Tuesday, 28 June 2011

0016 Philippine Panorama Magazine, Words As Painting: The Case of Syjuco, February 2007

by Cirilo F. Bautista
Breaking Signs / Philippine Panorama Magazine
25 February 2007

Two persons brought me out of my misanthropic existence sometime this month.  The first was Cesare A.X. Syjuco, the multi-talented artist, who invited my wife Rosemarie and myself to be the guests of honor at the opening of his latest exhibit at the MAG:NET Gallery in Makati City.  There, we happened to meet, among many others, Rock Drilon, Gus Albor, Raffy Ignacio, Danny Sillada, Ronnie Lazaro, and Krip Yuson.

Entitled "Mighty Big Headstand", Cesare's show features a handful of his newest literary hybrids, fusion of words and images transferred to palpable surfaces, in this case, flexiglass, glass, and concrete, works which are initially striking for their bareness and modest appeal.  The white walls practically make the glass and flexiglass disappear, leaving only the words floating in space.

Even in his student days in De La Salle University, Cesare had been stretching the possibilities of language incorporating it into elements of the plastic art.  In this show, he does make words stand on their heads, that is present the viewers with a new way of comprehending reality.  His experiments produce words as meanings and words as shapes in intriguing compositions where verbal dexterity enhances and harmonizes with imagistic structures.  A new art utterance emerges, utilizing puns, double plays, paradoxes, graphic descriptions, and metaphors.

As soon as the viewers establish the mental connections in the pictograph, they cannot escape the ensuing delectation.  They are struck between the eyes, as it were, and understand its aesthetics.  It helps that Cesare is also a poet, a musician, a philosopher, which gives him the advantage of perceiving things with uncanny, sharp perspectives.

The invitational poster for this show, for instance, conveys a sense of the mysterious with four dim figures on top of a stone staircase and the superimposed text ":He's out there somewhere.,  :If we could find him, we could kill him... then there'd be no one to kill us., :If we could find him, he wouldn't be out there."  Who are these creatures?  What are they talking about?  The viewers are left to supply their own narrative structure to explain the situation, and in the process become involved in the picture.  In fact, they really create the linguistic significance, not the artist who merely provides the means by which the viewers' minds are stimulated into action.

Inside the small gallery, the pictures on glass and on the walls, three with backlights, create that anticipation of exploding realization because the atmosphere slowly gets charged with the verbal energy. You have to be alert and focused, though.  You achieve your own enlightenment by helping yourself unlock the suggested or hidden meanings.

One work has the picture of an airplane on the tarmac, with the words, "You are arriving here., Please notice the air."

Another work has the image oh half a human body with its leg on a chair and the words "You have died here., 1. Please notice the gravity.  2. Please notice the occasional lack of it."  Near it lurks the image of a big white zero on a black background with the words, "You have resurrected here., Please excuse the inconvenience, Please don't struggle., Please do exactly as you're told:"  You approach these pieces with an empty mind at first, then start loading it with the collective and perceptive sensation and thoughts you collect in the course of looking.  When you are able to synthesize them, then your rational meanderings gather into a personal enjoyment.  The linguistic utterances become understandable.  Now you know.

Some viewers may be displeased or puzzled by these utterances. some may even find eschatological profundities in them, but they would hardly be unaffected by them.  And that is the characteristic of Cesare's avantguardism.  He disposes with your neutrality, luring you to take a stand where otherwise you would be satisfied being just an observer.  His picture-words are meant to disarm you, to jar you into realization that there is more than the usual litaralness that resides in them.  To accomplish this, he makes words stand on their heads in the manner of Japanese Zen koans or Tagalog riddles:  "A Man will be Here for you shortly., Please Commit to Memory -- zero to infinity spans nothing and everything at once," "a shadow/is never blacker/than its shadow," and "a hole in china/isn't always/a mountain in peru."

0012 The Manila Bulletin, Weapons of Mass Destruction in Cesare & Jean Marie’s Aesthetics, April 2008

by Danny C. Sillada

Weapons of Mass Destruction in
Cesare & Jean Marie Syjuco's Aesthetics
By Danny Castillones Sillada
“Por que también somos lo que hemos perdido...”
(Because we are also what we have lost…)
-Amores Perros, the movie

Published from Manila Bulletin, Page E-4, Monday, April 21, 2008
There is an air of intangible emptiness and, at the same time, that ineffable feeling of finding oneself in the midst of Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco’s installation art. The more one goes deeper within the maze of their works, the more one feels that delicate part of human soul tiptoeing between the temporariness of time and eternity.

In their recent and first collaborative art exhibit titled “2 Minds, Many Madnesses”, after thirty years of their marriage, the couple virtually created an immense space on scanty walls and floor areas of the newly-opened Mag:net Gallery at The Columns in Ayala, Makati.

Congruent to the yin-yang principle of complimentary opposites, these two great avant-garde Filipino artists cradle their viewers with the intensity and the gentleness of their aesthetic creations.
The birth of art from ancient civilization to the romantic and classical periods generally evolved and revolved around women. In fact, in the recent archaeological research about the ancient European civilization between 7000 and 3500 b.c., researchers found and unearthed some 30,000 sculptures of clay, marble, bone, copper and gold from 3,000 sites about the figure of goddesses, an indication of the ancient belief that the Creator of the world was Goddess.

The Filipino society, with its unique culture and tradition, is a society raised by mothers or women. Similar to the ancient European civilization, women have played a very important role in nurturing humanity in our post-modern society. And women, in general, are the artist’s muse and inspiration to create, the cradle of his dreams and the source of his creative power.

But what if a woman creates, what could be the source of her inspiration?

In her installation “I am the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane”, a quote from Vladimir Nabokov’s “Pale Fire”, Jean Marie Syjuco poignantly creates a sad picture of an orphaned egg snuggled on a tiny bird’s nest. The installation narrative tells a mother bird, after crashing through a glass window, fell and instantly died leaving its solitary egg untended.

Powerfully woven with realistic objects sans a dead bird, the theatrical composition of installation portrays the inevitable reality of death and abandonment. “Someday soon, I will depart from this world” said the artist to this writer with tears oozing from her eyes, “and I am worried for the eggs (children) that I will leave behind.”

In another installation, the artist tiptoes on the same trail of indefinable melancholy with her sentimental homage to a family friend, the artist-poet-writer Sid Gomez Hildawa, who recently passed away.

Jean Marie uses the premonitory last poem of Hildawa, which he wrote shortly before he died. She portrayed an empty wall with a trace of white rectangular space at the second floor of Mag:net Gallery. The only visible object is a rusted nail on top of a lighter surface, an indication that there used to be a painting hanging on that empty wall.

If one gazes long enough, he or she will experience that indescribable feeling of nostalgic sorrow looming in the air. And one will feel not only the absence of the painting on the wall, but also the absence of the one wrote the poem about an empty wall.

“Now that the artwork is gone,/”, wrote the late poet, “visitors ask, “What used to be there?”/ and “What was it about?,”/ as if they hadn’t seen the piece before,/ or maybe not carefully enough…”. (Excerpt from Sid Gomez Hildawa’s poem “Sick Leave”).

By just looking at an empty wall or by just reading the poem beside it, an individual will experience that wrenching feeling in one’s heart, so powerful as though one had just lost the presence of a loved one.

The artist, the poet, the viewer – all is confined within the symbolic reality of an empty wall – an inevitable reality of absence, death and departure.

The art of Jean Marie Syjuco, in general, touches the sensitive part of human soul. She brings her viewers face to face with their own existential realities. As indicative in her portrayal of orphaned egg, empty wall, floating roses, virtual cage, among other works, the artist as a woman perceives life, despite its bleak reality, as something to be endured, embraced and nurtured.

Her art professes its own unique source from the womb of a woman, whose maternal instinct is to conceive, labor and deliver life into the world to be nourished, healed or bandaged from the brokenness of human existence.

In essence, her art is not something to be dissected and decoded with complex meaning, but something to be seen and understood as it is. It must be felt in one’s heart and soul as delicate as the woman’s fragile nature. However, it is the same fragility where the woman’s power emanates, flourishes and nurtures.

