An Inevitable

MALYN BONAYOG: Inevitable Presences

 

            “Old houses, I thought, do not belong to people ever not really, people belong to them.” That’s how homeowner Gladys Taber reminisced about her family’s old house. But whether the old house is a family property, or an old house that one remembers from one’s past, that old crumbling abode sends out emotional resonances that affect us, summoning unbidden feelings and thoughts about the past, and by implication, about the present and the future. Thus it is for artist Malyn Bonayog, whose exhibition of works devoted to old habitation is on view at the Galerie Anna.

An integral part of the artist’s memory is of her grandmother, her lola, whose narrations of the lives of people who once lived in old houses in their hometown Gapan, in Nueva Ecija, that have taken  grip on a child’s imagination. And the bittersweet, ironic aspect of the memory is that Malyn’s grandmother will, soon enough, leave her for the afterlife, thus in effect, finally joining the others who have gone ahead of her. Such memories have galvanized the artist into giving visual life to those precious memories, and if the cruel inroads of relentless urbanization have caused those old houses to disappear, then the artworks that have provoked them into existence might as well bring them back to life again.

While other artists have also been fascinated by these old structures, what differentiates Malyn’s renditions are the insights that emerge from her contemplations. She has gone beyond the rudimentary need for architectural documentation, surely a worthy cause in itself, but her painting activity is also her emotional and personal projection into her own past, her own vanished childhood, and as it was with her grandmother’ demise, the artist’s own future departure from this world. Malyn’s artworks bind her into a space and time that is one mysterious continuum, where past, present and future is a transfiguration, and not a redundancy, of one and the other. Where each one intersects the other, is where the artist is most present.

But expect no nostalgic blues in Malyn’s visions of these old houses. It is true: what another homeowner, Grace King, remarked of her own experience – “We wander through old streets, and pause before the age-stricken houses, and strange to say, the magic past lights them up.” For Malyn, lighting up the past is better contrasted and enhanced by the sensibilities of the present, cast within the interior space created by the visual utilities at the service of the artist, such graphic and compositional devices as stripes and bands and zigzags, high tonal contrast and printing technology. They invest currents of motion and activity upon the unnerving stillness of these provincial streets and landscapes, as witness those jangly electric wires hanging awry, like rude behavior in the presence of these stoic and dignified old houses.

Inevitable is the past being swept by the present, at the very moment the future thrusts itself into our existence.

JOSUE MANGROBANG, JR.: Inevitable Secrets

 

                The Hungarian artist named Christo, together with his wife Jeanne-Claude, made a big splash in the art world in the Seventies, with a single daring act: wrapping. With that one gesture – wrapping the most ordinary, commonplace and familiar objects, such as a telephone, a pedestal, an armchair, magazines, champagnes bottles – with fabric or polyethylene, they invested these workaday objects that we all simply ignore, with mystery and intrigue, drama and suspense, cloaking them in the viewer’s mind, with qualities and attributes that they otherwise would not have provoked into existence. Christo and Jeanne-Claude went one step beyond Marcel Duchamp, who introduced the concept of the “ready-made.” With one magisterial decision, Duchamp had chosen functional, utilitarian objects such as a bottle rack, a urinal, a shovel, a window pane, and proclaimed them to be art.

                Closer to home, Filipino artist Josue Mangrobang, in his own revelatory way, introduces the concept, not of wrapping, but of its reversal: unwrapping. The medium, however, is not sculptural, but in the two-dimensional, a visual image on canvas. The material which he uses illustratively is not fabric or polyethylene, but paper. To be sure, there are significations inherent in Mangrobang’s choice of material. But first, what are the implications of the gesture of unwrapping? Indeed, one must precede from a wrapped state, a hidden and concealed situation, suggestive of secrecy and denial of transparency. The intent is to abolish the truth of a certain reality, to disconnect the sight from the object of its search, to mystify what has been so ostentatiously displayed. Unwrapping has been so associated with Mangrobang since he participated in prestigious national art competitions and gaining the attention of critics and the jury. Moreover, the presence of children in his works, wrapped then in ruled paper pad, has taken on the specter of allegory, instruments of messages that may be at first be too lofty for their young, innocent minds, though, indeed, these children are tragically and ironically the first victims.

