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Arts and Culture

Double exposure

THE X-PAT FILES - Scott Garceau - The Philippine Star
Double exposure
Dual covers for the BenCab

Igan D’Bayan crafts a ‘rock & roll’ coffee-table book on BenCab and Ronald Ventura

A “cell,” as we know, can be many things. It’s a self-contained unit of growth. Or it’s a prison. Or sometimes, it can split into two and become something else altogether.

Our erstwhile STAR brother in art, music and black humor, Igan D’Bayan, has recently emerged from his own lockdown domi-cell to write a coffee-table book like no other out there: commemorating a one-off art collaboration between National Artist BenCab and Ronald Ventura, Double Vision: BenCab X Ronald Ventura written by Igan, designed by Lloyd Nelson Jinon and published by Secret Fresh, gives a behind-the-fly-on-the-wall view of two separate Filipino masters of contemporary art who came together for a digital exhibition shown at Ronac Art Center last October.

“I now understand how convicts are able to write memoirs while incarcerated,” says D’Bayan. “The long lockdowns may prevent us from leading fully-realized lives, but they have given us the luxury of time.”

Ventura book

Secret Fresh owner Bigboy Cheng called it a “historic show, a one-off, never to be repeated,” a testament to how two artistic worlds could meet, without conflict or friction, while show curator Ruel Caasi said the collaboration was a fusion of two trailblazing visions depicting a world in a state of flux.

We asked Igan what the whole experience was like, writing not only under deadline but under lockdown, and crafting an art book that would “rock” instead of just sit there, unread, on your lola’s coffee table in the sala.

First question: How the hell are you? How is this endless lockdown treating you?

I have gotten so used to being locked down that what I’m scared of is the life-after-lockdown scenario. What’s out there? More marches of fascists, grifters, grafters, red-taggers, gaslighters and conspiracy theorists? Without books, records, streaming and loved ones, I don’t know how anyone could cope with the horror of the outside world. We seem to be back in the Middle Ages.

Double Vision author Igan D’ Bayan with his Doberman, Lucca Diavola

How did you end up working with Secret Fresh? Is this a new direction for them?

Bigboy and curator Ruel talked about creating a sort of memento for that once-in-a-lifetime collaborative show. It is a first for Fresh and I hope Bigs and company will publish more titles in the future.

You wanted this not to be typical dusty coffee-table book. How’d you approach it differently?

I wanted it to be more “rock ‘n roll.” Those Thames & Hudson, Prestel and Taschen art books served as inspiration — which are exhaustive but engaging. My intention was to tell two stories about two artists and how those stories intersected.

How was the book process — and pressure — different from preparing for an art exhibit?

This pandemic has made it difficult to mount shows. I had a show at Vinyl On Vinyl last year and it was just not the same. So, I decided to do other things while COVID and all its other unnerving variants rage on. Writing art books has filled that void, for now. Both process and pressure are different. Painting and sculpture are freer and more loose; they are like child’s play. Writing an art book is akin to carpentry — maybe more like jazz carpentry.

Ronald Ventura and BenCab look at images for the Secret Fresh book project.

You see BenCab and Ronald as both friends and colleagues — but is this a different level, writing about their work objectively?

I didn’t want to simply fall back on past articles and conversations. I wanted to explore their current head space. Being friends-colleagues with both Ronald and Ben was an advantage, because to effectively write about these two artists — whose visual languages are so overpowering that they sometimes cannot be translated verbally — you have to be a spectator and insider at the same time.

Did you hang out at all during the writing, or just online?

I hung out with BenCab and Bigboy at Ronac over cups of BenCab’s Brew (harvested from Ben’s farm). I also had a lengthy phone call with the National Artist when he was up in Baguio. Ben’s wife, Annie Sarthou, graciously arranged everything. I visited Ronald’s studio (in Quezon City) and had conversations with him during his breaks from panting monolithic canvases of Dobermans, decapitated dolls and alabaster angels.

Did you work with the designer, Lloyd Nelson Jinon?

Yes, I am working with Lloyd Nelson Jinon on other projects as well. Lloyd, my girlfriend Avee and I might start a book design studio called DiavolaDesign.

How long is the book text?

It’s about 7,000 words. I worked on it for three months. I put up a work station in my music room with its assorted, Frankenstein-like acoustic panels and foam. Played albums from a digital server (since records need to be flipped periodically), drank coffee and worked my tail off. I can’t watch CNN (both American and Philippine editions) while writing because it would seem the Barbarians and Clowns are winning and there’s nothing left to do but pack it all in.

A double exposure of two great Filipino artists

Compare the experiences of publishing a book, selling a work of art or putting out a record.

All three entail a lot of sleepless nights, bouts of self-doubt and worrying. But the fruits are truly worth the toil. And I would rather be a writer, painter and musician who is broke all the time than be an internet troll or sycophant raking in millions.

These were digital works. Will this be a whole different direction for both artists?

Ventura and BenCab could have done collaborative work using oil or acrylic on canvas and they would be sold out instantly. But those two needed to do something that was off-the-cuff, not part of their usual practice. The way they talk about the process of creating those digital prints is eye-opening. It shows us how artists of such high caliber explore other media as a means of expressing themselves.

How is the book “behind the scenes”?

My friend Ruel told me about the collaboration just as they were conceptualizing it. Ruel, Ronald and I get together from time to time and just plan things. Some are realized, come into fruition, even exceed our expectations; some are conjured with the aid of alcohol and forgotten in the morning. The show had a low-key opening in October of 2020 at Secret Fresh to observe health and safety protocols.

How did you see their artistic styles meshing? Was there a dialogue to their collaboration?

That is exactly what it was: a dialogue. Two artists finding common ground and creating uncommon art.

This was a “one-off” art show. Was its ephemeral nature part of the reason for the book project?

Yes. I wish there were more collaborations of this nature. It’s interesting to see artists stepping out of their comfort zones, disturbing the balance of the Force, and creating such epic dialogues. The best part is, we get to eavesdrop on their conversations.

* * *

The limited-edition hardbound book comes with two dust-cover variants — one by BenCab, one by Ronald Ventura. Double Vision (P2,900) is available at Secret Fresh. For information, visit Secret Fresh on Facebook, Instagram and on https://secretfresh.com.ph/.

BENCAB RONALD VENTURA
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