As an art born out of a woman, in a philosophical sense, she maintains the balance to create rather than destroy and build again in order to maintain the balance. Unlike man’s art, which characterizes the conquest of the uncharted, a woman’s art, on the other hand, creates what has been empirically present with such passion and dexterity.

THE WIT AND HUMOR IN CESARE'S WORKSCesare A.X. Syjuco’s art, which is known as the New Literary Hybrid, is characterized with wit, humor and satire. In contrast to Jean Marie’s works that appeal to the human emotion, Cesare addresses the cognitive level, exploring the widths and depths of human consciousness through the linguistic and visual structures of his aesthetics.

For instance, in his “Weapons of Mass Destruction” installation, there are six framed artworks with texts and illustrations that are horizontally arranged on the wall: (1) If it grunts like an ox, (snail), (2) If it quacks like a duck, (mouse), (3) If it bleats like a sheep, (grasshopper), (4) If it squeals like a pig, (lion), (5) It must be bum yeggs, (eggs), (6) It could mean a World War, (nuclear scientist).

What would happen if a mouse quacks like a duck or a lion squeals like a pig or a grasshopper bleats like a sheep?

In an intelligent and playful manner, Cesare explores the sounds of animals and insects with hypothetical propositions and, finally, arrives at a conclusion in the last sequence that says: “It could mean a World War!”

Although, the syntactic propositions defy the logical principles, there is but one reality that the artist wishes to convey – the weapons of mass destruction and its imminent presence and peril to humanity.

In the same vein, in a more compelling installation titled “Divinities”, a meter-long acrylic panel backlit by fluorescent is vertically attached on the wall. On the transparent surface of acrylic is an almost invisible caption running upward in a vertical direction. At a relative distance, the installation appears to be an ordinary fluorescent bulb, yet, at a closer look, it signifies more than what it represents.

Human perception and judgment on reality can, sometimes, fail and the artwork itself proves that the viewers can be wrong with their perception of reality. Unless an individual is keen enough, he will notice that an ordinary fluorescent light tells more other than its factual existence as a bulb.

And, in this case, it announces that “God Speaks to Cesare” or to anyone for that matter, who notices the inscribed text on the acrylic panel. The fluorescent light signifies the light of God or as God Himself, a symbolic reality that the artist cleverly wanted to reveal.

For God, as the artwork signifies, could be everywhere speaking to anyone in any form or manner.

The cohesive use of textual and visual devices in Casare’s art is akin to the mass media campaign, albeit, in a hybrid and avant-garde manner – highly intelligent, poetic, humorous and satirical. In the same manner, his aesthetics trudges on the philosophy of language addressing the problems of (1) the nature of meaning, (2) the language being used, (3) language cognition, and the (4) relationship between language and reality.

The basic principle that his art proposes is the symbolic elements of written texts with visual devices in relation to the truth and, whether truth is verifiable or not, he challenges his viewers to delve deeper based on the given elements of his aesthetic composition.

From the viewer’s point of view, perhaps, the salient question that he or she must ask: ‘What is the meaning of text in relation to the visual presentation of aesthetic elements or vice versa?’

In literature, this can be answered based on the “connotation” (what does art suggest and imply) of textual image, the “denotation” (what is the aesthetics’ point of reference and its essential meaning) and its “intention” (what is the final cause of the aesthetics in relation to reality).

Knowing the background of the artist as a poet, a literary iconoclast, his works can be best understood as visual poetry or poetry of space, text and image, all in one aesthetic presentation. Or, in a more poetic description – writings on the wall – which is infused with carefully chosen visual devices to enhance and magnify the artist’s revelation of reality.

“I am an experimental poet first,” says Cesare, “and a visual artist second. But I write mostly for the walls and not for the page, and that’s where the boundaries between the two get crossed.”

His genius as a poet-artist is incomparable in his generation. He is a linguistic philosopher, whose art and poetry challenge the normative concept of aesthetic reality. He is a poet, who engages a complacent mind to think deeper and explore the uncharted part of human brain, and a man of compassion and reason, who affirms the creativity of others and their respective contributions in the development of art and culture in the Philippine society.

The art exhibit at Mag:net Gallery by the two Filipino renowned couple, Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco, is the first of a series commemorating their 30th Anniversary of partnership both in marriage and in their respective artistic careers.

Cesare A.X. Syjuco is a multi-awarded poet, painter and critic, known as the golden boy in Philippine art scene in the 1980s, while Jean Marie Syjuco is a multi-awarded sculptor, painter and performance artist.

The amalgam of the two great artists produced multi-talented children ranging from musicians, poets, performance artists, fashion models, among others.

To sum, Fr. Reuter says, “A family that prays together stays together”. Aside from praying together, art or creative passion binds the Syjuco family together. Hence, “A family that creates together stays together!” 

0009 The Manila Bulletin, Cesare A.X. Syjuco: Visual/Verbal Icon, July 2010

By Johnina Martha Marfa
18 July 2010, The Manila Bulletin

And your imagination ends at the sight of texts sprawled on a picture. You wonder: is this a description, a label of sorts? Confounded, you look at the piece with glazed eyes only to find yourself drawn even more to the perplexity it caused you. Tracing your way back, you recognize a strange sentiment—appreciation, perhaps?—and attempt to see it with a clearer perspective, still wondering how, despite the confusion, you liked the piece. Whether the piece is art or poetry doesn’t quite matter anymore; why attempt to contemplate further if the appreciation is already present?

Such is the effect of the art of prizewinning poet-artist Cesare A.X. Syjuco to first-time viewers, especially to those who have gotten used to seeing art devoid of text. Presented both as artistic and literary signs, Syjuco’s pieces blur the divisions and limitations of art and of poetry by putting them together in one creative space. Coining the term “literary hybrids,” Syjuco creates pieces that exist on the edge of things and seek to stretch the mind’s impressions and boundaries of art and poetry through the fusion of imagery, both visual and verbal, producing art in poetry beyond the printed page.

This overlapping interest in the arts has always been a fascination to Cesare Syjuco, even as a child. “I’ve always been artistic, as in ‘artistic,’ in quotes,” he shares, “and my original influences were literature, theater, music.” He recalls how, as a child, he would put all these together by making his own theatrical production. “As a child, he’d make mimeographs of plays and short stories he wrote and then give them out lang,” his wife Jean Marie relays. “He also loved designing tickets and posters for his show, and then his audience would be everyone in the house. He’d write a play, act in it, sing and dance, and then give out tickets of his show so everybody could watch.” During this time, however, he considered—and actually still does—himself more of a writer than an artist.

“I started as a writer,” Cesare says. “Even back when I was very young, I was already writing. As a result of my writing, I met this artist named Lee Aguinaldo. I was around 17 or 18 then. He took me under his mentorship. He gave me books, gave me materials that got me started on art as a medium. Through Lee Aguinaldo and through my wife [Jean Marie], who was already dabbling in art at that time, I became a visual artist.”

And dabble in art he did. From a play of words, Cesare found himself shifting to a play in media, allowing himself to utilize not only common paints and pencils but also materials of construction and installment. His love for words were transferred from the printed page to spaces shared with images and pictures painted and re-presented, interacting in such a way that the text and pictures create wholly new art pieces unlike any other of their time. The sense of tradition, though respected and admired, is left missing; what is present is a sense of creating a new form, a new tradition in art that draws attention to itself, takes on literature and pop culture and challenges its viewer to appreciate it in spite of its novelty. This, Cesare makes possible, through the various possibilities of digital media.

“The medium I have at the moment is based on the fact that I don’t have a place to paint right now,” Cesare admits, quite sheepishly. “So I do a lot of digital art. What I do is I work mostly within the circumstances available to me. Pumasok na lang ‘yung digital media when I had kids. But I’m very happy with it because at the moment, it’s the best way to fuse the literary and the visual.” He further shares that his medium is not the only thing that changed with family life. “My schedule changed when I had a family. I started to work at night instead of in the daytime. That’s the way I’ve been ever since. It’s too magulo in the morning,” he shares teasingly. “To be a parent is a change of life.”