                Thus, in this show, we witness a series of works titled “Children Petition To Global Warming.” The poignancy and sorrow that resonate from these images cannot be overestimated. Their past, present and future are inextricably subsumed by a disaster of global proportion, when in fact the fate of humanity teeters on the balance, and when the thought of human extinction is not just a possibility but a looming probability. Using paper as their medium and material of communication, a material that can be literally soaked into extinction, these children, half-comprehending the gravity of the situation, are petitioning for their lives and for the necessity of world leaders to save the planet with extreme urgency. A powerful message has already been sent through the world’s television screens: Nature does not need people. People need nature.

Likening himself to a writer, unveiling the truth about our present reality, Mangrobang must perforce convey his message in the most direct and vital manner, delivering a warning through a material that literally and symbolically stand for a ravaged world. He has started to use panels of old wood, reminders of nature that has been destroyed by man. Thus, these pieces of wood have become sacrosanct relics that must bear the burden of uncovered secrets, ultimately unwrapping and unveiling the reality that man is truly the murderous assassin of his own world. We may be seeing the last of the paper that is Mangrobang’s symbol, frail issue from the tree that has been brutally felled.

 

Abstraction: Essence of the Real

                Abstract art is defined as “an art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colors, and texture.” It was the invention of photography in the 19th century which had brought reality to its highest and truest state of verisimilitude. Thus, in the early years of the 20th century, artists from various nationalities arrived, independently of each other, at the notion of an art of complete abstraction. Among these are the Russian Wassily Kandinsky, the Dutchman Piet Mondrian, the Frenchman Robert Delaunay, and still another Russian, Kazimir Malevich, who, with his so-called “Suprematist compositions”  liberated art “from the useless weight of the object,” proclaiming the “supremacy of pure feeling and perception.” Interior or spiritual reality is what counts most. As Kandinsky declared: “The harmony of color and form is solely based upon the principles of the proper contact with the human soul.”

                Of course, in other more ancient cultures, abstraction has existed, as seen in Chinese and Muslim calligraphy, where the depiction of the human form, is forbidden. Despite not understanding the meaning of their calligraphy, we can still enjoy the beauty and elegance of their lines and forms.

                In Philippine art, the pioneering abstractionists emerged in the 1950s from the so-called Neo-Realists, namely Hernando Ocampo, Vicente Manansala, Cesar Legaspi, Romeo Tabuena, Victor Oteyza, and Ramon Estella. In their search for an alternative reality, away from the defined and constricted world of Fernando Amorsolo, they searched instead for meaningful or significant forms, which led to the fragmentation of familiar and traditional representational forms. In consequence, their works manifested partial or complete abstraction. After them came another generation of abstractionists, in the persons of Arturo Luz, Jose Joya, Constancio Bernardo, Nena Saguil, Rosario Bitanga, Lee Aguinaldo, and J. Elizalde-Navarro.

                All these pioneering exemplars of Philippine abstraction have been inspirational to the succeeding waves of younger generations active in the vibrant art scene of today. In presenting “Abstraction: Essence of the Real,” Galerie Anna celebrates the visionary power of abstraction – of the emotive and aesthetic values of form and line, light and color, space and textural, relationships - to explore other dimensions of reality, beyond what the physical eye can see.

The Devil is in the Detail

MICHELLE HOLLANES LUA: The Devil is in the Detail

By Cid Reyes 

The Feminist art movement has never seemed more strident and aggressive in recent years for a 

simple reason that the issues that it raises have never been resolved, paid attention to, or wrought the 

changes  that it was meant to effect. The decibels of protest have risen more vociferously and, more 

significantly, in parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, where women have never been treated as 

equals of men. This world-wide phenomenon, which has brought to the fore the erstwhile controversial 

subjects of violence against women, domestic life as a form of modern day slavery, and respect of the 

female body away from the male gaze, is regarded as “the most influential,  international movement of 

any during the postwar period.” 

