Various potted plants with bells installed in the fourth floor Atrium of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
‘The Hand, The Secretary, A Landscape’ at The CCP
PLATFORMS - Arianna Mercado (The Philippine Star) - June 25, 2018 - 12:00am

Walking through the hallways of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, a peek of green stands out on the corner of your eye. A beehive made up of bells hangs from a branch of a tree. There are so many plants, and where did they all come from?

Lesley-Anne Cao’s first solo exhibition titled “The hand, the secretary, a landscape” is a quiet approach to the process of looking and finding.

In a dimly lit gallery, Cao exhibits three works. We are first confronted by a large wall playing CCTV footage of a garden she had installed on the fourth floor atrium of the CCP. To its left, Cao exhibits a photo of rocks seemingly sitting atop an ear alongside a sculpted ear, balancing the same rocks. On the right, there is a tall crate, with a blanket made of bells lying down inside of it.

“The hand, the secretary, a landscape” is a disorienting, curious repetition of the instances that pass alongside the things that we see. Outside the gallery, we walk by the plants and may not even second-guess that it could be part of an exhibition. Only when we look inside do we find it being repeated, in a different fidelity, though not less real. In the gallery, we see an ear being cast into a sculpture and maybe for one second, it even crosses our minds that its silicone repetition could actually be a real ear. From the outside, the bell blanket is hidden from sight by a tall crate. Cao leaves us with a small mirror on the ceiling to remind us that something is inside.

(Left) A small mirror reflecting a blanket made of bells. (Right) A photo of an ear with rocks next to a silicone sculpture of an ear

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s writing was often fixated with the obsession to remember the real rather than a cheapened version reproduced and repeated by media. However, Cao’s work reminds us that there is a very real uniqueness in approaching things as we see them, regardless if they are reflections of what is “real.” In “The hand, the secretary, a landscape,” Cao makes use of various forms of repetition. While these repetitions, such as reflections on a mirror, serve to copy, we are also reminded that while the repetition is not the original object, it is no less real or valuable than what is being repeated.

Cao’s work encourages a childlike curiosity: one always ready to ask why or what is that, to attempt to hold. We are meant to maneuver around her works to inspect what she had constructed. Her work, although simple and quiet, enacts a very tactile and multi-sensory quality. We are only left to imagine what the bells sounded like as she strung them together, how jagged the rocks might feel on one’s ear, or what the plants she installed smells like.

“The hand, the secretary, a landscape” is a poetically dense exhibition, charged and backed by highly descriptive instances and stories that may sometimes confuse more than make clear. However, the strengths of Cao’s first solo is that it undeniably encourages simple and candid exploration and introspection into the process of vision, recognition, and understanding, and effortlessly reminds us of the simplicities of looking at works, of coming to approach and understand strange, unfamiliar objects.

* * *

“The hand, the secretary, a landscape” by Lesley-Anne Cao is on display at the Bulwagang Fernando Amorsolo (Small Gallery) and fourth floor Atrium (Manila Side) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines until July 22. For information visit: www.culturalcenter.gov.ph.

CULTURAL CENTER OF THE PHILIPPINES
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