This change of life, however, hasn’t stopped Cesare Syjuco from living and breathing and creating art. If anything, living with a family whose primary interest is also art makes him all the more driven to pursue his artistic thrust. “I’ve arrived at the point where I think of art and poetry at the same time,” Cesare says. “I think of the words and the pictures at the same time. It’s something I’ve learned to do. [Although] one entails a different side of the brain as the other, in my particular case, I am trying to come up with what I think will be the art of the future, which is art and poetry together.” Much like digital media, Cesare Syjuco’s art keeps improving, changing, updating and upgrading itself in sync with the changing times and the rapid growth of technology. His is an art that displays itself as a re-presentation of a century where technology dictates change and art does not limit itself to the corners of a canvas or a piece of paper.

Although one must think: Doesn’t this kind of art risk being aloof to its viewers? Cesare Syjuco begs to disagree. “If the art is really art, it will eventually communicate to people,” he explains. “It will eventually address the consciousness of the majority. But that does not need to happen right away. Sometimes the art is so new that people cannot address it right away. There’s always confusion first, I think, when the art is relevant, when the art is good.” What good art is exactly, though, Cesare couldn’t say. “To me, art can’t be explained. The moment it’s explainable, it’s no longer art. If you refine your senses well enough, eventually, you can recognize it. But to explain it in some way, I think, is not possible.”

Let yourself be led then, back to the art piece, its images and its text. Though still quite confounded, you attempt to remove the haze in your eyes and experience the world through the art piece, if only for an instance. While the text leads your thoughts away, the images keep them at bay, letting you return to the piece after each drift. And then step away—let your imagination begin.

Cesare A.X. Syjuco’s solo exhibit “The Ancestry of a Stone: New Literary Hybrid” opens on Saturday, July 24, 2010, at the Galleria Duemila, Pasay City. It runs until August 27, 2010.

Monday, 27 June 2011

0002 The Manila Bulletin, A Sudden Rush of Cesare: Q&A, March 2011

By Vim Nadera
The Manila Bulletin, March 27, 2011 

Compared to the Philippine Heart Center’s focus on the heart or the Lung Center of the Philippines’ focus on the lung or the National Kidney and Transplant Institute’s focus on the kidney -- no center or institute whatsoever caters solely on the brain.
So,  we celebrated the Brain Awareness Week last Friday with the brainiacs!
We cudgeled our brains just to go with the genius flow of Dr. Gemino Abad, Yanna Acosta, Bobby Balingit, Igan d’Bayan, Mitch Garcia, Marne Kilates, Ian Madrigal, Eghai Roxas, Lirio and Meann Salvador, Danny Sillada, Ramon Sunico, Alfred Yuson, and the Syjuco sisters Maxine and Trix with Utakan and the high and the mighty in High Street.
It was the launch of the latest from the multimedia master Cesare Syjuco!
Entitled,  “A Sudden Rush of Genius,” his book of poetry has a 15-track CD album.
Some call it perigree. Others call it pedigree.
Well, the entire project is the brainchild of his wife,  Jean Marie and his son A.G., who were both so enthused by his 2005 comeback performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, that they decided an album would be timely.
There were two problems with it. The first was that he didn’t want to leave the house to work on an album, let alone have to deal with engineers and session artists.
The second was that he didn’t have anything structured enough, let alone radio-friendly enough, to put in an album. And so it was decided, in the end, that the recordings were to be done at home, with Jean Marie as the producer, and A.G. as the engineer and sole session artist.
In the late 1990s, long before he graduated summa cum laude from San Beda College Alabang, A.G. was the original Man In Black who served as the principal composer and arranger of the art-rock band Faust, whose MTVs of hits like Mr. Pa-cool featured us as an Art Lab artist with the late great Sid Hildawa, Jojo Legaspi, and Orville Tiamzon.
“A Sudden Rush of Genius” was completed in 2006, but the album and the book have remained unreleased until now. A.G. has done a great job at consolidating Cesare’s pieces, editing them when necessary, and bringing them to life in a very real way-- while still preserving the character of each poem.
Cesare admitted his happiness with the project’s outcome, given its limitations and constraints. Looking back, what he remembers most are the late hours they would spend in their makeshift studio in a corner of his artist’s loft, guitars, and FX pedals littering the floor, and ideas running through in a great many directions. That’s where the title is from.
As the book proves it worth as National Book Awards finalist for Best Design, the author deserves to be considered for this year’s Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas award from the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL).
Well, he is a born winner as a painter, a poet, a composer and an art critic of international stature, his name is usually incomplete without his Ten Outstanding Young Men Award (TOYM) for Art and Culture Advancement;  his Gerry Roxas Foundation Presidential Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts; his Gawad CCP Sa Sining Biswal from the Cultural Center of the Philippines; his Art Association of the Philippines’ Grand Prize and Gold Medal for Painting; his Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in English Poetry;  his UNESCO Paris Gold Medals for Photography and Design; his Catholic Mass Media Awards for Outstanding Filipino Communicator Citation; and his first Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Award for Art Criticism, to name a few.
Join us in picking the brain of “The Golden Boy of Philippine Avant-Garde!”
VIM NADERA: Q. What made you decide to suddenly and mysteriously disappear in 1992?
CESARE SYJUCO: When I was awarded the TOYM in ’92, I made a conscious decision to take a break from exhibitions, deadlines, and all of the controversy and petty bickering that characterized the art world. I didn’t realize it would take so long! And really, there’s much to be said for and about artists keeping to themselves.
VN: What did you do for more than a decade?
CS: I worked like a madman, as always. I just didn’t show what I made. And I didn’t say what I thought. Then there were the kids to raise and that was a handful in itself.
VN: What or who forced you to do a comeback?
CS: That was in 2004. The late Sid Hildawa of CCP was my friend. He and my wife conspired together to give me little room for retreat. The CCP Main Gallery was a very big lure, and CCP backing is hard to come by even now.
VN: What can you say about your being a cult figure or legend among your peers?
CS: That’s a little like being a mythological beast, isn’t it? Yes, I think I like it!
VN: How was the Philippine art and literary scene during your time?
CS: It was excruciatingly slow, much slower than it is now. The old and decrepit were at the helm, and you had to wait for your turn to speak up. There was Albano and Chabet on the one hand, and PLAC on the other. But hardly anyone had heard of them, let alone seen what they had done.
VN: What was lacking that made you decide to fill up?
CS: The glaring lack of anything totally new, daring, and brilliant. That’s what Art Lab was for. It was a quest for new talent, new ideas, new attitudes, new venues, new audiences.
VN: What are your groundbreaking experimental works in visual-literary transmedia?
 CS: Pretty much everything I’ve done in the past 30 years has led me to this point. With works like mine, it’s not easy to single out particular pieces. And periods are so Picasso!
VN: Who are inspired you, then and now?
CS: I’ve always been inspired by the greats. There are far too many to enumerate. But I can say for a fact that Lee Aguinaldo and Cirilo Bautista were early mentors. To an extent, so was Peque Gallaga. The rest is a blur.
VN: What was the role of a certain Jean Marie in your life?
CS: Jean Marie is my everything -- my wife, my constant companion, my inspiration, my motivation, my refuge, my critic, my best friend. Literally everything.
VN: How do you influence her, or does she influence you?
CS: Oh, I think she definitely influences me!

VN: How’s Cesare the Husband?
CS: Good, I think. I’m usually locked up next door with my paintings. I hardly ever complain, and I remember all the important occasions. What more can a girl ask?
VN: How’s Cesare the Father?
CS: Even better. I’ve spent all these years raising my children up close and personal, so there’s very little else that I can teach them. And honestly, I just want them to be happy.
VN: What’s the main ingredient of your highly artistic family?
CS: I think it must be a matter of genetics and acquired behavior. Heaven knows I didn’t encourage my kids to be artists. Who in his right mind would do that?
VN: What’s the typical day for the Syjucos?
CS: Regardless of what we do earlier in the day, we get together for dinner at home. And then we talk until very late at night. Those are the two most typical things we do. Living in one and the same compound in Alabang has its benefits.
VN: What is your advice for each one of your genius kids?
CS: Trust completely in your God, in yourselves, and in no one else. Strive to be happy, and watch out for the devil. He likes smart people.