To be sure, we have seen exhibitions of feminist art hereabouts, instigated and inspired by the 

likes, for instance, of Julie Lluch, Agnes Arellano, and Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, and Pacita Abad, first rate 

artists all, and yes, whose works equal those  of men. 

Currently on view at Galerie Anna are the works of Michelle Hollanes Lua in a show titled “The 

Devil is in the Detail.” It is, of course, a twist of the familiar statement “God is in the details”, whose 

origin is unknown but was once attributed to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, more famous 

for his “God is dead.” Lua has described herself as a “scavenger artist,” indeed a graphic word that 

brings to mind the materials used by the movement “Arte Povera,” the Italian phrase for “Poor Art” or 

art that makes use of discarded and rejected materials, stuff from the refuse heaps, relics of poverty. 

Lua’s materials, however, have been drawn from a life that devolves from the world of vanity and 

superficial perfection, the obsessive pursuit of youth and beauty, an absorption with style and fashion, 

on which the American critic Arthur Danto once made a judgment, thus: For conservatives, who idealize 

good breeding in all things (code word, quality), fashion represents the ungrounded vulgar presumption 

of the arriviste.” In her Artist’s Statement, Lua brings up such designer labels as :ouis Vuitton, Chanel, 

Versace Gucci, Esquire, and Zara. Fashion is an aesthetic world unto itself. When Lua shares that through 

time she has collected “fancy diamonds from hundreds of broken shoes, belts, bags,” one thinks of a 

compulsiveness that carries more significance than meets the eye. 

But her other materials such as aluminum, brass and stones are quite the accepted objects in 

traditional assemblage. It is the subject, however, of aesthetic surgery that has been invested with a 

gruesome starknesss in the work ‘Retokada.” The vernacular title suggests all the physical pain, despite 

anesthesia, that a woman is willing to undergo in order to maintain or force her body to conform to 

what is regarded as the accepted standard of beauty. Indeed, vanity is itself a form of self-flagellation. 

Lua’s work has a brutish, startling beauty, a three-dimensional cross between an anatomy book and a 

mad scientist’s nightmare, where bone, flesh, sinew and blood turn into the grisly car wreck deserted in 

a roadside accident. Here the devil of vanity has interwoven itself between the bleeding wounds and 

hanging sutures. For this particular viewer, this work has the power and shock one felt when first seeing 

the iconic work of Cajipe-Endaya’s “The Wife is a DH”, which is an assemblage of a Filipina whose body 

was a suitcase with a leg stepping on a coconut husk. Our very homes in fact host modern day slavery. 

The work “The Four Ages of Women” is an overwrought horizontal frieze, where the visages of 

women, each alone unto herself, emerge as if from a fourth-dimensional wall, festooned with all 

manner of dripping frills and decorative shreds, shrouded with stark, unmitigated grayness, a chromatic 

amniotic fluid from which our own mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters swim into life determined by 

biological fate. The artist speaks through her work, confronting her own pain. 

In Michelle Hollanes Lua’s feminist art, we find access into the innermost psychic passages of 

self-love. From birth to death, women have been incessantly bullied by societal expectations. Ah, frailty, 

truly thy name is Woman.

Residual Felicity

Jericho Valjusto Vamenta: Residual Felicity

 

One is fortunate to have seen the first two solo exhibitions of Jericho Valjusto Vamenta, and the 

experience allows one, as an observer, to track down the ways the artist engages his mind, sensibility 

and techniques, according to the impelling needs of his chosen themes. There was a show where his 

images focused on a Falling Man, which personified, obviously enough, man’s fall from grace. Or  

wealth. Or, most seductively, power. Thus falling, it looked as if the figure were floating in space, 

delivered from the laws of gravity, floating in space, in an existential vacuum. 

