Uploaded March 20, 2018
by Jojo Soria de Veyra
IT always feels good to witness fresh talent.
Yes, and ser Benjie Cabangis, for a brief moment a former teacher of mine, said to me beneath a show opening’s din that Nestor Vinluan has for a long time now been bringing his University of the Philippines fine arts painting and multimedia art class to exhibit outside of the school at least once a year. Well, well, well. I was a student of “ser Vinluan” in the ‘80s, in his first freshman class after he came back from New York, and he never brought us to show in any gallery. Not that I reached third year, having dropped out of college by second year (with dropped courses, incompletes, and a liberal-arts-course grade of 5).
Vinluan’s third year class’ show this year, titled Lagda, happened at Sining Kamalig, located on the east side of the second floor of Ali Mall. The show opened on the night of March 17, on the occasion of the much-adored former college dean and painting professor’s 69th birthday, and will end on the 31st of this month. I dropped by the show on this night and got me two hors d’oeuvres, a kebab, and a glass of wine.
Like I said, it always feels good to see fresh talent, the reason why I would rave about new bands and music acts like Screaming Females, Lucy Dacus, U.S. Girls, Hookworms, Typhoon (the American band), Rolo Tomassi, Ty Segall, Shame, Ought, and Mount Eerie, while my contemporaries’ ears would still be beamed towards their Sex Pistols then-cassettes now-CDs and other music from the alternative stars of our college days. And, sure, one can condescend toward student artists, pretending to be encouraging as an adult one (struggling though he may still be), but there is always the option to not feel threatened and, so, get to go on to smell the potential among these sweet faces. And so, when I glimpsed the crowd of young people during Lagda’s opening night, with likely some of their parents and teachers with them at their little tables, I decided to dive into the gallery’s cramped space and swim with the crowd, smile with the people there, and do exactly that: sniff at the potential.
Of course, one cannot get much understanding from within a 30-or-so-minute visit, especially when one comes face to face with images and titles one can only be in a better position with after googling those possible allusions I could only guess. Absent that kind of access during the moment, I could only admire the works that offered immediate understanding, the sort that comes after one’s own prejudiced reading, and I’m not at all partial to art’s contextual immediacy, having an appreciative room for art that takes time to settle in my mind before I can gather a smile.
BUT, anyway, here are my favorites at the show (or what became my favorites because they were the only ones I could immediately understand, or the only ones I could quickly extract value from, within that 1-minute exposure with each work that fate allowed me):
Abed Ragasa, Neuro, 2018, enamel and latex on canvas, 72" x 48"
Abed Ragasa’s Neuro, which looks like a happier variation of half of Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110, struck me as the sort that could be heading into materiality and cosmic-meditative heaven, like the world of variations in abstract art on the concept of the mandala.
Ava Tuñgol, Binulsa, 2018, soft pastel on raw canvas, each panel 7" x 7"
Ava Tuñgol’s Binulsa, meanwhile, is even more heavenly in its treatment of materiality. In order to emphasize the raw canvas’ canvasness, Tuñgol parodied the appearance of Chinese ceramics and painted kitchen tiles with blue pastel drawings on small squares of raw canvas. The drawings (or pastel paintings) were of what looked like denim pockets inhabited by objects, objects that might be placed inside pockets. What resulted with the blue pockets was a shout-out to raw canvas’ denim-like look, while the object drawings implied the canvas’ promise as storage for a pocketful of dreams, given its overwhelming use as a painting ground for the painting of many a painter’s dreams, or given that what could be placed inside canvases qua shape of material (square, rectangle, etc.) become “what could be placed on canvases qua painters’ composed visions”. Notice, too, that the drawings would have a thing in common with the x-ray view of pockets, consequently reminding us of the fact that paintings are often composed of layers that could use some x-rays, while Tuñgol’s thin pastel works in this series are already x-ray shots in themselves, being first layers on unprimed raw canvas, the most secret of secrets, or the uncorrected first stroke of the imagination. Notice, furthermore, that Tuñgol dramatizes both the vulnerability of the unprotected raw canvas and the erasable pastel, reminding us in its turn all paintings' vulnerability beneath the sun's rays, rendering by its context all paintings mere pockets of thoughts of just-as-vulnerable thinking humans inhabiting this vulnerable planet, walking though they all are in sturdy jeans
Shireen Co, Cross-stitch Room, 2018, thread on fabric, 6" x 4"
Speaking of materiality as well as the material traditions of painting as an art, Shireen Co’s Cross-stitch Room uses colored threads as an alternative to paint for the indoor rendering of her own Bedroom in Arles. If there can be folk art that's also Pop art, it would look like this!
Elji de Guzman, Censorship, 2018, oil on canvas, 18" x 24"
As for thematic issues at the show, Elji de Guzman’s Censorship, meanwhile, provides a way of escaping censorship as well as another way of asking what really is wrong with seeing those body parts that censorship wants to censor.
Now, I accidentally deleted the title card shot of the above work, so now I do not know who the artist, and what the title and medium and dimensions, of this work is. What’s in the picture is a pretty nifty fantasy idea that Hollywood might love to use. Vegetarian political art has a future!
Marian Gallo, Self-recovering, 2018, intermedia, 48" x 36"
Then there is Marian Gallo, whose intermedia work, titled Self-recovering, proposes the idea that one can mend one’s lost heart by sewing up the hole in one’s chest with a new roll of heart thread, a thread which presumably will grow a new heart. The painter as visual poet will never die.
Angelou Amboy, Unlock, 2018, mixed media assemblage, 6" x 5"
Angelou Amboy’s Unlock, an assemblage, is a kind of poetic third-wave feminist treatment of the introduction of women into a revolving world of sexual desire. For those of you about to rock this way, I salute you, but be reminded of the other reading wherein this could in fact allude to sexual slavery.
Sacrum, Dengcoy Miel, oil on canvas, 20" x 16", 2017
Finally, Dada Mendoza’s Untitled is a pop surrealist piece that makes the artist live up to her first name. And notice her smarts in titling her piece Untitled instead of something like Sweetheart. Doing the latter would have limited the painting’s context, suppressing other contextual potentials. By leaving it untitled, it still possesses its pop context, a visual pun for “sweet heart”, while allowing other readings or valuations to come in. Congrats with that, Dada!
And congrats to all, including the unstoppable ser Vinluan! The much-adored-by-students mentor to so many UP-attending artists of recent generations has himself lived up to his reputation. Those students ought to be happy you were born 69 years ago, our ser. We, your warriors, will raise our kebab sticks to the struggle you've readied us for, but raise our wine glasses to you. To so many of us, you have made a mark on each of our lagda. [d]
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Photos by the author
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