0007 Business World, Textual Tension, August 2010

by Sam Marcelo, Business World Senior Reporter
12 August 2010

Words, the traditional weapons of writers, are ever-increasingly being wielded with aplomb by artists. In a recent talk titled "Public Domain, Private Hell," artist-critic Cid Reyes observed that text is a graphic part of contemporary art that can be used either as "a violation of the pictorial surface or the extension of a concept."

"[Art] is no longer just visual; it’s treading on the verbal," he said. "The statements themselves stun you."

Random words in white sans-serif typography, for example, often cut across Wire Tuazon’s paintings. Recently, an auction house used a Ronald Ventura oil with block capital letters spelling out "I Love Alligatore" as an auction cover piece. Over at the Ateneo Art Gallery, artist-activist Kiri Dalena illuminates empty rooms with neon signage for Watch History Repeat, her ongoing homecoming exhibit. In one space, she repeatedly accuses anyone who enters of being a "LIAR!" In another, she sends a missive in red cursive: "Dear activist, write a slogan for me."

In the local art scene, however, Cesare A. X. Syjuco is the undisputed philosopher-king of text-infused art. Where other artists are dabblers conducting verbal experiments, Mr. Syjuco owns what he calls his "New Literary Hybrids" -- described as equal parts poetry and visual art.

In The Ancestry of a Stone, he displays 20 new works along with a few pieces from his landmark 2004 solo exhibition at the Main Gallery of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Perfection, a neon sign first exhibited in the said 2004 show, sets the tone of the present exhibit and summarizes the cerebral humor of Mr. Syjuco: it spells out the same word with an unlit "n" -- perfect in its imperfection.

Mr. Syjuco’s New Literary Hybrids come in many forms: neon; text-object composites in vitrine; backlit text-image composites on acrylic; video projections; and installations. He appropriates found images and objects and injects his own brand of intelligent humor (much in the same that he previously remixed Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art with Filipino soap opera dialog for an early series).

A stone etched with the Latin phrase "Cogito Ergo Sum" (Rene Descartes’ famous formulation "I think therefore I am") sits in a glass case with this exchange: "It means I love you in Greek." "No, stupid. It’s Latin." "Whatever." The work is both a pun (it’s all Greek to me) and a critique on the present generation’s aversion for analytical debate. Oftentimes, "whatever" is a catch-all word used to dismiss conversations that require more than a little mental flexing.

"Every time you look at his work, something new comes to mind. You keep on trying to figure it out," said Jean Marie Syjuco, Mr. Syjuco’s wife, an artist who also curated The Ancestry of Stone. "He layers images color, texture and text. The final piece is synergistic, something that is more than the sum of its parts."

Two site-specific installations can also be found in the gallery. The first is in the bathroom, where an unsuspecting victim in need of relieving himself is startled by the bloody silhouette found on the Psycho poster. The second is a multilayered piece that plays with reflections and transparent surfaces. A yellow neon sign that says "ITNAVA" can be read properly when mirrored on the opposing and adjacent walls -- "AVANTI" (Italian for "forward") hovers like a jaundiced ghost over a piece with an airplane on a runway, a deliberate and appropriate sentiment.

Looking at his work as objects, one notices how clean and precise they are. The bulbs lighting his work are used as elements in themselves, say as a horizon dividing sea and sky or as a tank gun’s line of fire.

Mr. Syjuco’s show is hard to describe, suffice to say that it’s very "now." One must see his New Literary Hybrids, experience them and bathe in their glow to fully appreciate their genius.

"Cesare is always thinking," said Ms. Syjuco. "He possesses a very unique imagination and everything he does is touched by it."

0006 The Philippine Star, Cruz, Syjuco: Achievers, January 2011

By Rosalinda L. Orosa (The Philippine Star) 

The following citation by the JCI Senate and Insular Life, which sponsored The Outstanding Filipinos (TOFIL) Award, says everything or nearly everything about Isagani R. Cruz:
“Highly principled and a deeply ethical person, Isagani Ronquillo Cruz, Ph.D., has worn many hats. But no matter what hat he wears, he has always devoted his life to the advancement of the Filipino people through his untiring work as literary writer, newspaper columnist, editor, publisher, cultural worker and manager, television host, literary judge, cabinet undersecretary, anthologist, book reviewer, quality assurance assessor and consultant, lecturer, scholar and teacher.
“His outstanding achievements in the fields of literature, journalism and media have earned him various local and international recognitions, including the prestigious Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de Merite, British Council Senior Fellow, Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature Hall of Fame, South East Asian Writers Award, Gawad Dangal ng Wikang Filipino, Gawad Pangbansang Alagad ni Balagtas, Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan sa Panitikan, among others. Known to be a complex person, he is able to write about and discuss issues simply. He stimulates minds with ease as he blends wit and humor. Prolific in both English and Filipino, he is a literary giant.”
*   *   *
When I was cultural editor of the post-EDSA Manila Times, Cesare A. X. Syjuco was my visual arts critic. Reading his pieces, I immediately realized he was no ordinary critic with his vast knowledge, keenest perception of his subject and his literary style. Even then, I was already aware that Cesare was encompassing other fields as poet, painter, musician (guitarist and singer), that his wife Jean-Marie was likewise a painter, and that their children had inherited their multi-faceted talent. This was later consistently proven by the family’s diverse exhibits, held singly or jointly.
Cesare’s most recent literary feat is a CD album/poetry book of text visuals and music entitled “A Sudden Rush of Genius” — how fitting! — subtitled “The New Underground Poetry of Cesare A. X. Syjuco.” The book was adjudged one among the Five Top Best in Design” by the National Book Awards 2010 jointly sponsored by the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board.
In the album, Cesare recites his poems, among them “Murder X the mannered tongue”: what idlings erect the mannered tongue/so that it quivers on its pivot/and reberberates/murder most foul, the slanderous/rhythm that kills by inflections,/a genuflection, prim/and proper as it’s cheap? discard/the verbiage of speech, and its place/a thousand verses bloom, each resplendent,/each discreetly poisoned at the bud…/an aromatic dangerous seduction/this: lilting as (bowed) strings/silken to the ear, sensuous and black.,/the game is played with/plagued with/diagrams, the magic a sham, the trans-/formation an illusion., cold speech/is murder in any language., is., mur-/der., in., any., language.,
The book has this write-up: “A living legend, the reclusive painter, poet and critic Cesare A.X. Syjuco is undoubtedly the most acclaimed Filipino multimedia artist of our time. The prizewinning ‘Hybrid Poems’ featured in these new recordings have previously appeared in various literary publications, art projects and exhibitions, and Cesare’s occasional live performances of his own poetry and music from 1981-2008.”
  • More on the author: “Hailed by the Philippine press at age 15 as “the young Mozart of Pinoy Rock”, Augusto R. Syjuco was the lead guitarist, composer and arranger for FAUST!, the phenomenal art-rock band of prodigious siblings that was discovered by MTV Asia in 1996, quickly signed to a major record label and disbanded two years later after releasing two controversial albums that included the historic ‘My Secret Identity’ in 1998 – probably the first full-length album to be released for free on the worldwide internet.

0008 The Manila Bulletin, Poetry & Live Art Performances at Cesare Syjuco's Ancestry of a Stone, August 2010

By Danny Castillones Sillada
01 August 2010
“I don't think artists can avoid being political. Artists are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine. When we stop singing, it's a sure sign of repressive times ahead.”
- Theresa Bayer

It has already been a tradition for a multi-disciplinary artist to invite poets, performance artists, and musicians to perform at the opening of his or her show. The convergence of different artistic mediums at the opening of Cesare Syjuco’s exhibit, for instance, produces interactive dialogues between the artists and the audience. And for the audience, it has always been a treat to witness such unique gathering of artists from different disciplines to reveal their aesthetic discourses through poetry, music, and live art performances.

Among those who performed at Cesare’s “Ancestry of Stone” last July 24, 2010 at Galleria Duemila in Pasay City were Gimeno H. Abad, Alfred “Krip” Yuson, Rayvi Sunico, Vim Nadera, and Maxine Syjuco for poetry; Cesare Syjuco, Mitch Garcia, Ian Madrigal, and this writer for live art performance; Lirio Salvador, J.P. Hernandez, and the members of Elemento for music.

