Uploaded November 6, 2017
The Other Within our Selves
on an encounter with a unique mini-show at AltroMondo at The Picasso Boutique
diskurso.com had a peek at the space of the smallish cozy nook of a gallery called AltroMondo at The Picasso (at The Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences along Leviste Street in Salcedo Village, Makati) and witnessed a little show, called Otherness, with a potential for a big version of it
This review is as much a result of diskurso.com’s own take on the show as of our interview with the artists conducted by Jojo Soria de Veyra and Marcel Antonio at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts
ANTHROPOLOGY is all about the Other. And even when this social science concerns itself with selves, with the Us, it is its tradition to look at that Us subject mentally from Above, or from Without, even while it realizes its own ready and mundane immersion within this subject’s psychological being, this subject’s Us-ness, or Me-ness within that Us. Thus, it looks—or makes that effort to look—at this Us, or this I within the Us, as an Other.
It is from this awareness of anthropological distance that we found this little, almost obscure, show curated by anthropologist and painter Poch Naval, titled Otherness, to be of such large potential for a bigger version of itself that we wish it was truly just a pilot show aiming for a broader stroke in a larger space, involving substantially more than the four artists in that mini-exhibition that we found hidden at that nook of a gallery called AltroMondo at The Picasso Boutique. It had been there since September 28, closing only yesterday, November 5; the pieces will remain at the gallery's "virtual backroom" for half a year from today, however, to continue to be available to patrons.
Let us illustrate what we expressed as the potential of this show to become a bigger Otherness version of itself simply by decoding for you how the phenomenological concept of “otherness” displayed itself in each of the four participants in this group exhibition and how their collective “otherness” shaped itself for a context bigger than each of them.
Raul Rodriguez, active as a painter since 1988 and supposedly coming back into the art market only now after disappearing from the scene in 1998 (an absence cut only by a surprise Magnet Gallery one-man show of drawings in 2006), joins Naval here by culling a David Salle image-making mannerism from the 1980s for five canvases, that is to say, by dividing his canvas space into planes for the collage-like juxtaposition of Rorschachiana. Each plane presents imagery at the border between the abstract and the referential, its relationship with its neighboring plane/s itself becoming party to a bigger Rorschachian algorithm that churns out emotions from the thinking (or sub-thinking) process. In other words, this manner of presenting semi-representational imagery in “split screens” leads the viewer (as it likely led the painter at the moment of creation) to a realization of a business of thinking that reveals to himself his own emotional personality; thus, he becomes himself as well as an Other who has looked at (or realized, or sub-realized) his true Self.
Note, however, that by emulating Salle-ian-like compositions and image-making methodologies Rodriguez underscores his being remote from what he says is Salle’s tendency to celebrate the self by allegorizing and narrating with what’s on the picture. Rodriguez claims to have more kinship with the formalists ab initio, process-wise, with an awareness that at the end of the operation he would have more in common with Dadaists, or with the surrealist dreamers, or otherwise with the shaman-like celebrants of ordered chaos inhabiting the free jazz of John Coltrane that he alludes to in one canvas. In fact, one of his inspirations for this show’s current imagery is the subdued mood of the street horizons displayed in many of Edward Hopper's compositions.
Most exciting to us is the piece that could be Rodriguez’s salute to structuralism and its antithesis, postructuralism, titled Structures Don’t Lie, if only because therein could be his poetics, in seeming to say that albeit the structure is truly there, inhabiting its own solid truth, in the end it’s the “post-structure” that shall define the multi-truths upon its intrinsic truth (or intrinsic meaning).
Incidentally, Rodriguez questions the claim of the tag “expressionism” as “expression”, saying this is too much concerned with the Self (or the Self-Centered Painter from the point of view of a critic). Rodriguez prefers to paint not from himself but from an absence of it, not for juxtapositions that work but preferably for ones that "don’t connect", if that's possible, perhaps for jouissance from his manufacture of "the naive".
Raul Rodriguez, Studio to Studio, 2017, oil and enamel on canvas, 48" x 60"
Raul Rodriguez, A Short History of Ambiguity, 2017, oil and enamel on canvas, 48" x 48"
Raul Rodriguez, Bring Peace to My Sunken Ships, 2017, oil and enamel on canvas, 36" x 48"
Raul Rodriguez, He Who Wipes the Horizon, 2017, oil and enamel on canvas, 48" x 48"
Raul Rodriguez, Structures Don't Lie, 2017, oil and enamel on canvas, 36" x 48"
Then there's Samar-based Florence Cinco, who has in his career been working on the idea of reclaiming images of a Philippine nobility from history.
