CAN an empty room disturb?
At first, when I entered the Cebu City Museum last weekend, the silence was like a canvas splotched with the distant clamor of the streets, the freezing rush of the air-conditioning unit, and the flight of the dust motes.
Being in a roomful of art can never be serene for long.
On exhibit till the end of January, “Contemporary Cebu,” curated by J. V. Castro, is an excellent hole to disappear into for any visitor or even native who mistakes Cebu to be an interminable fiesta.
The Senyor Sto. Niño, a child imbued with the paradoxical powers of a king, a soldier and a Patron, is an apt metaphor for the contradictions of spirituality that pulse from the works of Wenceslao “Tito” Cuevas and J. Karl Roque (explored in this space last Sunday).
There is nothing unequivocal about the visions coming from Dennis “Sio” Montera. His “Final Warning on Global Warming” is a massive stage bursting with warm pastels and whites, threaded with ominous black snakes of bitumen. Cebu, with its overflowing dumps, flashfloods and flyover complex, is a carnival with a countdown, Montera seems to say with his other works, “A Painful Crescendo” and “The Fire Within”.
Since I first covered Montera in mid-2000, I consider bitumen every bit a signature as his apocalyptic vision. A byproduct of decomposed organic materials, bitumen (asphalt or tar) has been used for ages by people. Yet while the ancients have used this thick, shiny material to seal their reed boats and mummies, modern societies use this principally to bind asphalt in roads and meet the demand by refining crude petroleum oils, a stark prediction for where mankind is heading to.
Although much diminished in size compared to Montera’s, the works of Marvin Natural are as unsettling. Too brief is the refuge taken amidst the angles and lines created by tree trunks and branches as this is quickly dispelled by the clangor of artwork titles that read like breaking headlines: “Storm Leaves 2.9T Stranded” and “Heavy Rains and Strong Winds Hit Cebu, Pag-asa Says It is Just Low Pressure”.
Lightning stuns first before thunder hits. So it is with the black and white art of Kidlat. Hung outside the museum, the posters I brushed past at first. Then I went back because of something that snagged my eye. In “Tower,” a pile of pancakes has a knife impaled on it, oozing a viscous liquid that looks more like blood than syrup. In “Last Dance,” an empty chair stands desolate in a sea of blood and discarded knives.
“Piñata” and “Candy Strings” made me feel I had gatecrashed a mad children’s party or peeped into a nursery witnessing an unspeakable act. The black triangles of candy suspended from a string should not even be touched, lest they explode and mangle. There is an ancient rocking horse with torn bandages. According to Kidlat, art is not a broken nail dragged against a board; it is the unease lingering after the nail rips.
In this sea of disquieting inanimates, I thought faces would be sanctuaries. Palmy Pe-Tudtud and Vidal Alcoseba Jr. deny this. Masks stare from the disembodied faces writhing in Tudtud’s “Solidarity” series in red (I), brown (II) and blue (III). Are these the visages of the disappeared, ironic about social justice? Or the pretences donned and discarded by those courting our confidence?
Alcoseba skewers the state of the human with black, grey and dingy white. In this order, I viewed “Untitled 3,” where the defined musculature of a figure’s shoulders inexplicably ends in a twisted mouth and absent hands; terminated in “Untitled 2,” where a riot of lines crisscross like barbed wire, oozing shadows; and finally redeemed in “Untitled 4,” the darkness framing two beacons of light: what may be a chalice of gold and a dove.
Thanks to Ritchie Quijano’s mixed media sculpture, the only three-dimensional works in the exhibit, I found myself treading the backwash of impressions. Quijano creates art from found pieces of hardwood and waste. “Babel” resembles a modern anito, and “Tooth,” bristling with tubes, screws and blades, reminds me of a cannibalized guitar or pelvis.
Yet in dread is the equilibrium. A small screw propping the bottom balances the four levels of the pyramid in “Babel”. Take away this nonentity and this illusion collapses. Art, though perceived by some as an indulgence, creates the space that enables victims to squeeze out and walk away from disasters immemorial.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Jan. 15, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column