Gimeno Abad always performs his poems from memory, thus speaking his poetry from his soul. The lightness of his persona and the sound of his placid voice emanate a buoyant atmosphere, cradling his audience with the rhythm of his verses. Alfred Yuson, on the other hand, seems blasé yet bubbly the way he engages his listeners with his spoken words. He always delivers his poems with wit and humor, titillating the mind and heart of the audience as though he was seducing a woman. Rayvi Sunico, a bilingual poet, speaks his poetry with such passion, drawing his audience closer to the texture of his linguistic expression.

Clad in tuxedo impersonating an opera singer, if not Pavarotti, Vim Nadera rouses the audience into laughter when he sang the name of Cesare Syjuco to the tune of “Besame Mucho”. Wearing a white mask and hand gloves, this writer also performed a poignant piece titled “Suicidal Tears”, an existential cry of anguish and despair, as expressed through bodily movements and bloody tears that came out from the mask’s eyeholes.

Lirio Salvador, the founder of ethno-industrial band called Elemento, redefines avant-garde music with eclectic sound that comes from assembled electronic and metal scraps. His orchestral music, with J.P Hernandez playing the percussion, creates an ambient backdrop for other artists to perform their pieces, like the sensual and mesmeric Maxine Syjuco with her short poem about the rain. Then, later, it was segued by Mitch Garcia, showing off her written statements on sheets of paper before the audience. One of her conspicuous avowals says: “Atheism is a non-profit organization.”

Cesare Syjuco’s performance is indubitably satiric and whimsical, luring his audience to listen attentively to the playful sound of his plastic gun with his emotive soliloquy: “She loves me, she loves me not…”(The man himself seemed to be overwhelmed and gratified over the success of his show). Noticeably, among the audiences were from showbiz, like Ronnie Lazaro and Joel Torre, and visual artists, like Tony Twigg with his wife, Gus Albor, Eghai Roxas, Red Mansueto, Roberto M. A. Robles, Raffy Ignacio, Boy Achacruz, and UP Professor and art critic Reuben Ramas Cañete, to name a few.

Hosted by gorgeous Trix Syjuco, co-host of Illuminati opposite Alfred Yuson at GNN Destiny Network (Channel 21), the superbly curated “Ancestry of Stone” and the entire performances were aesthetically orgasmic, culminating with exotic food, beer, and wine.

After the guests left one by one before midnight, this writer with Jean Marie Syjuco (painter and performance artist), Silvana Diaz (gallery owner), Lanie Aquino (cousin of PNoy), Gus Vivar (publisher), Mary Ann Sillada (Director of Neatnix Philippines), and Ilac Diaz (Pinoy social entrepreneur, activist, and model) relished once again the oeuvre of Cesare with a warm conversation on arts and culture, social issues, politics, and, of course, religion.

It was, after all, a night of aesthetic revelation that reopens our eyes to many facets of political and social realities, and a beginning to renew our hope and trust to our new political leader. And as one of Cesare Syjuco’s artworks says, “God Speaks to Cesare,” we (visual artists, writers, poets, and indie filmmakers and musicians) are hoping the same thing that God will already break His long silence and, this time, HE WILL SPEAK TO NOYNOY to bring peace, harmony, and prosperity in our country!

0019 Philippine Daily Inquirer, A Blast from the Arts, January 2007

By Constantino Tejero
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 01 January 2007
PHILIPPINE POLITICS may be a mess, the economy is on the brink, and the poor will always be poor, but the one thing still alive and kicking in the country all year round is the arts. A salute to the Filipino artist then for always deserving of our thumbs up, way, way up.
Elderly but still potent
Some senior artists don’t seem to dry up of creative juices, as they never fail to mount exhibits of their most recent works with undiminished potency. Just when you think they’ve long been rolling in their laurels, you stumble on new works by the likes of Arturo Luz, Juvenal Sansó, Roberto Chabet, Malang Santos. Even the nonagenarian Anita Magsaysay-Ho startles the art world now and then with a brilliant piece or two.
Young but very, very strong
Upcoming artists and relative unknowns often come up with strong art that can hold a candle to works by veterans. In June, Jesus Genotiva held his first solo show of expressionist portraits so potent one couldn’t look at them with equilibrium. One Marlon Magbanua impresses with abstraction of such fineness it should shame the clumsy brushwork of a few overhyped abstractionists.
Still on the frontline
Artists we haven’t heard from for some time have returned to the scene. Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco came back from abroad and continued their series of avant-gardist installations and performances. Some we thought have stopped production, such as Red Mansueto and Alan Rivera, reappeared in group exhibits with interesting innovations on their respective art.
Hearts of gold
Artists can always be relied on to raise funds for charity. Early this year, Kulay Marikina exhibited nearly 100 artworks whose proceeds went to indigent cancer-stricken patients of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center. This month, Impy Pilapil and Ann Pamintuan are exhibiting their sculptural pieces for the cause of Make-a-Wish and Kythe Foundation. This only underscores the fact that artists are really humanitarians at heart.
Excitement of awards
The Thirteen Artists Award, now given by the Cultural Center of the Philippines every three years, proves to be as exciting as ever. Many of the awardees this year are precisely the same people the development of whose respective art we have been watching for some years now: Jeho Bitancor, Jayson Oliveria, Lyra Abueg Garcellano, Gary-Ross Pastrana, Luisito Cordero, Ma. Cristina Valdezco, Jevijoe Vitug, Mariano Ching, Daniel Coquilla, Lena Cobangbang, Ronald Anading, Eugene Jarque and Yasmin Sison-Ching. This award can be more exciting than the National Artists Award as its choices hold an element of surprise while the latter’s are often a foregone conclusion.

