Figure Studies

Paul Pfeiffer, Vitruvian Figure at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Malate, Manila

“Morning After the Deluge”, Paul Pfeiffer (2003), video still retrieved from (

What follows is an unedited excerpt from an article I wrote about Paul Pfeiffer for the March 2015 issue of Rogue Magazine. Paul Pfeiffer’s Vitruvian Figure, runs at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design at the College of St. Benilde, SDA Campus, until April 16, 2015.

At the opening of Paul Pfeiffer’s first solo in the region, guests were invited to bask in the countenance of nature, perhaps as a respite from the chaos of Taft Avenue, one of the Metropolis’s oldest thoroughfares. Nature, in the form of 24 Landscapes (2000-2008), was the first thing visitors saw upon entering the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, at the opening reception held on February 6. Hanging in a grid on the 20-foot wall by the entrance to the MCAD, Pfeiffer’s juxtaposition of detailed shots of the tiniest pebbles with expansive shorelines invokes awe, suggesting a higher power to oversee this meaningful coexistence.

To those familiar with Pfeiffer’s work, this invitation and interpretation could be seen as a potentially humiliating misreading of the artist’s work. Yet, it is not without a point. What appear to be photographs were rendered without Pfeiffer ever getting behind a camera, rather 24 Landscapes is a series of photos of Marilyn Monroe, or photos that once had Marilyn Monroe front and center. Having erased the iconic figure, Pfeiffer is not only left with a massive gap in which to re-imagine the titular landscapes, allowing him to characterize the work not only as “camouflage” but as a form of abstract painting. As a consequence, what appear to be images of the natural world are actually products of pop culture, a means not only of using the archival image as a canvas for contemporary concerns, but of blurring the boundaries between what occurs naturally and what is made by hand.

Bearing this knowledge of the subject erased, one wonders how it is possible that an image of such calm can bear such a tragic history. Then again, is this not true for all our icons? For all those we consider worth celebrating, there comes the tragedy of humanity erased, and it is this idea of the iconic that binds the seven pieces exhibited at Vitruvian Figure – the centrepiece of which is a sun that neither sets nor rises, shifting one’s attention to the ground as it moves above and below it (Morning After the Deluge, 2003). Much has been written of Pfeiffer’s reference to William Turner, yet taken in the context of this exhibition, the image recalls Guy Debord’s description of the spectacle as “the sun that never sets on the empire of modern passivity.” […]


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.