More than twenty years ago, writer and art critic Alice Guillermo defined social realism as “…a shared point of view which seeks
to expose or lay bare the true conditions of Philippine society as well as to point out solutions by which these conditions are changed…” Social Realism, or SR, has always had a strong presence in the Philippine art scene. Artists don’t exist in a vacuum. And just as in any community, some show more concern than others for politics and social justice.
I have always looked forward to the group exhibits by the Social Realism stalwarts: Antipas Delotavo, Jose Tence Ruiz, Renato Habulan, and Pablo Baensantos. They come together on an almost annual basis, mounting shows of mostly large-scale paintings. I have seen some pretty important pieces come out of these SM Art Center displays. Among them, Biboy Delotavo’s unforgettable Diaspora, his 2007 mural on departing Filipino overseas workers, and Bogie Tence Ruiz’s first forays with the Kotillion in 2008.
YOUTubia continues this tradition of the SR barkada. The show’s title plays on the word utopia, the ideal social, political, and moral state. In this age of the internet and global interconnections, one’s concept of utopia has broadened to embrace technological advances. Social realism must also keep up with the times. Thus, aside from the Fab Four, this show includes work by Neil Doloricon, younger activist-artists Mideo Cruz, Iggy Rodriguez, and Buen Calubayan, as well as less militant contemporary art practitioners Tatong Recheta Torres, Constantino Zicarelli, Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, and Jay Pacena.
Bogie Tence Ruiz on curating the show: “I gave them no other brief other than think about the present, where You Tube has infected UTOPIA. It is not Dystopia, just YOUTubia, which is not a failure or a disappointment, but an eye-opener to a new reality, unfolding, mutating, intimidating, still untested and unqualified, but true and undeniably pervasive and contemporary, about as contemporary as all the Internet, Facebook, Twitter etcetera etcetra.”
This unusual combination of artists actually works for me. It is perhaps a testament to the respect accorded to Bogie that the artists produced significant pieces. Not many group shows can boast that achievement. I especially enjoyed Ling Quisumbing Ramilo’s Karaoke Art Project. She altered the background images of karaoke songs to that of Philippine art pieces, uploading more than 4,000 photos from her colleagues. Through this project, she brings art to a new audience, those unable to visit galleries and art spaces.
For Ling’s other piece, her Static Series, she spent hours in front of the t.v., waiting to photograph faces distorted by static. She arranged her photos to form a life-sized frame of an empty computer screen, a comment on today’s sensory and information overload.
I also loved Tatong Recheta Torres’ untitled portrait of a disintegrated face. Frankly, I’m not sure how this relates to You Tube and Utopia, but it is a beautiful painting nevertheless. He pays tribute to a beloved father figure who passed away last year. Tatong also reveals that with this piece, he went back to his original process, painting without photo references or grids.
Bogie introduces his caballeros, solo paintings of FPJ and Erap borne by steeds. They flank a diptych of a mob of movie villains, contravidas slain by the two movie idols in the course of their cinematic careers. Unfortunately, their prowess could not extend to life beyond the big screen. Both of them have been browbeaten by a petite adversary, the head of state who takes pride in her resemblance to Nora Aunor. No description can do justice to Bogie’s wonderful use of colors for these three pieces.
A protest cannot be complete without a burning effigy, and sure enough, EfPIDGEE, burns close by.
There’s a good reason why we’re missing Biboy Delotavo’s murals for this show. At the end of April, he brings a show of large-scale paintings to the National University of Singapore (NUS). What we see here are two pieces from his 2008 Artesan show, also in Singapore. I had only seen photos of these before, and enjoyed this chance to see them in the flesh.
Jay Pacena mounts an impressive assemblage of his painted digital prints of subjects on a freefall. Neil Doloricon also uses digital prints painted over with acrylic for U.S. Diplomacy and Na-Edsahan Tayo. Unlike Jay’s monochromatic grays, he has chosen neon colors to give his pieces a pop, graphic feel.
Mideo Cruz paints! His Laissez-Faire shows mirror images of the iconic Eddie Adams photograph of a South Vietnamese general executing his Vietcong prisoner. Portraying a horrific act twice makes it ubiquitous, and consigns it to the commonplace. We viewers becomes inured to such despicable deeds.
My only complaint about the Pablo Baensantos piece, Labor and Monkey Business, on monkeys as politicians (or are the politicians monkeys?) swinging from an LRT station is that it was mounted high on the wall; too high to get a good view of its details. Fortunately, you do not encounter the same problem with Renato Habulan’s Liwanag 1. You can relish every tattoo on his skinhead’s sinewy arm .
Cos Zicarelli’s two works on paper seem like movie stills to me. From Bogie: “Iggy Rodriguez’s painting is about the powerful moloch lording over the destruction of the small and weak. Buen Calubayan presents a cycle of death, consumption, and tribute with his images of dead laboratory mice, wakes, and a video of a boa constrictor devouring another mouse.”
In YouTubia, you get a blend of the traditional and the more contemporary, various interpretations that somehow gel into a satisfying mix. SR moves on.
YOUTubia New Works, Effigies, and Videoke runs from 8 April to 2 May 2010 at the Finale Art File, Warehouse 17, La Fuerza Compound, 2241 Pasong Tamo (Chino Roces Ave.), Makati. Phone (632) 813-2310 or visit http://www.finaleartfile.com