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.