One remembers, more affectingly, his images of women, for Vamenta has a marvelous way of 

depicting women who seem otherworldly, and whose presence emerges in his imagination not in the 

way we see them in actual reality, but in the stirring way that conflates romanticism and surrealism. 

Ordinary scenes, with table still lifes, were presided over by these graces, elegant hostesses with their 

spectral apparitions, heightening our suspicion that these figures were no more flesh and blood than the 

cold, glacial vessels bearing wine, fruit and bread. Even in prosaic activities, like bicycling or waiting by 

the window, his women look as if they were in an unremitting state of combustion, ready to vanish, 

evaporate in an instant. 

On view at the Galerie Anna is Vamenta’s third solo show, titled “Residual Felicity,” an 

unexpected conflation of terms whose meanings remain teetering by turns at the edge of 

incomprehension and illumination. In his “Artist’s Statement,” Vamenta distinctly makes mention of 

Appropriation, which is “the taking over, into a work of art, of a real object, or even an existing work of 

art.” Indeed, appropriation has proved itself to be controversial approach to artmaking, dredging as it 

does issues of originality and ownership of visual ideas. To be sure, such public and universal images as 

the Mona Lisa and Mickey Mouse, are so widely known, that barring copyright protection, the matter of 

plagiarism is simply out of the question. Such images have become public property and part and parcel 

of popular culture and consciousness. 

By its very title alone, Vamenta’s “Madonna on the Rocks” is a homage to Da Vinci’s “Virgin of 

the Rocks.” The intentional, or perhaps unwitting shift of prepositions, engenders a different reading of 

Vamenta’s “take” on the Renaissance painting. “On the rocks,” is of course a phrase known to every 

scotch drinker. Is Vamenta’s Madonna imbibing the wrong kind of spirit? The tantalizing thought is 

irreverently irresistible. Furthermore, there seems nothing reverential in the way this Madonna has 

been depicted, with her strangely kicking up her heels, her long black tresses whipped up by the winds. 

Another work appropriated from an Old Master painting is titled “Madonna with Cat.” Why has 

the feline creature replaced the Divine Infant in the Madonna’s affection? One then realizes that in the 

surprising discontinuities between the original source and the appropriated result are to be found the 

residuals of meanings, (residual being an almost formal word for left-over), that sparkle through the 

artist’s sly and insidious manipulation of original images. Felicity, on the other, connotes joy, bliss, 

contentment, happiness. 

 Other works in the show, such as “Sleeptalk” and “Glare, Glaze, and Glasses” do not easily 

disclose their original sources. It is more likely that Vamenta has purposely murked up their derivation, 

drawn them from personal and intimate experiences, accessed only through his own subconscious and 

memories. The two works make unnerving and candid references to intoxication, inebriation, the 

incessant consumption of alcohol. In “Sleeptalk,” a drunken man lies sprawled on a bench of a nipa 

cottage by the beach, a rudely awakening sight, while the alliteratively titled work is viewed from a 

prismatically shifting facets of planes, approximating the effect of alcoholic haze upon the vision. 

An oddly mystifying suite of works, in pen-and-ink on canvas, deploys a mannequin, disrobed 

and with breasts bared, possibly used as metaphor for Woman, which then invokes the disquieting 

manner men have treated the so-called “weaker sex.” On the head of this mannequin, the artist has 

unceremoniously dumped a heavy load of laundry wash. 

Jericho Valjusto Vamenta’s “Residual Felicity” generates questions that are left-over, because 

unanswered, from man’s prejudices and dereliction.

Leap of Fate

LEAP OF FATE

By Cid Reyes

 

                What has fate in store for me? Will the fates decide? In Greek mythology, the three fates were the three goddesses, namely Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, who presided over the birth and death of humans. In their view, human lives are like a thread spun, measured, and cut: a destiny over which humanity has no control.

