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It was the bratwurst of times

Artworks by Manuel Ocampo. Photos by MM YU

The Year of Our Lord 2009 was for me the Black Sabbath of years. All that could go wrong went abysmally wrong. We Filipinos endured trials and tribulations one after the other that it was nothing short of mental — and brutal.

The forecast was recession season and the doomsayers were proven right. We mourned the passing of Tita Cory. In September we were deluged by Ondoy; in October Peping followed in its wake; in November we sat in horror while watching newsreels of the Maguindanao massacre (you sleep in your posh Makati condo the night before, and wake up the following morning thinking you’ve been teleported to Bosnia or Afghanistan because of the horror of it all); in December Mayon threatened to erupt; plus, for the entire year we had to suffer Our Leader and her posse which gave us 12 months of administrative calamity, cacophony, crassness, and one fine-dining episode to rule them all. (The press secretary in all his eloquence dismissed the brouhaha over the absurdly expensive chowtime as nothing but a set meal with a choice of “chicken or piss.”) Then martial law was declared in Maguindanao. Charges of corruption, abuse of power, and concocting diabolical plans of tinkering with the constitution so they could prolong their stay in power — we heard them all year round. It seemed Marcos never left the building.

There was also this National Artist controversy wherein one of the executives in the institution in charge of handing out the awards received the award herself (“and the award goes to…. Me!”), and a massacre movie director was given the NA “lifetime achievement award” not for creating gratuitous splatter flicks usually with “God” or “Lord” tacked on the title (to give it a sort of moral compass), but for his oeuvre in the visual arts (what the...?) which most of us didn’t even know existed. The brazen work in mysterious ways.

Last year, we all but seemed like children of the grave, being ushered out of this wicked world and into the void. But art endures. So should it. Our artists have proven that even if everything goes to hell and our very existences fade to black, they will always be around to create artworks that will illuminate the fog around us.  

Got a light? They have.

Manuel Ocampo at Pablo Fort

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In Manuel Ocampo’s “Monuments to the Institutional Critique of Myself” on view last September at Pablo Gallery, the working aphorisms were “A picture is just a pathetic attempt to do justice to an image” and “Lack of originality is made up for by craftsmanship.” Ocampo explains, “The ‘Jeckyll and Hyde’ condition of the works in the show touches on this dual nature of painting, or the ‘picture-equals-image’ problem perspective. By putting the aesthetic event behind the surface of the painting (i.e. events being dictated by objects rather than illusions), then maybe this will challenge the viewer to look at and experience art even more.”

Ronald Ventura at Tyler Rollins New York

Ronald Ventura’s suite of paintings, which was exhibited at the Tyler Rollins Fine Art Gallery in New York in September deals mostly with how present-day reality has become this baffling multi-layered beast, something that straddles human consciousness with its multiple coverings. The aesthetics, politics, metaphysics of layers. Skin as metaphor. Skin and its transcendental dimensions, far from it literal meaning as “the external covering or integument of an animal body.” Heavy meanings. Even heavier images.

Kawayan de Guia at The Drawing Room

The thread of genius runs in his genes. The son of legendary filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik, artist Kawayan de Guia transforms and transubstantiates the jeepney in “Katas ng Pilipinas: God Knows Hudas Not Play,” on view from November to December at The Drawing Room. Graveyard jukeboxes, Elton John and Bob Dylan and Masonic imagery, weird Filipiniana, and jeepney iconography — De Guia meshes everything into a symphony for the brain.  

Anton Juan’s ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at PETA

Anton Juan’s World Theater Project revisited The Threepenny Opera, by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill, which went onstage at the PETA Center in Quezon City. Juan explains, “I have a padyak for a set, that transforms into everything.” In his director’s notes titled “SONA, Skyscraper Squatter, Swine Barrel and Cynicism,” Anton says, “The tricycle is the head on which a crown is to encrust, is the system itself on which we are a part of — part of its brains and tubes and eyeballs and mouth.” The padyak itself has become the central symbol of a play about the democracy of exploitation: each one feeding off each other in the shady sadomasochistic symbiosis of sorts.

Lino Brocka tribute at Vienna, Austria

The prestigious Vienna International Film Festival, also known as the Viennale, paid tribute to legendary Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka last October by screening his classic films such as Bona, Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Jaguar, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, and Insiang, among others. “You would expect a Lino Brocka retrospective in Cannes or San Francisco, but probably not Vienna,” says festival director Hans Hurch. “I love Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag — everyone who watches this movie will be gripped by the story of the loneliness in the big city. It’s more than just a Filipino experience; it is universal.”

Geraldine Javier’s ‘Butterfly Tongue’ at West Gallery

A Gothic, gorgeous hive of paintings from Geraldine Javier was exhibited at West Gallery last September. The subjects were inspired by nature and the artist’s surroundings. According to the exhibition note, “(Javier) even takes it further in her three-dimensional works, using materials like textile, preserved beetles and butterflies, embroidery, and resin to capture images and scenes that fancy her. The elements of three-dimensionality and additional handiwork add to the mystique of each piece.”

Lao Lianben at Blanc Mandaluyong

For Lao’s variations on the Buddhist Television theme alone, the show last February at Blanc Compound in Mandaluyong was quite impressive. Imagine a plasma screen with only one channel. The mind staggers.

Filipino theater in general

The 11th slot goes to theater. We Filipinos have been too zombiefied by television to even care what goes onstage. A pity. A tragedy, even. Last year there were tons of great productions — from Atlantis Productions’ Spring Awakening and Repertory Philippines’ Sweeney Todd to plays staged by Tanghalang Pilipino, PETA, Gantimpala Theater and Dulaang UP, among others. Maybe this year, the audience will be drawn to where the real drama is: onstage and not on the boob tube. 

MM Yu at Finale Art File

If MM Yu’s art career could be compared to a musician, it would be Diamanda Galas, Grace Jones, or someone else who is disquieting, alarming and damn hard to pigeonhole. Quite paradoxical for MM who is shy and soft-spoken and so unassuming; and yet she always pushes the boundaries, kicks out the jams, and cuts every damn edge there is. In MM’s show last December at Finale Art File titled “Either/Or,” the artist pokes fun at the world of mass consumption by creating monolithic pieces pasted with toys (from bikes to dolls to pick-up sticks) dabbed with thick swathes of paint, and comes in packages of unadulterated brilliance. 

Roberto Chabet’s ‘10,000 paintings, I must paint before I die’ at Mag:net Katipunan

The iconoclast is still operating and sifting through illuminations. In Chabet’s show last April at Mag:net Katipunan the artist — according to the exhibition note — “is concerned with the properties of space and of the objects in it. An installation can be seen as an exercise in classical geometry. The mathematical precision in the ‘all-over’ manner by which Chabet installs his painted panels and clipboards reveal a more sophisticated intelligence. Mathematical truths rendered in visual terms suggest discipline and control of the self as well as systematic reflection on it and demonstrate a belief in the timeless truth, which is vital to our existence and transformation.”

Juvenal Sanso at SM Art Center

Juvenal Sanso’s “Pioneer of Expressionism,” on view last December at the SM Art Center, cast the spotlight on the artist’s more angst-ridden opuses. According to the exhibition note, “Among these never-before-exhibited works are paintings done after World War II when like many of his generation, the young Sanso carried with him the anguish and deep scars of war.” Reminiscent of Goya’s manic depressions, Sanso’s earlier works deal with the dark, dark night of the soul.

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