Jouissance makes a fitting entry point (no pun intended) to expand the conversation, transcending the abjection so commonly and conventionally linked to female genitalia.

Like abjection, jouissance is exhaustively discussed in the writings of feminist philosopher Julia Kristeva, whose portrait appears in this exhibition. The word however does not directly translate: Jouissance is joy and pleasure, but it is also, among other things, shock and hysteria. Jouissance describes a lack of control and the streams of consciousness that make new ways of thinking possible—not only about body parts, but about femininity in general. It is always about transgression.

Surrounding her audience with these vaginas, Cu Unjieng gives both a name and face to that which has been hidden, condemned, and policed, but in its own way, celebrated. Through this celebration of parts unknown, Cu Unjieng invites us to go beyond looking, beyond seeing, and towards the act of occupying the image with good humor and affection.

For this, her chosen medium is crucial to extending the invitation to the vagina party. Print, after all, is meant for public discourse, one that encourages repetition and mass distribution. Paper is meant to be touched and turned in one’s hands; in the most classical, romantic sense, it is through paper that ideas are transported. With Jouissance, Cu Unjieng makes space for parts to become participatory.


The art practice of Alex Cu Unjieng draws heavily from the intersections of being a woman and an immigrant, creating work that expresses a constant negotiation of identity. Cu Unjieng received her BFA in Visual Arts with a minor in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia. For Jouissance, her first solo in Manila, she combines printmaking techniques with watercolour and illustration.

Dedication

For Norma Crisologo Liongoren

To say Norma Crisologo Liongoren was dedicated is an understatement. On top of the curatorial work she had been doing since 1981 at the Liongoren Gallery in Cubao, Quezon City, Liongoren practiced social research, and community organizing and development, while nurturing and supporting the careers of countless visual and performance artists.

Born on September 22, 1946 in Lingayen, Pangasinan, Norma Crisologo, or Nong as she was called by those closest to her, studied nursing at the University of the Philippines in Manila, where she first encountered Alfredo Liongoren, who was then the Art Director of the Philippine Collegian. After marrying the artist, Nong’s nursing degree took her to Davao, where she practiced an art of caring that became vital to her curatorial endeavors.

To call her dedication an understatement however feels cliche, especially in a field known for thankless jobs and inflated egos, where one is expected to work for love and getting paid in exposure. Nong knew all of this, yet she labored quietly but relentlessly, joining both mainstream events known for spectacle (and speculation)–such as Art Fair Philippines–while opening her own often community-based efforts in the confines of the gallery where she also made her home.

Cultural work, especially in the highly-specialized, highly-competitive field of fine art, often utilizes a small, skilled staff, and Nong was no stranger to this fact that many museums employed fewer than a dozen to hang, market, guard, explain, and ultimately conserve works of art – making space not only for beauty, in all its subjectivity, but the often contrasting ideas that accompany this very subjectivity. Nong knew all of this, and made sure to treat those around her not simply as workers, but as friends and family. These ideas fueled a relentless drive to make something or somewhere more than a gallery, with so much to be said for what she actually made space for in the house on New York St.

“She adopted a whole family,” shared her daughter, Hannah, of the people running the Liongoren Gallery’s day-to-day affairs. On top of that, studio space in the compound also served as temporary shelter for those displaced by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, when as many as twelve families took refuge within those walls.

“Ma never had a problem in her mind about opening her doors to people,” continued Hannah, “Up to the very end, my mom stubbornly worked and fleshed out her beliefs. Her lifetime couldn’t catch up.”

And from the beginning, ahead of her time, she clearly understood that a gallery was meant to make space for the better world imagined through art. Art, Liongoren understood, expressed in form and concept the potential to spark revolutions; more importantly, and beyond Art with a capital A, she understood the limits of the gallery space. For cultural work to mean anything, Liongoren knew that culture was about people, and the most meaningful events took place when relationships were formed.

Published in the Nov-Dec 2016 issue of Art+ magazine, in loving memory of Norma Crisologo Liongoren.

Beyond Autobiography

Alee Garibay’s As It Is…

In the years since I began writing about the painting practice of Alee Garibay, her work has drastically shifted from the abstract to the unmistakably concrete and personal, with this show as no exception; yet, the same cannot be said for the horizon of her concerns, which continue to grasp for the universal. The layer of text that has become characteristic of her paintings is noticeably absent from this series – perhaps rendered superfluous by the scale and intricacy with which she attempts to recover the coherence of a life that could so easily be dismissed as random or accidental.

