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."