For the 2016 ArtFair Philippines, Galerie Anna explores the subject of The Inevitable, in a show titled “Leap of Fate.” The word is derived from the Latin fatum, which means “that which has been spoken.” Destiny is a done deal.

No more iconic image is there for the subject of fate than the open hand uplifted by CJ Tanedo for our scrutiny and curiosity. It is after all a study of Lifelines, the creases in our hands that, if we were believe, foretell the destiny of our lives.

With his “Despondency” series, Cezar Arro plunges us into (a fate worse than death?) the abyss of his self-abnegation as a painter, his chosen profession, wondering if the artist has willfully cast himself as a victim of myth: the artist manqué : someone who has not had the opportunity to do a particular job, despite having the ability to do it; having failed to become what might have been.

                A pair of works by Jun Impas, (one typically titled in Cebuano, Pagtambayayong Alang sa Kalamboan and another, in current pop lingo, Tuba Pa More), underscore by turns the dignity of labor and the hardship and harshness of living, the brawny peasants pulling together as one to haul and harness something unseen; and the latter work, a shocking and pathetic view of humankind seen not in the best of light.

                High drama attends the visually ingenuous artwork in hyper-realism by Bryan Teves, with a lofty Latin title taken from the Fabulae (Fables) written by Hyginus (2nd century AD). Thus, Vestigia Eius (In his Footsteps). The fable is about “Hercules (who) killed his children and his wife in a mad rage to him by Juno. As a punishment he is ordered by Eurystheus, king of Argos, to perform twelve difficult tasks.” The artist conflates the fable with that of the Christ, at least in one interpretation of this work based on the stunning image. Bloodied feet suggestive of a long punishing trek upon rocky terrain are seen floating up in the air, with the artwork reaching a height of its own.

                Vincent Padilla is a pilgrim journeying to the past. His large body of work devoted to the meditation of the Philippine past is an unequivocal declaration of his obsession with our Filipino ancestors whose mere existence forms the crucible of our search for a national identity. As far removed they may be from our contemporary life, with its attendant existential anxieties and turmoil, they have nonetheless taken roots in Padilla’s imagination.

                “Reverb” is the echo-suggestive title of the work by Robert Besana, an appropriation of a historical photograph of the Evil Personified, Adolf Hitler. In his commanding technique using a ballpoint pen, Besana presents his painting as a tantalizing specimen of the idiom of Appropriation, “the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them.” Besana, however, contextualizes his own work with the inclusion of the text “God is on our side.” Is it mere fate that six million Jews went to their gaseous deaths when God was seemingly not on their side?

                Two well-known American photographs are also appropriated by Toti Cerda in his paintings Anti-Virus I and 2. The first is that of workers, taking their noonday lunch, seated on a steel beam atop a vertiginous skyscraper construction in New York City (actually the RCA Building), hundreds of feet above the ground. It was used by the Rockefeller Center as a publicity stunt. Cerda re-situates the workers into a Philippine setting overlooking a poverty-stricken cityscape. Furthermore, he has stamped on it the familiar notice “Business As Usual,” heightening the ironic and sardonic quality of the works. The other more famous photograph, taken February 3, 1945, is the raising of flag by five US servicemen on the battle-scarred island of Iwo Jima. Again, the painting has been stamped with “Business As Usual” as though war were merely a workaday happening.

                Eschewing his favored sculptures of dancers, Ferdie Cacnio constructs a sculptural rising mound, upon which scraggly, attenuated figures, recalling Giacometti’s Existential Man, struggle to climb up this Everest of life’s challenges. Alas, by a cruel fate, these figures, having scaled the heights and reached the top, are destined, condemned by the gods like Sisyphus, to hurl themselves down, and ceaselessly clamber and claw themselves up again in a futile and hopeless existence.

                In Mga Imortal sa Norte, Ricky Ambagan thrusts us at the discomfited view of the so-called “hanging coffins” of Sagada, like a fresh airing of perspectives on mortality and death and the indecent voyeurism of tourists for whom nothing is sacred.

