No Pictures (Didn’t Happen)

Really Short Notes on Things I Recently Saw

Paloma Polo, via Galeria Umberto di Marino

Paloma Polo, Hold Everything Dear (2014)

Ishmael Bernal Gallery, UP Diliman, Quezon City

Whenever I try to talk about the problem with buying artwork based on how it makes you “feel” (or the general problem of buying and selling art), I’m usually met with “But isn’t that how it should be?” Which has become something of a conversation-ender, because who said anything about the shoulds and should-nots. Anyway, here it is now, the job(s) I signed up for and the questions I’ll always be turning into unnecessary problems – such as the problem of all art being quite useless (Oscar Wilde). Then again, if I make it a problem, does that count as being of use? Haha?

There’s a small exhibit ongoing until the end of the month at the lobby of the UP Film Center, on the less popular side facing the lagoon. Here, Polo takes the materials of local knowledge, plant remedies (folk medicine?), photographs them, then renders them as highly stylized product shots of fossils. I start with this because I helped out a bit with finding a printer for these photos, and each time someone had an opinion about how the image was made, asking if they were wood carvings or engravings, or just really funky plants.

I guess it’s just apt to begin talking about what art does within communities, to audiences, to markets, by looking at Polo’s renditions of knowledge and remedy as it fossilizes and is, in the sense of modern industry, of scientism rather than science, rendered quite useless.

Poklong Anading, Road to Mountains (2015)

Art Fair Philippines, The Link, Makati

There is something sobering embedded in the playfulness of Poklong Anading’s installation at this year’s Art Fair, in which a mound of flattened tires were cut open and laid flat across a section of the 7th floor exhibition halls. The choice of material shows a clever engagement with the site, working within rather than in spite of the Art Fair being held at a parking garage. I happened to chance upon Road to Mountains being used as a trampoline, and like most work filed under the legacy of the ready-made, Anading’s work bears the aura of a practical joke.

Yet, there is that other dimension to the work, found in the accompanying video showing glimpses of what one sees while in transit, illustrating the lapses in our memory of getting from here to there, of the nuances between trying to remember and forcing oneself to forget. While recycled tires in this case find a new purpose as a plaything or an obstacle course, they also speak of endings, of grief, and of the conclusiveness of reducing the materials of mobility to a useless heap of industrial waste. Driving home that night with the windows down, I could hear my car’s tires on the road, the squeaking of treads gripping asphalt, and recalled the optimism of jumping on a pile of tires, of lifting off that which is meant to ground us.

Paul Pfeiffer, 24 Landscapes(2000-2008)

Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Malate, Manila

The twenty-foot-high walls of the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design are fully utilized in Pfeiffer’s first solo in the region. On its own, the image of a landscape barely warrants any notice, fully exhausted. Yes, we get it, our eyes need a break from this blighted urbanity–yet these are no ordinary landscapes. There’s something in the touch Pfeiffer lends to the subject that rekindles one’s belief in something larger than oneself, but there’s also the specter of his past work, which deals with iconography, erasure, and what he calls “camouflage” as a way of abstraction. To the uninitiated viewer though, taking in the views side by side is a humbling reminder of coexistence, whether you’re looking at a pebble or a cliff, a puddle or a shoreline.

Louie Cordero, Warslime (2015)

Blanc Gallery, Katipunan Ext., Quezon City

I’m guilty of being fully incapable of talking about Louie Cordero’s work without bringing up color, which was the primary reason it ever resonated with me – having grown up in Quezon City: SSS Vill Jeepneys, hand-painted billboards, vinyl stickers on everything, etc. I even see his comic, Nardong Tae, in color. Without the usual pinks and ochres, something is lost in the capital-E Expressionistic tendencies of the work – work that looks like candy but tastes like bile.

When I was starting out with this art writing/writing about art and artists thing, the first question I asked was “What’s your favorite color?” If interpretations of artwork commonly involve matters of self-expression, there is more to be said of the intricacy and fussiness of Cordero’s brushwork that creates a surface that is almost perfectly flat without compromising depth. It looks more like print than like painting. So what impression does Warslime leave? It looks like cigarette ash and smoke.

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

This House is Open but You’ll Have to See It My Way

Louie Cordero at Open House, The 3rd Singapore Biennale

Search for Louie Cordero online and you won’t find a lot of pictures of Cordero himself; instead, you will be inundated with choice cuts from a body of work done over the span of nearly ten years, with a range running from the sequential to the sculptural. Setting aside a prolific career, Cordero is personable without the persona. He laughs easily and speaks in what could be described as a warm deadpan. He has most of his epiphanies while biking, and his favorite color is yellow ochre, because not only is it “the color of s**t, right?”, but a transition towards sepia: setting the tone for nostalgia and sentimentality for a fading past, which figures into Cordero’s work just as heavily as the scatological humor and fluorescent hues for which he’s known.

From his studio in Cubao, Quezon City (a former comic book publishing house) he has done album covers for The Sleepyheads and Radioactive Sago Project. He is also behind Nardong Tae (Nardo the S**t), a series of four photocopied comic books (with a fifth one on the way) about an anthropomorphic turd fighting for justice in a world submerged in the metaphorical crapper. Locally, Cordero identifies his audience as “young, daming bata,” the types who would find humor in his work before anything else; but one can just as easily enter the Cordero canon through, in his words the “very regal” gallery setting, with shows such as Sacred Bones (2010) and Absolute Horror (2008). “The reason why I work and I still do what I’m doing is because,” after a pause, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” He continues with a laugh, “But I don’t need to explain myself in a literary or academic form, because this comes off to me as a more interesting way to show what I want to do and say what I have to say.”
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