Monday, 27 June 2011

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."

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