With As It Is…, Garibay reframes the everyday, reclaiming the banality that allows it to be swept aside or cast off. The work documents a brief period of perpetual motion, living between home and studio or hosted by old friends. Ironically, this “semi-nomadic” lifestyle also allowed her to more closely observe the personal as well as the general conditions of domestic space–or a lack thereof. Movement is crucial to the work, in that the series narrates a period in Garibay’s life wherein home was not necessarily a place, but a verb.

This is often joked about as a symptom of “trying to find oneself” – a state bearing the same damning diagnosis of narcissism that this generation has become accustomed to; but what we can choose to see instead upon peering into these works is a recovery of the poetics of noticing – or The Everyday (2). The very phrase As It Is… references this political and artistic movement originating from the 1960’s avant-garde, one that involved “the embrace of the ordinary” and “a lyrical appreciation of the small, simple, and ephemeral things in life…” The aimlessness and “deliberate strategy of boredom” evident in the aesthetics of The Everyday, however, are contradicted by Garibay when asked about how she portrays the subject.

“There’s an impetus for clarity and form, for ‘refining’ the concept of self,” she explains. Indeed, the spaces that turn up in this series are intimate, recalled photographically yet hazy with nostalgia. There is a voyeuristic quality in the (re-)composition and recollection of the rooms and unmade beds that have thus far prevented Garibay from drifting off into full-blown aimlessness. Her titles as well testify to an acknowledgement that these states are fleeting but necessary, as in Overnight or Abang (tr. “to wait”); and despite the time spent or lost, they may be for the better, as in Sanktwaryo (sanctuary) or Pahinga (tr. “to rest”)(1). The figures in Bantay and Paanyaya elevate the series to a spiritual level, implying how every act of exploration or self-care is also a matter of acting upon faith.

In “Clearing the Ground” (1961), Henri Lefebvre wrote that “it is in everyday life and starting from everyday life that genuine creations are achieved, those creations which produce the human and which men produce as part of the process of becoming human: works of creativity (3).” Through painting, As It Is… moves beyond autobiography, offering a deliberate and meditative observation of what has otherwise been rendered invisible by ubiquity. By re-stating and reclaiming a slice of life “As it is,” we are thus invited to look harder.

______
(1) Note: This is not Garibay’s first time to intimately render domestic space; the subject was integral to her contribution to Kapitbahay – a two-man show with Renz Baluyot, also shown at Art Verite.

(2) Sally Banes (1993). “Equality Celebrates the Ordinary,” in Documents of Contemporary Art: The Everyday, edited by Stephen Johnstone. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. p. 114.

(3) Henri Lefebvre (1961). “Clearing the Ground” in Documents of Contemporary Art: The Everyday, edited by Stephen Johnstone. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. p. 31.

Line By Line

Marc Gaba goes beyond the visual

wp-1461770817796.jpeg

Marc Gaba, Vault, 2016, oil on canvas, 65 x 80 in.;

There is an exuberance to Marc Gaba’s use of color, a buoyancy that almost contradicts the discipline of each stroke, each stripe on the canvas. Using a palette knife to apply the paint, one can imagine the amount of care that went into the seven paintings that make up Days of Creation – a visualization of first chapter in the Book of Genesis, which was exhibited at Galeria Duemila from April 8 to May 30.

And yet, color is not the first thing that comes to mind when speaking of Gaba’s work–at least not when confronted with One, an oil on canvas measuring 80 x 65 in. which opens this series. A bright white orb floating in a sea of darkness, One represents the calm command to let there be light, signifying not only the dawn of time, but the separation between the visible and the unseen. For Gaba, it could also be “a ball of yarn, suggesting ‘the beginning of the spin,” or–in jest–“the white-haired vagina of a very old African woman,” suggesting perhaps the cradle of civilization?

Kidding aside, Gaba pointed out that despite telling a story of contrasts, the color black was not used in this rendering of the first day–nor does it appear anywhere on the palette used to paint the Days of Creation. By using very deep browns instead of black, Gaba meant to evoke that “if to be human was to be of the earth, then the act of God creating man can be derived from the same idea.”

And it was good and thus, Gaba asserts, through this seemingly inconsequential choice of colors, that the book of Genesis is a story not only of how God made a world of differences (between night and day, between sky and sea), but an ongoing narrative of humanity’s place on earth. This affirms Gaba’s belief that true power is not about spectacle and grandeur, but can be found in the calm, gentle rhythm of shared responsibility, as seen in Kingdom – a wall-bound installation showing 139 photocopies of the artist’s hands.