0017 Philipine Daily Inquirer, Cesare A.X. Syjuco and the New Formalism, February 2007

By Angelo V. Suarez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
19 February 2007
WITH THE STENCH OF THE GREAT New Critical corpse still hanging in the literary air, it has become almost an insult to brand anyone a formalist these days, what with the old formalism’s emphasis on the so-called closed nature of the literary “work” (in opposition to Roland Barthes’ open literary “texts”) and debilitating delusions of organic unity—poetry’s arrogance of apparent completeness unto itself, denying any contextual relations to cultural and historical materiality.
But with the fresh air provided by “Mighty Big Headstand,” the first of a series of small-scale exhibits cum large installations of “visual and literary hybrids,” Cesare A.X. Syjuco doesn’t seem to give a damn what he’s branded anymore.
And maturely so, for to extend his metaphor it isn’t merely the brave artist’s head at risk here: The verbo-visual headstand straddling different traditions at once is done also by the body-language of its viewers/readers, unwitting participants who themselves become personae in these 3D poetic texts, quite literally exploring a book bound by walls rather than paper or carton, themselves read as part of the show by more and more passersby.
Textuality, texturality
By the gallery’s entrance, one is greeted by the declaration “You have resurrected here,” as if by coming to the show s/he has entered a new life, a new textual beginning—followed by the instructions “Please excuse the inconvenience/ Please don’t struggle/ Please do exactly as you’re told,” forewarning the audience of more instructions and consequent participation, urging them into performance, penetrating the cold defenses of and disturbing armchair readership accustomed to being spoon-fed with bland and passive insight.
And certainly there is no passivity here. The show, after all, entails engagement, for to read Syjuco’s texts is to also view them, juxtaposing the abstraction of discursive language against the concrete experience of the image—a showcase of the creative potency of typeface when taken for more than mere tasteful design: typography at the service of signification, the medium becoming McLuhan’s message.
The use of transparent glass not only allows both sides of the page to be read and viewed at once, but allows the other pages—the walls behind the glass—easeful visibility from any single standpoint: Imagine being able to read page 14 of a standard book while you’re still on page 8.
One may also view one text then proceed to another, without any given order save for those formulated by chance or by the viewer.
A form of reading, a reading of form
Tension between the verbal and the visual, the two-way penetrability of glass, death and shadows and resurrection—the motif of duality and reflection is made most palpable by twin wide and lighted panes depicting planes occupying two walls at a 90-degree angle within the gallery.
Each airplane is faced with its doppelganger, both parked over their own reflections, printed in what seem to be Benday dots like those famously employed exaggeratedly in Lichtenstein’s popular comix-style art.
But these dots aren’t so much culled from old comix as the cover boxes of more recent hobby toys, of plastic tanks and model planes waiting to be assembled by the enthusiastic hobbyist.
But the implications go beyond the banal surfaces of hobby. Above the left plane, the text goes, “You are leaving here,” and below, “Please notice the Air.” Above the right plane the text goes in counterpoint, “You are arriving here,” and below, “Please notice the Air.”
What is most interesting here isn’t the juxtaposition of arrival and departure as mirror-images of each other (made literal by the actual surface reflections of each other as effected by glass and light), but the two planes’ juxtaposition against a third wall, on which hangs a glass pane depicting the image of the Madonna and Child.
Where the classical meets the contemporary, the pane which is the Holy Infant’s makeshift 2D stable becomes the olden reflection of the plane’s pane, which in turn is its makeshift 2D hangar.
And while one plane is the other’s doppelganger just as arrival is departure’s mirror-image, could this possibly be making the implication that the Son is the Mother’s reverse double, consequently connoting the secularization of the once-divine and the sacred quality huge manufactured objects (especially military objects) like planes have come to acquire?
The discourse jumpstarted by Syjuco is not simplistic but materially nuanced, denying any easy one-to-one correspondence among reflections: A shadow isn’t merely as dark as its shadow, after all, and holes don’t automatically translate into mountains.
And yet even in isolation, the third pane is already in itself a complex marvel: Backed by light whose five long bulbs seem like a hand giving both icon and audience the finger, the image’s classical roots in painting is complicated by its postmodern reproduction as printout.
The pinkish luminescence of the middle finger almost begs the viewer to pay attention to detail, to stoop in close examination of the imperfect inkjet quality of printing, lengthwise jags all over. This prompts the audience to reexamine the other imagistic texts, their occasionally unsmooth placement of acetate sheets over glass, emphasizing the seams over what seems plain and natural.
For, like in his use of Benday dots in the planes, it is this confession of artificiality that constitutes Syjuco’s formalism, that all artistic products are merely products of their process: Disillusioned by organic unity, one ceases to view any form as natural but rather as arbitrary constructs, shaped by the artist and further shaped by his audience.
Far beyond mere utilization and manipulation of form, “Mighty Big Headstand” is a mighty big critique of form—and Syjuco accomplishes this like a true master, at once playful and with effortless grace.
The show is ongoing at Mag:net Gallery, Paseo Center, G/F, Paseo de Roxas, Makati.

0011 Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Ineffable Lightness of Being Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco, June 2008

By Johnathan Libarios Rondina

Philippine Daily Inquirer, 09 June 2008

MANILA, Philippines - Scrolling through avant-garde artist Cesare A. X. Syjuco’s on-line blog is an exercise in momentary displacement. There is nothing there; not a single line of his famous cryptexts or those raging dialogues between debating punctuation marks.

And just when I am prepared to file this empty page in my head as yet another of Cesare’s conceptual pieces, his wife, painter and performance artist Jean Marie Syjuco, tells me it’s nothing more than a page under construction.

Still, my interpretive faux pas is perfectly excusable. Both Cesare’s and Jean Marie’s works over the last three decades have often been described as, well, indescribable.

After all, he has been known to cast invisible sculptures molded with nothing but poetry and halogen. She, on the other hand, is prone to convulsive fits of symbolic self-mutilation, at one point even giving herself the unkindest of haircuts in a highly acclaimed art performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Indeed, theirs is the kind of the art that induces nosebleeds, cerebral puzzles without a single solution, creative meanderings without a specific point or destination.

Milan Kundera’s view on the duality of art expressed through the character of Sabina in the “Unbearable Lightness of Being”—on the surface an intelligible lie, underneath the unintelligible truth”—rings true of the Syjucos’ multi-layered, transmediated textualities.

Speaking of Cesare’s works, filmmaker Don Escudero once said, “They are very evocative. Evocative of what, I don’t know!”

Cesare, a multi-awarded poet and art critic, simply describes himself and Jean Marie thus: “Cesare Syjuco is primarily a poet whose literary experiments take him into the realm of the visual arts. Jean Marie Syjuco is primarily a visual artist whose art experiments take her into the realm of the literary. So this is a perfectly good example of how two very different people can start out in opposite directions and still end up in pretty much the same place—in this case, the art gallery.”

Constantly defying the reductionism of the finite, the Syjuco experiment, through its many permutations in poetry, performance, painting, music, and installation, continue to speak volumes about the postmodern condition, and now promises to engage a new generation of art audiences, challenging them to accept and understand the inherent multiplicity of meaning and experience.

Lifetime of collaboration

Their lifetime of collaboration began almost immediately when the couple met in 1968 as high-school students. He was the energetic captain of De La Salle’s debate team. She was on the forensics team of the School of the Holy Spirit. It was a romance borne of the art of discord.

“Ours was a turbulent romance,” Jean Marie recalls. “It was an on-and-off relationship. We used to argue a lot.”

They married 10 years later in 1978 and collaborated on many projects thereafter. Many art enthusiasts agree that the couple’s best collaboration was the Art Lab on Estrella Street at Edsa which, for much of the early 1990’s, served as the primary venue for Conceptual Art in the country. There, Jean Marie showcased her “Approach to the Minimal” series of Zen-like monochromatic, airbrush-textured paintings. Cesare, painted shadows on walls and wrote poetry on thin air.

In 1995, when the MRT construction started to cast an ominous shadow over the Art Lab, the Syjucos decided to close shop, much to the disappointment of their friends, clients and fellow artists.

Those were difficult times for the Syjucos. Cesare’s father had died the year before and the couple’s children were growing up, demanding more parental direction.

“We decided to strengthen our family life,” Jean Marie explains, “and so we became very private.”

During those private years, the Syjucos also managed the career of their children, who formed the avant-garde rock band Faust! in 1996. Although short-lived on the mainstream music scene, the group received critical acclaim and enjoyed a cult-following.

Shrine to art

Cesare and Jean Marie also spent their time in hiatus building their biggest installation project yet—a multi-level home in Ayala Alabang—where nine-meter streamers scream anti-ruling order slogans in signature Cesare fashion.

Jean Marie proudly welcomes guests to their impressive home as a curator would to a museum. In fact, she has started to open their house to visiting art-club students from nearby schools.

The Syjuco home is a shrine to art and gives visitors an insight into the creative and complimentary dynamics between its two masters. Taking center stage are Cesare’s poems in glass and light boxes, and several neon-light installations, drawings and paintings.

As in all of Cesare’s works, these home pieces cannot be ignored; here, there and everywhere, they assault and confuse, confound and mesmerize.

In contrast, Jean Marie’s works take a strategically subdued position in their domestic realm. A synthetic flower blooms by synthetic sunlight in the dining area. A cat-and-fish installation plays out a tale of catch-me-if-you-can in the toilet. A bird’s nest nestles peacefully on the hallway as the sound of flowing water echoes throughout the space.

Somewhere inside this big house, Cesare is working on his new pieces. Jean Marie says he’ll be down in five minutes. Fifteen minutes later, she calls him on the intercom.


“Come na, now na,” she whispers, with such heartfelt, teenage-sounding affection that reveals her passionate regard for her husband of 30 years.

“We’ve mellowed over the years,” she says. “Now we don’t argue anymore.”

Cesare emerges from his lair another five minutes later. I offer a hand, he offers a hug as though we’ve known each other for years. Notoriously shy, he is known to come to his own show openings late, where he stays only briefly before disappearing again into the night.

He asks me to sit down and we talk about his mundane pleasures which, not surprisingly, include changing the strings on his 54 electric guitars and, quite surprisingly, watching “American Idol” with his kids, and the joy of going to the beach with the whole family for the first time ever.

A short while later, he stands up, gives me another hug, this time as though we’ve known each other forever, and says, “You will come back again, will you?”

