Sunday Lifestyle

Art as provocative vision

- Philip Cu-Unjieng -
On the invitation, it looked simple enough: "Bea Zobel Jr. invites you to a preview of [In]Visible, featuring the works of Filipino artist Gabriel Barredo." What it didn’t say was that this was a classic example of "irresistible force meets immovable object," as here, we had two very stubborn individuals coming together. And I use stubborn without its pejorative connotation; in this case, we can be thankful that such obstinate characters exist, clinging to their respective hopes and visions.

The cocktail party at the Ayala Museum was a heady mix of performance art (modern dance, courtesy of Steps), music (atonal in nature), and the works of Gabriel Barredo. The exhibition runs until Nov. 6, and we would be hard-pressed to find a more provocative collection of installation pieces and mixed media constructions, all life -size or larger than life. If there’s one thing you can’t fault Barredo for, it’s lack of scope and scale. These were no objets d’art but rather two- and three-dimensional conversation pieces, conversation stoppers that froze you in your tracks, and challenged you to expand your definition of art.

For earnest Bea, it’s all about championing Filipino heritage and the Filipino artist, regardless of what medium an artist uses. The terno and Philippine costume design, the state of regional indigenous architecture, advancing the tourism industry, and what we can do for Bohol – these are just some of the causes and mission visions Bea has readily shouldered like Atlas. She even enlists all her friends "to be one with her." She admits she invited good-humored ridicule and exasperation from those close to her for being so persistent. Hmmm, like Jiminy Cricket, she was a vision in green that night, thanks to the special bustier Barredo designed for her. In her own words, "I’m the side show, but you can’t miss this night of art!"

Barredo’s collection was a sight to behold. From the life-size figure made of little screws suspended from the ceiling as one entered the gallery, one could sense the attempt to shock, titillate, and astound. There was a retro feel to the collection, with a sense of novelty to what was on display. Stanley Kubrick’s milk bar in A Clockwork Orange flashed through my mind. And I know I am betraying my age when I say any of the pieces would have been at home at Coco Banana, Ernest Santiago’s ’70s Malate "palace of fame and shame." It may sound contradictory, but there was a freshness and immediacy to this rehashing of familiar themes and motifs. The split body with the inner man exposed, the white figures that look like refugee mannequins from a department store window gone berserk, the backgrounds with their mechanical movements – they’ve all had their turn in the spotlight, and yet, Barredo gave them a spin that made them a welcome and compelling sight.

If in the past, Barredo’s work was perceived as dark, angry and filled with angst, his current collection exhibited a spark of flamboyance and whimsy, making it more accessible. The craftsmanship in each work had much to say for it. With the three-dimensional installation pieces, we often found the concept and thought far outweighed the execution and finishing; but with this collection, the word is pulido, and that is squarely to Barredo’s credit. The quality of execution and finishing now becomes a criterion of his evolution and development as an artist.

At the onset of his career, Barredo designed sets for ballet companies. Renowned ballerina Maniya Barredo is an older sister, and his older brother Mike was a classmate. From troubled youth to art teacher, he brought these experiences into his art. The static figures possess a nervous energy; the tension and dynamics of the problematic side of contemporary life seem mirrored in the twisted torsos, stretched limbs, and clenched fists.

Some might claim the works have a "been there, done that" quality, and I won’t argue with them. But given the cyclical nature of culture in the past 20 to 30 years, I give high marks to this collaboration between Gabriel Barredo and Bea Zobel Jr. Bea has put Gabriel back in the spotlight, creating an event that staunchly has art as its focus and raison d’être. Barredo has more than held up his end of the arrangement, producing a collection that forces one to sit up, notice, and react.

Provocation this disarming deserves an audience.











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