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Whimsical Gothic

Diptych and Doomsday toys: Figures of Gothic delicacy

Full regrets for being unable to make it to a performance of the doomsday rock band The Black Vomits last March 5, a Sunday, at a snazzy venue in Paseo de Magallanes. Heard it was life-changing. Especially since the music highlighted the opening of the latest art exhibit by this special buddy of mine.

No, he wasn’t Dr. Doom showing off his toys, however that image comes to mind. I speak of Igan D’Bayan’s “Dioramas of Doom” displayed at the Secret Fresh Sky Gallery on the top floor of Ronac Lifestyle Center.

Fortunately, I found time to catch up with the show the following Saturday. Unfortunately for most of you reading this, you won’t have a similar chance, as the rather brief display lasted only until last Thursday.

The Ronac Lifestyle Center is a relatively new and rather upscale building on that strip fringing Magallanes Village, parallel to SLEX. I’m familiar with the low-rise northern end that features parking spaces across a row of restos and bank branches, plus the Global Beer Exchange where craft beer aficionados enjoy dozens of various brew labels courtesy of Jim Araneta.

Turned out there’s a southern strip where the buildings rise higher, among them the glass-façade Ronac Lifestyle Center, where displated on the ground floor are futuristic furniture from Sixinch, plus a Mason & Hamlin grand piano. The lady guard had to call a utility man to take me to the sixth floor and unlock the door to Secret Fresh Sky Gallery.

Everything in its name proved valid. It was almost secret all right, but more’s the charm that it occupies part of a roof deck with a fresh viewscape and the sky above.





From the lift, one crosses a green lawn of artificial turf, on the sides of which are al fresco lounge areas with wooden trellis bars for partial roofing. A cream canvas tent rises high above the central area. A bar section flanks the modestly-sized gallery room of three walls, its fourth of glass that lets the secret out and the fresh sky in.

Urban landscape stretches out on all sides beyond the building. I could imagine Igan’s rock band performing with explosive decibels right above the start of SLEX on that Sunday miss-out, and how all his slinky girl friends must have sashayed on that nightsky deck with drinks in hand that never led to any nocturnal barf.

But that Saturday, it was from sunshine galore that I stepped into the viewing room, where a large diptych dominated the back wall. On a sidewall was a row of 10 boxed dioramas, while around the rest of the space were 13 pairs of male-female figures each standing about a foot tall, grouped in threes or fours atop pedestals.

These are the designer toys, custom-built as limited-edition sculpture, that Igan has patiently created in the whimsical hours of devotion to a self-made world on the gently mad edges of what’s common. The pairs of figures are the sort that a kid pampered with comic-books and anime would collect, unless conservative parents took time to study their features.

A pair in blood red has the male sprouting an alicorn on his head. He has one cloven foot, high boot and all. His partner is demurely posed, long gown flowing to the floor, that is, the pedestal base that shares the pair’s mordant hue.

Behind them is another couple, the lady similarly striking a genteel pose, one hand resting on her other wrist, also bespoke begowned except in darker red, but her arms, head, neck and hair sport an ivory sheen, while a circular blank seal of seeming gray wax marks her forehead. Her partner is in a silver shirt, his hands of light orange, tight trousers and high-strapped boots in dark red, both cloven feet also in silver. His visage is ghoulish, with dark chocolate blotches for eyes and mouth, the same hue that streaks along ivory horns.

Similar pairs are all in white or black, or dark grey, or mixed pastel colors, such as a pink-gowned lady paired with an olive-shirted fellow whose white visage has no facial features but ridges that look like layered white icing tweaked with dark choco streaks, all the way to his horns.

Strange world these specimens inhabit in their regal poses, leading a viewer to wonder what sort of action they’re capable of, when the kid collector lapses into a dream and things start bumping in the night.

Igan says: “The limited-edition toy is my sort of Gothika Filipina, which I’ve explored in paintings as well as in a rock opera staged last year by my band, The Black Vomits, under the direction of Bianka Bernabe and costume design by Dimple Lim. The images have become personal metaphors of alienation, unfulfilled dreams and phantom pain(s) that won’t go away. They’ve become — well, to some extent — larger than and so much different from the experiences that created them in the first place. They’ve become symbols of concepts I don’t even understand myself. Something bigger than my brain.

“Maybe that’s the reason I’ve turned them into ‘toys’: to give a semblance of form to the inexpressible.”

The boxed dioramas present just as strange mise-en-scenes under glass, sometimes featuring a single figure, such as my favorite: an alabaster goat-man with black-striped curving antlers perched on a white toilet bowl for a languid poop, with gold-leaf scraps filling up the background. Another is a zebra-girl in a Barbie dress and pink sandals, her stripes echoed vertically on the wall behind her. Others have combos of weird action figures and insects, dried flowers and mini furniture. All together, they spell a bizarre cornucopia.

From Igan: “It’s an entire world altogether in terms of technique. No rules apply. You get a box, purchase clay and hardener from Deovir, scour Toy Kingdom for medieval action figures and catapults (yes, found them in the bargain bins), and have some fun by writing these weird stories about ‘goats in a toilet shitting gold’ or some ‘fascist bunny spewing filth about the New Order.’ But come to think of it, it’s practically painting with dead flowers and plastic.”

And the provenance of all these?

“The first exhibition that I ever saw was the Philippine history diorama display at the Ayala Museum. It was during a school field trip in elementary school and my classmates were looking forward to the visit to an ice cream factory. I salivated over how you could use toys and dolls (well, to me at that time) in communicating a narrative — a nation’s origin story, history and alternate histories, etc. The pack of Twin Popsies was not the highlight of the day.”

The central work, an oil on canvas diptych measuring 84 by 114 inches and titled “Iluminacion: Sodom & Gomorrah V2,” is a wealth of detailed fgures dominated by a boss-guy in checkered suit on the left panel, and an ethereal lady on the right. She offers a different kind of eye candy, part ghastly and part voluptuous, breasts tumbling out of her bodice. But like all the creatures Igan D’Bayan has crafted with paint or clay, they aren’t horrific, as there’s that defining halo of whimsicality.

“My work has always been about Old, Weird Filipinas: how historical events, pop culture, Internet hoaxes, current events and Pinoy horror movies converge on a Twilight Zone-like, Black Mirror-ish tropical gothic area. But for ‘DoD,’ I wanted to incorporate fables and children’s fairy tale imagery pumped with a generosity of amphetamines. It’s Animal Farm, Gumby and Ultraman trapped in a sty of violence, malaise and crooked philosophies.”

A pity these private secrets were made public for less than a fortnight. They can hold the fort on any night of insane if illumined affections. D’Bayan’s country is a diptych of delicate strangeness or strange delicacy. Gothic in reverse, there’s a come-to-my-casbah allure that seduces the viewer. Far from doom and gloom, they boast a boom cycle of antic imagination.

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