By IVAN LABAYNE
Before the visits to the departed and before visitors swarmed the city as international delegates talked about regional policies in the national capital, we were able to attend the launch of ‘Future Culture,’ at Café by the Ruins Dua.
The exhibit is described as tackling the future as “the inevitable surprise of tomorrow,” both “a gamble and a mirror” and which prompts the artists to pioneer “visions through systematic or erratic prophetical creations.” It was a packed Sunday in Dua; it was also my first time attending an exhibit’s launch in Baguio. I was prompted to think of how the opening confirms clichéd notions about the literal confinements of artistic production. Placed in a landmark dining spot in the city, the exhibit seems disinterested in the rhetoric, let alone practice, of bringing art closer to the public. Not that this automatically counts as a fault. Neither do I wish to dwell on that here. The most I can do is to hope with fingers crossed that the exhibit’s purpose and target audience were both clear and that its intentions were consciously pondered in the entire process of creation—from crafting the works to selecting the venue for the exhibit. Even a tiny indication of that kind of reflexive awareness can appease possibly inflammatory responses about the ‘elitism’ of art.
Now I wish to talk about the artist—certainly not the typecast brooding or loner type, isolated from the rest while she ruminates on her next work. I want to talk about the artist in the flesh, attending the opening of an exhibit where her work is included, drinking rice wine or minding the attendees, trying to accommodate them, be ready if they have questions. Specifically, I am thinking of the artist—or cultural worker, the term I prefer more—and what she’s got to do with illuminating her work, the meanings it expresses.
This crossed my mind as I witnessed during and after the opening of ‘Future Culture’ how some participating cultural workers willingly obliged when others ask them to not just talk about, but explain their work. The scenario is enthralling if only because of the lack of standard—which is actually a good thing—on how to deal with such situations. The cultural workers I saw mostly flinched at first, as if rehearsing, but perhaps more aptly, processing how to talk about their work. What I find sweetly notable is how the articulation of these artists does not smack with authoritativeness, as if suggesting, ‘This, what I am saying now, is the (only and correct) meaning of my work.’ The groping for words, the pause before responding to someone asking them about their art already foreshadows this refusal to conquer meaning and prohibit other interpretations. An artist speaks about what she has done, but not to close all conversations but mostly to frame or elicit further readings.
I recall what a new Baguio-based acquaintance said about Kidlat Tahimik. She spoke of how other filmmakers cannot talk about their films; on the contrary, Tahimik can. Conversely, and this time in a conversation with a History professor, she spoke of a painter she knows who prefers to hear people give feedback to his works than him talk about them. To each her own method. The point is to foster conversations and ideally to expand one another’s way of perceiving. In any case, more successful artworks, once put out there, invite further openings, encourage questions and generally challenge the comfort of stagnating thinking.
Can someone talk of an exhibit without talking about the works themselves? One can dwell in the surrounding issues in artistic production and reception as much as she wants but all chatter will look more sociological than cultural without pointing to the artworks themselves. For this purpose, I wish to delve into the works’ form, more specifically, their medium.
Perhaps true to the implied promise of comprising “everyone’s multicultural and syncretical ways of life”—a suspiciously broad promise, for how can something, even an exhibit of twenty works, a library of two thousand books or two millennia of civilization can encompass all?—the works’ selected media are diverse. Gorz Molina’s Ba-du I and Ba-du II have “textile appliqué” accompanying the female figure in canvas. Micah Hilotion’s Reading Time, Play Time and Lingling-O: Taking a New Perspective employ Cordilleran soil. Alex Dioso’s three-dimensional Control Freak applies epoxy on wood. Roxanne Tibang’s Gangsa” and Leader fuse pieces of tiles together on a plywood.
Only few works in the exhibit are unnervingly two-dimensional in the sense of what I imagine John Berger meant when he spoke of oil painting as conveying “a vision of total exteriority.” Some works in the exhibit are enticing precisely in their seeming invitation to the sense of touch, a tangible encounter. The protruding textiles in Molina’s works, the unevenness of the surface in Dioso’s and the shattered pieces in Tibang’s all fulfil this invitation. The dominance of the visuality of painting is so 19th century. Playing around with forms and materials has encouraged the audience to utilize their other senses. Any sense of exteriority is diminished as the hands are tempted to leave the pocket and literally reach out to the works or the ears are offered headphones where recording can be heard.
The provocations of other works are no less noteworthy. DM Pascual’s “Schrodineer’s Man” and Romeo Rosete’s work bring to mind the old insight about the overlapping of so-called high and low art. While Pascual references a well-known philosophical experiment, Rosete transposes an everyday image—the meme—into the more privileged site of the exhibit space. In any case, the works call attention not solely to themselves, inviting the viewers to ‘enter’ their dimensions, but also to consider the external situations which inform them.
Finally, to take off from the exhibit title’s wordplay, the prospective future is as much a product of perspectives as of the ways of embodying and testing these views. Embodiments can be in the form of Cordillera soil pounded on paper, sculptures made on glass, canvases plastered on walls. Afterwards, one can look at them and touch them, smell their suggestions and listen to their laments as the future upholds the doings of the now. # nordis.net