This time, though, Cinco comes up with small metal sculptures digging into a different set of roots, all titled Saha (which means roots in the Waray language), that ostensibly pay homage to the idea of foundations, frameworks, the basics, and physical roots, which together produce an inward-looking perspective on our viewing selves from the point of view of blueprints (draftsmen), microscopes (microbiologists), or bone examinations (forensic anthropologists, forensic archeologists). So, with this series of little pieces, he furthers his nationalist view of our Us-ness to views of anatomical architectural frameworks both living and non-living, simply by making these frameworks act as a reminder, or as metaphorical support for an impending nationalist discourse. And if nationalism is by itself an Other or quaint perspective in our globalized present, perhaps even fascist or royalist by liberal standards, then allusions to such stuff as our DNA helix could even be more of an Other perspective within nationalism itself.
However, we still have to wait where else Cinco would bring his rare nationalist discourse from this point on. . . .
Florence Cinco, Saha I, 2017, metal, 75" x 15" x 9"
Florence Cinco, Saha II, 2017, metal, 10.5" x 11" x 6.5"
Florence Cinco, Saha III, 2017, metal, 12.5" x 11" x 9"
Florence Cinco, Saha IV, 2017, metal, 10.5" x 6.5" x 6.5"
Florence Cinco, Saha V, 2017, metal, 12" x 7" x 7"
Meanwhile, Neil Pasilan, the third man in the group, claims to be the one in this gathering with a Self more attached to Filipino mythologies, especially relating to the existence of spirits or angels. He ignores academic rules on perspective, ultimately achieving an Other world, without this world becoming of fantasy art. His world’s realism feels like the realism of folk art, which Western art would of course not categorize as realist.
In hauling in Pasilan for the show, organizer Naval says he didn’t intend Pasilan to represent an ethnography but rather a parallel acknowledgment of the entropy-cum-mystery of human existence, with the Bacolod-based artist carrying another mode of displaying the Uncategorizable Other within our Inconclusive Selves.
But while Rodriguez and Naval (more on his art later) would almost express disdain for the creative Self in order to celebrate the Other within our Selves, Pasilan extracts imagery familiar to his Self, not to celebrate this Self but, like Naval and Rodriguez, to end up underscoring or testifying to the loose context of a Self, the way it would be underscored or testified to by a not-so-haughty social science mystified by the phenomenon of existences.
Neil Pasilan, Dasal Ilonggo, 2017, mixed media on Arches paper, 43" x 29.5"
Neil Pasilan, Anino, 2017, mixed media on Arches paper, 43" x 29.5" (some images are reflections on the glass)
Neil Pasilan, Ambun, 2017, mixed media on Arches paper, 29.5" x 43"
Neil Pasilan, Moment, 2017, mixed media on Arches paper, 43" x 29.5" (some images are reflections on the glass)
Naval’s works, finally, are the more direct experiments with the Self’s and the Other’s image-reading. He articulates this point of experimentation by alluding to his image-making exercise as a process of drawing, erasing, re-drawing, and finally deciding—without it being a “decision”—to hold on to an image placed on an empty plane. The relatively empty (background-less) canvas highlights one image’s relationship (semantical or not) with a neighboring semi-representation of an image similarly produced, emulating the child's or the primitive man's mystified act of drawing dreams.
Naval mentions the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas as one of his inspirations for the erasures, who he says aptly described the act of erasing as a return to reality, a return to the real truth. In short, the subject of Naval's works are not so much the images he has scribbled as the act of dreamy doodling itself, within which activity resides the portrait of the artist as real persona. Then, the flat and empty canvas functions to him as an accomplice, as the very Derridean palimpsest upon which a demonstration of that existence of the Self’s real Other can be done, simply by allowing one to erase any semblance of his Self’s conclusiveness.
As proof of this Alien Other’s existence within each of us, Naval mentions the fact that our memories are not always called; mostly they just come, in spite of our Selves. By kowtowing to the memory’s near-independence, he says, he is able to attain the authentic. Painting to him, then, is a process of thinking, not an affair for the declaration of conclusions.
Thus he finds kinship with cave art and the likes of Robert Motherwell, Antoni Tŕpies, Cy Twombly, etc. Artists whose art today, in the era of skills display, elicit guffaws in our country? Well, we have to acknowledge the fact, Naval says, that “we’re actually more affected by (those pieces of) art we don’t like.” He considers it ideal to paint not what one sees in life but, rather, how one looks at life.
Poch Naval, Child's Play, 2017, mixed media, 26" x 40"
Poch Naval, Poets, Seafarers and Spacemen Navigate Using the Stars, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 39.5" x 39.5"
Poch Naval, Night Sounds, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 27.5" x 19.75"
Poch Naval, Adagio, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 36" x 48"
It’s almost ironic that Naval, the social scientist painter, would rally this small group to celebrate wonderment and naiveté over overconfident (simple-headed) social commentary, and—in Cinco’s case—to subtly celebrate an Other’s pride and purity over Selves’ colonized (or virus-invaded) beauty. But, like we said, anthropology has not survived because of a judgmental or colonial-missionary vision; it continues to thrive as a science because of an almost artistic wonderment towards all things Other. [d]
Text (c) 2017 diskurso art magazine. All rights reserved. Photos by Jojo Soria de Veyra and AltroMondo Arte Contemporanea.
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