Art watch: Fabric Skin
K. Montinola (The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2014 - 8:34pm

Have you ever come in contact with the clothes worn by your parents when they were children? What did touching these clothes do? For Marina Cruz, it put her on the path of exploration.

“‘Just thinking that, my mother once wore this,” said the artist, who was present at the show’s opening at Artinformal in Greenhills. She described the moment she discovered her mother’s baptismal dress as surreal, because it made her think of her mother as a tiny baby.

“So fragile, and so small,” she said, and a marker of family history ravaged by time.

Many of the clothes she discovered had been made by her grandmother, sometimes even out of sack material used for chicken feed, and then passed on and altered and passed on again among her mother’s siblings. Cruz draws from a personal narrative, but edifies in her paintings much more than sentimentality. There’s a meticulous curiosity in the way she has the dresses interact with skin, as though each painting is an artefact excavated from her exploration.

Cruz is no stranger to fabric, and it is a comfortable subject for her. Fabric Skin is not the first body of work derived from the dresses she found in her grandmother’s closet, and she has done some good work that delved into the intricacies of the fabric’s material. It is assuring to know that she has yet to exhaust the topic.

These days vintage clothes are largely relics that inspire looks, which are in turn manufactured into the greater fashion industry. There’s an approximate process and life cycle; the production and consumption happens very fast. So it is a fair question about the age, and about the transience of what we wear as our outer skin. Cruz zones in on the finer details of each dress, but does not shy away from something that perhaps we all have an understated fear of: inevitable age.

It is not a restoration project, meaning it will not give you a romantic image of vintage dress. Instead, it will poignantly present to you the dresses that have inevitably aged, physically, over time. Each stain and tear is rendered so clearly that the mind is forced to face the bare fact that the wearer must be in a similar state. The winning detail of each piece, though, lies in the artist’s ego — it’s present, but not invasive, and does not limit your enjoyment of the piece. The personal narrative is not in any way exclusive or high-minded, and there are no tricks to the pieces.

Cruz shows some solid skill as a painter in Fabric Skin, but she also shows sensitivity to something not every visual artist likes to think about: as it was with the fabric of the baptismal gown, time will pass and all will age with physical (visual) consequences. There’s wear and tear, spots and wrinkles, skin sagging and hanging looser than we ever want it to. It’s not necessarily grotesque, but it’s definitely old.

And yet there’s beauty of a different kind. There was a time when artists painted women and flowers to capture that fleeting beauty on canvas, to preserve it while its subjects faded. Seeing how lovingly these dresses were kept, however — first in the family’s closet and now in the art of Marina Cruz — there is some room for solace.

(Fabric Skin runs in the main gallery of Artinformal until Aug. 11).

ARTINFORMAL CLOTHES CRUZ DRESSES FABRIC FABRIC SKIN FOR MARINA CRUZ GREENHILLS MARINA CRUZ SKIN
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