Beyond showing how we got here, the creation myth he renders is about presence: where the Days of Creation take place not in a largely constructed past, but in a future that continues to take shape in the now. It thus becomes no wonder that Gaba’s paintings–especially his more recent works–are so large, demanding an awareness of their countenance and a need to step back in order to be viewed in their entirety.

“I am acutely sensitive to scale,” says Gaba, a statement affirmed by New Condition (2014), created for a group exhibition at the Vargas Museum entitled, Still. From afar, New Condition depicted an aerial view of Tacloban in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda. It measured approximately six by seven meters “in order to capture a disaster that was larger than all of us.” Up close however, the work becomes a collection of crowdsourced responses to “what, in the context of climate change, do you love without apology?” Applied in varying shades of grey and blue, the words on the canvas act as “a tendered primer for environmentalism,” honest answers to what makes existence worthwhile, amidst crisis and destruction.

The smaller works in Days of Creation measure 60 by 80 inches (or five by six-and-a-half feet); the other pieces are not much larger, at 65 by 80. Like the small moments that are revealed in New Condition, what appear to be lines on canvas become layers and textures and an entire spectrum of color that is barely perceptible from afar–let alone on a screen or a page, which is a typical problem for painters. Gaba’s insistence on the experiential nature of his work links him to the legacy of abstract minimalists, such as Agnes Martin, who painted details so precise and so exquisite, that they made her work difficult to photograph and just as impossible to document.

Rather than rely on documentation, Gaba asserts the need to “experience painting.” To this, the use of lines in his painting practice can be described as both strategic and conceptual – a means of describing the process and tracking the work’s unseen dimensions, where lines denote the strokes and textures that come with the application of paint, as well as their trajectories. To Gaba, the line is both a means of representation and a means of thinking about painting.”My work is about space, about what lines produce.”

“What lines produce” may also refer to Gaba’s writing. A published poet, Gaba has a way with words that skillfully articulates his formation as an artist working across several disciplines. “The work that I was doing in poetry very much resembled visual art,” he says. “I spent a lot of time staring at the words…so when people say I was a poet and now I’m a painter, that comment tends to overlook the fact that my poetry was a very visual practice.”

To this, Gaba cites the influence of Mark Lombardi, who gained some notoriety in the early 2000s for his graphs and maps which drew links between global finance and international terrorism. Lombardi referred to these works as “narrative structures”, and in a similar manner, but completely different method, Gaba combines the visual and the verbal in his work. It is in his combination of media and disciplines that one finds an insistence on the visuality of poetry and on painting as a literary medium, as well as a working definition of what it means to practice abstract art.

Through abstraction, in what is arguably his most accessible work, Gaba goes beyond using painting to illustrate and interpret the word of God. Here, painting is also a method of inquiry and an ongoing, open-ended exercise, hence Days of Creation. In the white cube of Galeria Duemila, the exhibition consists not only of a suite that signifies a week’s worth of work (at least that’s what it was in the hands of God; the series itself took Gaba months to complete), but is completed by installation and sculptural pieces.

Affirming this need to go beyond the visual, the viewer’s hands are required to complete the Future Shape of the World, a sculpture composed of a mirrored pedestal that houses a soft lump of black clay which one can play with–shape, if you will–by reaching through a round opening on one side, covered by black garters. Through Future Shape…, Gaba composes an exercise in contradictions: here is a vitrine one can look into without actually seeing its contents, in a space and a module that demand the performance of reverence while requiring the viewer to reach in and touch what has been deliberately concealed. These are elegantly rounded out by Future Shape being, after all, a malleable object.

“The world is an unfinished work of creation,” wrote Gaba in his statement on this latest series, “and as long as we exist, we are still creating the world.” The choice of the pronoun “We” refers just as much to how reaching in to touch, feel, and manipulate the Future Shape of the World requires not only faith in what we create, but how–amidst this ongoing act of creation–the self remains the only thing we can clearly perceive and deliberately shape, so that we may live on this earth among others.

_________
This is an unedited  version of a feature written for Art+. At the time of writing, the visual artist Marc Gaba was getting ready to open an exhibition on the Book of Genesis entitled Days of Creation at the Galeria Duemila. The show will run until May 30. Galeria Duemila is located at 210 Loring Street, Pasay City, Metro Manila.