“Jean Marie is my wife, my best friend, my anchor,” he e-mailed a few days later, answering my question about his lifetime collaboration with his wife. “She is my moral support, my manager, and my curator. I’m sure I’d be completely lost without her.”

In her new works, now on view at E Gallerie, Jean Marie presents a series of six minimalist paintings in gradating beige hues. It is really a logical sequence, a mathematical formulation where she repeatedly inscribes a basic principle of art—“The painting of a single line is still full of adventure”—until, in the end, painting, line and principle come full circle.

The Syjuco experiment, 30 years in the making, is an adventure slowly inching its way toward that direction.

0020 The Philippine Star, Poesessed, January 2005

By Alfred A. Yuson
The Philippine Star, 31 January 2005

Several weeks ago, this space featured a review of "Flashes of Genius" - the comeback exhibit of Cesare A.X. Syjuco at the CCP Main Gallery. The show closed last Thursday. But before it did, on Saturday Jan. 22, curators Sid Hildawa and Jean-Marie Syjuco arranged a poetry reading cum performance evening billed as "Poessessed." The artist, who is also known to be a first-rate art critic and a Palanca awardee for poetry, read four poems, a couple of which were featured as "hypertext" in his cryptic, illuminated artworks.
Other readers included Cesare's and Jean-Marie's daughter Maxine, actor slash performance artist slash photographer Ronnie Lazaro, and Likhaan: UP Institute of Creative Writing director Vim Carmelo Nadera, another flasher/shocker of a performance perpetrator.
I was invited by fellow poet Hildawa to participate that evening, but couldn't get away from a previous commitment to operate on an incipient garden in Tagaytay. Good thing another buddy, Mario Taguiwalo, made it to the ritual event, and better yet, rendered a fine report on the occasion.
Mario's no slouch as an analyst and critic of all things under the sun, from governance to high fashion to the management of development funds,let alone hospitals, such as he once did with Medical City. He has also served as DOH Undersecretary, and done beefcake roles in Peque Gallaga films.
Ten years before what we now call EDSA Uno. Mario wrote a prophetic piece for ERMITA magazine, titled "what is edsa and why is it doing these things to me?" A brief bio he submitted reads thus:
"Mario Taguiwalo is a lapsed Catholic, relapsed activist and a fellow traveler in the world of what DTI Secretary Cesar Purisima now calls 'the creative economy' that includes everyone making a living by their wits. His professional interests include diseases, ignorance and prejudice, hunger and pain, lust and pregnancies on a mass scale, and unfulfilled wants and unrealized aspirations. In more conventional terms, he works on health, education, social protection, population and reproductive health, culture and governance."
Occasionally we find his perceptive socio-political analyses appearing in various newspapers. So when Mario hands over a critique of sorts on cutting-edge art, friends who are often awed by his intelligence and intuition can only pay mind and heart to it.
Following is his report, titled "Unplugging Flashes of Genius."
The Saturday ritual started late. Young people from the National High School for the Arts were milling around the pictures, anticipating some action. The waiting felt like performance art. Small children were running from one end of the hall to the other. Euro disco music was playing on the background. A guy came forward and announced that coffee, water and some sandwiches were available. It felt like a metaphor of something important - a death, a birth or a passing of an
Then it began. Cesare Syjuco, the artist whose exhibit was closing in a few days' time, was introduced as "the guy wearing a bonnet standing by the water cooler." Sid Hildawa read a poem about zooming out. Joe Gruta came forward to say he was invited to read a poem but he was not
given a poem to read. Mystifying. Was this a miscue or a finely executed act? Another metaphor, perhaps, about poverty and deprivation? Some TV correspondent, whose name I did not get, read a poem about being rushed because time is gold. A performance artist did his version of a tsunami on a basin and a cardboard box, which caused the middle of the audience to stand back to escape the waters.
Then there was a balagtasan about whether a long penis is better than a thick one. Hilarious. Although I was wondering what the four- and five-year-old kids thought of it. Heber Bartolome recited an old song of his about media, falsehood and truth. I thought its earnestness was a nice counterpoint to the evening's absurdity. Vim Nadera did a typically strange act wearing a medical patient's gown and a black cardboard mask while asking people if they wanted love. Then he launched on all the social evils of Philippine society as the source of our lack of love. No need for a metaphor there.
Did you see Cesare's latest exhibit? It was extended till Thursday the 27th. It demanded intelligence and sensitivity; so if you have neither, it was right that you missed it. I did not see it as an exhibit. I experienced it as a venue for a ritual event. I wonder how it would have affected me had I encountered it as a quiet exhibit on a mid-morning or late afternoon of a working day. Maybe I would have walked around and said to myself, "How clever! How witty! How smart!" Or maybe I would have gaped at the white spaces, words on pictures or pictures on words, and said to myself, "What the f**k is this about? What is this crazy guy trying to say?" Cesare really has a knack for challenging your idea of art, taunting you to either spit on him or kneel in prayer before him.
In any case, I was part of a motley crowd that celebrated the imminent end of the exhibit. I sat across a part of the exhibit hall where backlit pictures screamed at me: "I could." and "Eat my shorts." and one with a long sentence that included a phrase about "the rectum parallel with the body." And these words were in frames with images of Americans from the 1950's that seemed quaint and perverse at the same time.
The highlight of the event was Cesare reciting his poems. But first he was preceded by his daughter, Maxine, looking like an anime character's love object - dainty, fragile, bright, but strange, reciting a poem about her being an origami being folded and floated to the sea until her tears melted with the waters.
When the daughter was done, the father stood up and took the mike. Cesare first recited "Our Lady of the Thorns," a fairy tale about a boy who accidentally mutilates himself and talks to the Virgin Mary. After this religious piece, Cesare offered a math lesson in life, "The Table of Zero," a litany about nothing coming from nothing and leading to nothing. Then he really got serious and tackled racial discrimination, religious persecution and individual paranoia with his poem, "American Scarecrow."
And best of all, he ended with his poetic take-off from something suggested by a David Bowie song - "Commander/James/Calling/Space/Station" - including a haunting and disturbing guitar solo accompanying the words. I have a copy of these four poems but Cesare's poems are merely faint suggestions on paper that are transformed into fully formed vibrant living beings when performed by him.
The whole shebang - the exhibit and the closing performances - was cleansing.
Meaning is subordinate to mystery. Purpose is not in ourselves but in our situation. Art is the moment when creation meets audience and an emotional connection beyond words ignites, even for just a moment, even beneath consciousness.
Through the mystifying acts and symbols, through the dense imagery, behind the correct grammar but undecipherable meaning, beyond the unfinished sentences and the unmelodic sounds, one finds accidental significance, personal clarity, emotional release and ultimately, gentle relief from the daily oppression of navigating this life with sense and responsibility.

0021 The Philippine Star, The Return of the (Cesare) Comeback, November 2004

By Alfred A. Yuson
The Philippine Star, 29 November 2004

An MMDA-pink pedestrian overpass spans C-5 or Rodriguez Ave. towards Libis, off the corner of Julio Vargas Avenue. Relatively new, it looks spic-and-span, bright and cheery, but remains unused, because it has no stairs on either end. Bayani Fernando’s boys had installed the bridge without consulting the proper owners on both sides of C-5. No one seemed to know that they would have to ask permission to encroach on commercial lots before they could erect the stairs.

For now we can laud it as an installation piece, an eye-catching sculpture symbolizing shortsighted futility, with a clear allusion to the merits of a mythic nowhere. Well, it’s also simple a landmark to make Metro Manilans shake their heads in consternation or amusement.

These days, whenever I catch sight of it, I wish Cesare A. X. Syjuco would take it upon himself to volunteer to collaborate on the work-in-arrested-progress, apply his iconoclastic bravura touch, the way Pacita Abad enhanced a similar walkway spanning the Singapore river. Perhaps Cesare can add text  on its broad span: some arcane calligraphy, a cryptic quotation, or pithy lines of dialogue.

