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Sunday Lifestyle

A history of bad men

THE OUTSIDER - Erwin T. Romulo - The Philippine Star

The term “panapathanogenic” refers to something so inherently evil or nasty that it’s only been used to describe subjects as universally reviled as the Nazis, or their counterparts in the far right movements renascent in parts of Scandinavia and America as well as other pockets in the West, or something as morally contentious as drugs — in particular heroin — in popular discourse i.e. a Google search. (In fact, with regards to the latter, the writer Will Self, no stranger to the stuff himself, points out that William S. Burroughs singled out opiates in his preface for Naked Lunch as being “profane” in contrast to other narcotics.) In short, it was a big word to describe the very, very bad. And, after all, size does matter — and nothing less than the polysyllabic would be enough to satisfy the needs of the conscientious commentator. Too much is not enough.

Gabriel Barredo is not one for too many words, though. The artist, who is known for his kinetic sculptures and whose work is frequently described as bizarre, titles his exhibitions with a single word, often very simple ones. Not that they ever capture fully what’s on display and what he means to convey. If anything, he leaves it to the art itself to do the telling and for this purpose he assembles a portmanteau of imagery from the previous century up until the present to argue his case for it.

His current show is called simply “Asphalt” and it deals directly with the topic of evil — not its banality as the title may suggest but rather tackles it head-on in all its vermiculated glory. To be sure, Barredo, like others such as priests and politicians as well as many of the New Atheists, clearly believes in its existence. Unlike them, however, he doesn’t seem to subscribe to their Pelagian faith that it can be vanquished. (The fourth century theologian attacked the teachings of St. Augustine and his doctrine was shaped by a belief that human nature was not inherently flawed but instead essentially good. It was denounced as heresy.) Images of the Third Reich proliferate as well as the visages of Mao Tse Tung, Stalin and Mickey Mouse, and are scattered among a cavalcade of torture instruments and anatomical drawings found in medical textbooks — the instruments of a giant machine designed to recreate the world into a vision of a man-made Utopia. In his work, Barredo has compressed these fanaticisms and made a moving portrait of our own hubris. Strangely enough, it is all very magnificent to behold and may suggest why so many intelligent and sensible people have been seduced and co-opted into their service.  

Barredo has never been without that innate sense of drama or an air of the ritual of exorcism in his work. Now though, it comes with the reward of age and the attendant worldview shaped by those years. In a sense it is a return of sorts for him. The anguished beauty and delight in the prosthetic that characterized his earliest work has reemerged to the forefront after being forged by the religious iconography that tempered his exhibitions throughout the last decade. (It is worth noting that Barredo once designed sets for the stage at the same time as working with troubled often sexually abused youth to express their traumas and achieve catharsis through art.) Retaining the personal fervor of his obsessions, he has become catholic in his scope. Now that the shadows have since settled in and he has grown comfortable in the darkness, his sermons are in the penumbral language of a true mystic.

* * *

Gabriel Barredo’s “Asphalt” is currently on display at Art Fair Philippines, 6th floor, The Link, Parkway Drive, Ayala Center, Makati City.

ART FAIR PHILIPPINES

AYALA CENTER

BARREDO

GABRIEL BARREDO

IMAGES OF THE THIRD REICH

MAKATI CITY

MAO TSE TUNG

NAKED LUNCH

NEW ATHEISTS

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