                In an ecstasy of transport, Michael Munoz presents the Blessed Virgin Mary in Immaculata, destined by fate to be the Mother of God. In Saint Luke’s Gospels, the evangelist recounts the prophecy of Simeon that seven swords will pierce her heart. It was the fate of Mary to be the Sorrowing Mother.

                Ivy Floresca embraces the surrealist enigma of life in a work whose meaning she keeps tenaciously to her breast. In seemingly unrelated images, contrived to make a whole, the tension remains intrinsic to her art. She creates works always touched by the fire of mystery and a gravita that teases the mind’s appetite for the incomprehensible.

                Was it by chance or by fate that a pair of unshod feet once again hang dangling, as in another painting in this show? As are all of Gerry Joquico’s artworks, his Procrastinator and the crestfallen skull in the bowler hat (shades of Magritte!) in El Final or el Principio? Are located in limbo, in a nether region, an undetermined landscape, such that these works assume the nature of allegory, where symbolic fictional figures are embodied statements about human existence.

                Alas, death alone is our ineluctable fate.

Ying Chun Zhan

THE LINGNAN SCHOOL OF PAINTING
Art and Revolution in Modern China

The Qing dynasty closed China to maritime trade in 1757, just at the moment when European nations were expanding their international commerce. Guangzhou (Canton) was the only legal port for trade between China and the outside world until 1843. This south-eastern region, which includes modern Guangdong province, was commonly referred to as Lingnan, and produced some of the most important political thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, who advocated replacing the imperial system with a constitutional monarchy, and Sun Yat-sen, who established China’s first republic in 1911.

The development of a Cantonese manner of painting began in the nineteenth century, but did not attain national visibility and distinctive style until the first part of the twentieth century. The leader of the Lingnan School of painting was Gao Jianfu (1879-1950?), who joined the Alliance Society (Tongmeng hui), 1911 he devoted himself instead to a revolution in art. In his painting, publications, and teaching, he promoted the development of a New National Painting (xin guohua). He and his followers, most notably his younger brother GAO Qifeng, combined the local style with elements of Western and Japanese realist painting to create an art that they hoped would be more accessible to the citizenry of China’s new republic than the literati painting of the past.

This Revolution in art has not spared the culture of the overseas Chinese in Manila. The adherents to Lingnan School style of paintings in the mainland and overseas grew in such numbers. Over the years, the style has been handed down from one generation to another. Currently, the foremost authority and Teacher in the Lingnan School Tradition of Chinese Painting in Manila is Master Ceasar Cheng, who received his training from several masters both here and in China. He teaches art ath the Confucius Institute of Ateneo de Manila. Together with other Lingnan adherents Lita Gelano, Nei Nei Hui Chun, Lupicinio Ng and Myrna Rivera, Master Ceasar Cheng will highlight in this exhibit, the vivid and graceful brush strokes of paintings done in Lingnan School Style.

A Lingnan School painting is vibrant and visually pleasing. It is “more realistic as it combines realism with fluid bold expression”. It liberates the sense and touches the soul of the viewer.

HighBreed

High Breed 

Something of mixed origin or composition, such as a work whose elements are derived from different languages.

In art forms, hybridity could mean the blurring of traditional distinct noundaries between artistic media such as painting, sculpture, film, performance, architecture, and dance. It also can mean crossbreeding art-making with other disciplines, such as natural and physical science, industry, technology, literature, popular culture, or philosophy. Hybrid art forms expand the possibilities for experimentation and innovation in contemporary art. 

Today's artits are free to make art with whatever material or technique they can imagine. this freedom creating hybrids occupies much artistic work today. however, making meaning in art-whatever tools, materials, or techniques are used-remaines central to artistic practice. Ot is impportant for viewers to keep this in mind as they explore innovative art today.

This show breaks tradition and blur boundaries.