He could also decide to hang a row of framed tarpaulin pieces with images in color or black –and-white, lit from behind, so that motorists whizzing by at night would raise both eyebrows and say, “Did you see those? Hey, That was Humphrey Bogart out there in one of those banners, must be another Smart Addict come-on…”

But neither smart nor addictive describes the munificent sampling of Syjuco’s recent artworks, which are on formal display at the CCP Main Gallery until January 2005. Billed as Flashes of Genius, the visual-literary trans-media exhibit of some 60 works is exactly that: it “flashes” uncompromising genius, the way a creative deviant would throw his overcoat open to display naked rhetoric and philosophical questions to an intrigued, rather than stunned, crowd of instant voyeurs.

There’s a ludic and sexy come-on quality to Syjuco’s art, boldly challenging, or at its gentlest inducing / seducing the viewer to / into instant myriad reaction that partakes of both quizzical cerebral contortions as well as gut-feel appreciation.
“Fantastic!”  That was how fellow Philippine Star columnist and critic-at-large Dr. Isagani Cruz was reported to have exclaimed on opening night on Nov. 13. I believe I muttered the same appraisal inside myself when my wife and I did an early bird walkthrough that night, even before the ceremonial ribbon was snipped to open the show.

Oh what a show it is, of the show-and-tell garden variety, too, as in managing to raise all these splendiferous existential questions that translate into hybrid bushes, hedges and groves of perked-up consciousness. It is the same response we had to seeing all those sculptures of cows all over London, or a simulation of alien-looking characters seated on an installed park bench across Singapore Art Museum.

Here in Metro Manila, we hardly have such visual titillation offered publicly, that is, not inadvertently, as with that virginal MMDA walkway. At best we have commendable examples of commissioned public art at The Fort, occasionally at Greenbelt, and that of former Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson reading a newspaper while facing the sunset in Roxas Blvd.’s Baywalk. No giant spoons or magnified simulacra of mundane objects greets us in any metropolitan tour, only the invariable accidents of kitsch such as that monstrous sculpture on an island upon entering Anonas Ext. in Quezon City.

Well, some alderman ought to commission Cesare A.X. Syjuco to serialize a chainsaw massacre of city consciousness by installing his arresting “conceptual” art where it can stop people on their tracks and make the think, even if the first thought would likely be: “Is my leg being pulled?” That goes into the equation all right; yet it is more of one’s relationship with words and images, thereby the world of worlds, that is being tweaked onto a higher plane.

Consider the dialogue in a set of three hypertext artworks Cesare has included in his exhibit.

“18. Mundane” goes thus: “:What is mundane?: Anything and everything when you’re bleeding from shrapnel on the bridge of a burning deck. :My thoughts exactly :You’ve never had a thought in your life.”
“19. Mundane” has the following: “:What’s the difference between mundane and inconsequential? :Mundane means it’s unimportant. Inconsequential is when it doesn’t matter. :What’s the difference there? :It’s a mundane question. A reply would be inconsequential. :You’re a jerk, you know that? :I love you too” 

And “20. Mundane” goes: “Q: Why do people bother with the inconsequential? A: I’m not sure Q: You mean like ‘Life on Mars’? A: I mean like life anywhere”

The enlarged text, in bold, black or red, is superimposed on black-and-whit photo images of an imperiled battleship at sea.

The “Dead Enough” series, also a triptych or trilogy, goes this way. Panel 1: “How dead is very dead? Not dead enough.” Panel 2: “How ‘enough’ is enough? Very verry dead.” The text is imposed on a familiar if vintage cinema frame showing a well dressed lady with a pistol in hand. The third panel magnifies the hand with the gun, under which the bold black text, in lowercase, goes “one more for the road,” (Yes, that’s a comma rendering finis to this unholy trinity.)

Some of the works offer nothing short of imperial messages, like the twin “Resonance” pieces, where the first aphorism is “The Resonance of Matter Matters,” and the second simply drops the first three words, so that we read: “Matter Matters,” – with eloquent spaces in between. (Yes, again writing finis are commas instead of periods; even that seemingly arbitrary touch must be a flash of something, say, idiot-savant proclivities?)

And then some works validate the authentic poet in Cesare, who after all is a Palanca  prizewinner in that genre. “A Death Wish” – which shows a distorted B&W photo of a dancing man, reads text-heavily: “I’d like to go quite suddenly, I think, whacked from behind when I least expect it, face down and spread thinly on some anonymous sidewalk, in someone else’s anonymous hometown later to be peeled off the pavement like chewing gum from underneath the treads of a crumbling cream passat, and totally, joyfully, wordlessly oblivious to the hours and the whys and the wherefores of somehow not going in the very same way that I came,”. Breathless; even that comma gasps for air.

And there are story-poems, as with “Dorothea” which has a B&W photo, again distorted, of a naked man with a cello, imposed on which is a modernist fable: “There was in his strong upright father a kind of vague borderline malevolence more disturbing than it was reprehensible. It took curious form, for instance, in the jar of attic mice that he kept locked in the trunk of his car. Or more to the point and closer to home, to his bedside drawer, the perfectly trimmed tiny crescent thumbnail with someone else’s name on it. Q: But who was Dorothea? Q: And why were her mice so very small?”

For sheer poetry of quintessential, postmodern wit, there is “Bow” which shows a naked man with a cello, and the following haunting micro-text: “There is no song in the bow in breaking. Wrap me in the bow in breaking.”

The work titled “River” is rhythmically cautionary: “A river stays spread on pages without sight has no reach, without reach will not flow, without flow will not rain, without rain will die.”

Most of the artworks are on large tarpaulin rectangles that are box-framed and backlit. But there’s a delightful eye-and-mind-popper of an installation right on the sort of anteroom when you enter: a bulky yellow column, the plaque for which, reading much like a road sign, welcomes the viewer into the kind of mildly caustic, quasi-ethereal plane the artist visits in his sleep as well as OBE experiences, no doubt. Generously does he share such dreams with us.

The work is titled “A Concrete Fiction” – text on acrylic panel installed on color-coordinated concrete post (existing), 2004 – to wit: “One (1) rather unremarkable concrete structural girdle post, obstructing principal lines of vision in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time.. steel, fiber and ABS reinforced for maximum load bearing capacity under extreme stress.. X meters high by X meters thick by X meters wide.. clad entirely in hipping grade marine plywood and painted a Gay Capri Yellow (Ace Premix 442B or 442C specified).. to be immediately constructed on this site for no conceivable purpose and at ridiculously excessive cost.. and to be left uselessly in place as a careless inconvenience for the duration of the monsoon season..” Space follows, then dialogue in itals: “Q: You’ve got to be kidding..right? A: You fckn wish..”

Behind this column is a glass rectangle with the word VOID. Viewed at a certain angle, this piece imposes its reflection on another work two meters away. It’s that kind of hyper-imposition I wish Cesare can apply on many of the ongoing infrastructure projects in our otherwise benighted cityscape.

Cesare A.X. Syjuco lives a life of the mind, and what antic, impish imagination he parlays into words and visuals. A painter, poet and art critic of international stature, he racked up various distinctions at a young age (TOYM award for Art and Culture advancement; Gerry Roxas Foundation Presidential Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts; Gawad CCP sa Sining Biswal; AAP Grand Prize for Painting; UNESCO Paris Gold Medals for Photography and Design; the First Purita Kalaw Ledesma Award for Art Criticism, etc.).

The groundbreaking artist once operated the studio-gallery Art Lab right on EDSA, in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, if I recall right. Then he inexplicably disappeared from the local art scene. Rumor had it that he and artist wife Jean Marie had decided to turn into stage “pay-rents” for an ultra-rock band consisting of their five kids. And with the Syjucos no rumor is ever an exaggeration.

Now, a dozen years after he donned that cloak of invisibility, the Harried Pater of EDSA, Vancouver and Alabang resurrects himself, and his pioneering art, nay, revives them, nay reinvents, nay, redoes and remixes all of our notions on what can be splendid in the visual arts (cum literary), with this his 13th solo exhibition.

No wonder one of the tarpaulin works, in full color, is a page straight out of a Flash Gordon comic book. It is titled “Last Leaf” – with the ersatz-hype text blessing the frames: “I am the last leaf in this book of vanishing pages.”

What is this guy on? Pa-share naman, kumpadre!  But of course the last must be the first. So welcome back, amigo pare siempre!