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)

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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.

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.

Name, Kind, Application, etc…

Charles Buenconsejo at ArtInformal

image

Opening on 21 April 2016

The images in this series were taken with a small camera, much in the way that everyday life in the 21st century is documented with the smallest of cameras – a literal pinhole into the everything and nothing of the most mundane existence. The lie here—or the contradiction—is to call these documents part of a series.

What Charles Buenconsejo presents instead is a tidal wave of images, or rather an attempt at making sense of the deluge captured through this bizarre (and ongoing) experiment with self-surveillance.

“The pool is a system of movement….”, wrote David Foster Wallace in “Forever Overhead”, a short story in which he narrates (what might be) the internal monologue, running through a young boy’s head. The setting is a public pool in the middle of summer. It is his birthday and he has just turned 13. He is climbing the ladder towards the diving board, steeling himself to submit his body to gravity and make the jump. And yet, in the eleven pages that Foster Wallace uses for the story to unfold, nothing actually happens–at least nothing noteworthy, nothing epic, in the grand tradition of American letters: a boy, accompanied by his family, celebrates his birthday at a public swimming pool. We are told “The pool has a strong clear blue smell.” The ladder is slender. Its rungs are “very thin”. And the water “is only soft when you’re inside it.”

While Buenconsejo rarely raises the subjects of fiction as examples in his work, fiction provides an interesting channel for unpacking the artist’s fascination with the paradox, or the inherent contradictions of merely existing in the information age. Bearing a range of references that runs from Plato to John Berger to Alan Watts, it is all too easy to dismiss Buenconsejo as an artist trapped in and victimized by his own mind—and his attention span. In every solo exhibition, from 2012’s Reality is a Hologram to last year’s Relative Nothing at the Ateneo Art Gallery, the artist presents an exhaustive (and occasionally exhausting) inquiry into a singular metaphysical concept – whether it’s time or light or repetition.

By carefully considering the medium and method of creating his work, Buenconsejo has moved past photography and video and into the more arbitrary categories of mixed, inter, or new media. An example of this would be the video and object installation, Life, Death, and Rebirth, and Just Like A Sea of Mirrors (currently on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Manila as part of The Philippine Contemporary: To Scale the Past and Possible, curated by Patrick Flores and Tessa Maria Guazon). This suite, consisting of two screens and one mound of broken ceramic and glass, swept into a neat circle approximately 2 feet wide, breaks down the process of the work’s creation: showing the actual rooftop where Buenconsejo tossed a shopping spree’s worth of brightly-colored crockery onto the cement floor; followed by what might be the same situation, this time with the scene of the crime washed out and filled in with bright white nothingness; down to the objects that may (or may not) have been compromised in the stylized wreckage.

Asking what it means when life, death, and rebirth move in a single cycle, he magnifies and fragments that moment when an everyday object hits the ground and becomes something else. And while the two videos arguably function as both documentary and data, it is the object itself–voided of its intended use–that points to both the absurdity of “intended use” in a universe where we are all dust. There is also the futility of treating an object with so much care, ascribing so much ritual, in a world where the fragmented and the whole refer to the same thing.

Talking Through Walls

Renz Baluyot and Alee Garibay, Kapitbahay at Art Verite, Taguig, Metro Manila

Along every major thoroughfare in this bustling Metropolis, billboards have been erected announcing the grand plans for residential developments. It should be no coincidence then that by using the term “development” to describe an atmosphere of aspiration, the very idea of living in Metro Manila has been transplanted from the earth to the air. And yet, these massive advertisements also signify a parallel with the changing lifestyles of Metro Manila’s millions of inhabitants, where simply living your life no longer carries the same appeal as watching yourself live. This is evident in the influx of media channels and networks that have become available to the general public, thus reconstituting the entire concept of public space.

The central paradox however lies in the combination of “residential” and “development” – given the rising cost of living in Metro Manila, these billboards serve as reminders of a shifting value system where the terms of dwelling have shifted from necessity to luxury. There should be no question about it: the walls we build speak volumes of the kind of society we wish to create. We are living in an unprecedented era where the proximity brought (or wrought) by equating urban living with vertical housing comes with increased privatization, creating a veritable communion of strangers.

In his series of found objects and oil paintings, Renz Baluyot explores the fragility of exterior surfaces, using rust as both material and subject. Through a series of four found objects and two paintings, Baluyot’s titles act as proposals not to find beauty in decay, but to acknowledge the nature of degradation, or rather, degradation as part of the natural order of things. […]

As a continuing inquiry into the nature of inhabited space, Garibay invokes Thomas Moore’s Re-enchantment of Everyday Life (1996), defining “inhabit” as a “means to give and to receive.” Her renderings of the spaces she moves through in her own life become an act of generosity, showing her own efforts to open herself to receive what both space and place has to offer (Moore 1996). […]

Through these pictures of interior and exterior spaces, Baluyot and Garibay explore similar themes which diverge in their attempts to represent the tensions between outsider status and membership in a community—a tension that relates directly to the environments of otherness being built throughout Metro Manila. In this context, the title kapitbahay becomes crucial to understanding the conflict inherent to this unprecedented period. Compounded from their Malay origins, “kapit” means to cling or attach while “bahay” means house, thus invoking the tensions in dwelling and belonging. Should it be separated instead, the term “kapit-bahay” prompts viewers to consider those who have been rendered strange both despite and because of their attachment; or the fact that our need to belong to a community (no man being an island) still requires us to put up walls .


This is an excerpt from the essay written for the two-man show, Kapitbahay, featuring the works of Rina Lee Garibay and Renz Baluyot. The show will run until April 10, 2015 at Art Verite, Taguig, MM.