Uploaded September 18, 2015
a first encounter with Jonathan Benitez
diskurso.com caught up with the Manila first-timer, Palawan-based artist Jonathan Benitez, at ArtGalileia Gallery (at The Shops at Serendra) on the second day of his inaugural Manila solo show titled "Strangely, Familiar", quite in time before his departure back to his home island the very next day
principal photography and video editing by Jojo Soria de Veyra
interview by de Veyra and Marcel Antonio
Timeless | Jonathan Benitez | collage on paper | 8 x 11 inches | 2015 (photo by Marcel Antonio)
Oracle | Jonathan Benitez | collage on paper | 8 x 11 inches | 2015 (photo by Marcel Antonio)
Woman 3 | Jonathan Benitez | collage on paper | 8.5 x 7 inches | 2015 (photo by Marcel Antonio)
by V.I.S. de Veyra
THE gods of particle physics instantly know what they mean by "strange" when they start to refer to the weirdness of so many odd particles in the particle zoo. In physical terms, at least, they know "strange" like they know "horrifying". They're human, too, after all.
Beyond the physical, however, what physics often can't pretend to know much about is what we lesser mortals refer to as "that strange feeling" or "this bizarre feeling". Reserve these for the study by those other group of higher mortals we call psychologists. Or, for artists, who just love to explore, and even overcome, these feelings.
Surrealism as a household art term is supposed to point to the artistic act of throwing familiar objects into the status of the strange, or---conversely---concocting unfamiliar shapes to forward them to the gallery church of familiarity. What early Surrealism either might not have expected or only half-expected, though, was this "making strange the familiar" ethos' ultimate failure to liberate unreason from the shackles of reason as it started to build a new rationale from within its own mannerism.
Thus Surrealism went on to become the sort that we'd later know as the political art of magic realism, among many other variants. Surrealism ceased to become a movement; it soon dissipated into the ground of narrative-mode choices. Even early on in its evolution, it would be picked up by psychoanalysis. The exploration of the mind liberated from reason soon turned into an examination of the mind's reaction to strangeness.
Woman 1 | Jonathan Benitez | collage on paper | 7 x 9 inches | 2015 (photo by Marcel Antonio)
"Benitez desires a reaction that might free us from our marriage to one surface level of familiarity, a reaction that might welcome a realization of the unfamiliar's own familiarity."
IN Jonathan Benitez's art, the artist brings us into a mirror state of unfamiliarity not to scare our thoughts nor to inspire us to drug ourselves heavy with the groovy juices of the imagination. Rather, Benitez desires a reaction that might free us from our marriage to one surface level of familiarity, a reaction that might welcome a realization of the unfamiliar's own familiarity.
We know stuff like this. We've been told stories about the spirit or soul that lives inside all of us, or about reincarnation. These are meta-truths now to universal knowledge that have remained strange even while now counted as among the many commodities of the familiar.
But the familiarity Benitez is alluding to is not as common or garden as either the well-peddled stories of religion and romanticism or the well-scattered tales of horror literature. His takes its roots from social realism and environmental activism currently pushing the allegory of man as no higher (and no lower) than the other entities of nature. Anti-anthropocentric, therefore no higher and no lower than animals and plants, this direction is hurtling towards a decentralization of nature. It's not an accident that within the vegetation that springs forth from beneath the portraits in Benitez's paintings and collages, the artist has this habit of "comparing" his glamorous human portraits with images of birds (high up there) and fishes (low down below).
Species 3 | Jonathan Benitez | collage on paper | 9.5 x 8 inches | 2015 (photo by Marcel Antonio)
BUT why use plastic acrylics instead of more organic oils? Well, even that material choice is its own statement. That question could also be answered by the same answer one might come up with to this rhetorical question: "Why liberate images from the glossy fashion and architecture magazines of consumer culture to become your collages of transformation and inner awareness?"
And why collages? Well, remember, too, that the collage technique as we know it today is an innovation upon modernism brought forth by Cubism, a style movement in turn inspired by psychology (the science of cognition and memory, for instance) or at least the psychology behind the diagram, according to John Berger. Collage would retain that character, even as later on it would be conscripted by Surrealism's forays into the unfamiliar (including the unfamiliar world of Cubomania) as both vehicle for Surrealist action to produce a relatively flat sculpture.
Finally, let us crucially note that while Benitez's acrylics are looking into the morphing of man into elements of what we consider nature, or vice versa, his collages (in their smaller, more contemplative sizes) seek to maintain a series of mere juxtapositions of thought-planes for the cognitive reason of man. In the latter alone, man---made aware of his capacity to elevate his collage of thoughts---collages his power for an equal footing with nature, for a humble divestment.
It is at the end of this, Benitez's jungle tunnel of a utopia, that everything ceases to be strange. Here, everyone shall be comfortable with each unnamed Other---animal or plant---in what should be a now-familiar jungle zoo. [ d ]
Species 1 | Jonathan Benitez | collage on paper | 9.5 x 8 inches | 2015 (photo by Marcel Antonio)
Text (c) 2015 diskurso art magazine. All rights reserved. Photos by Simkin de Pio. Screenshot photos by diskurso.com and photos by Marcel Antonio licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Other photos by the artist lifted from his Facebook photos collection with full permission.
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