There was a clear lopsidedness in the number of works between the two men of Oplan Noplan, an end of the year exhibit over at Art Informal.
Antipas Delotavo had five paintings, and Jose Tence Ruiz had 11 sculptures and paintings.
The number wouldn’t have mattered had the works not seemed too disparate for comfort, where the latter’s perspective dwarfed that of the former, and there seemed to be a need to separate one from the other.
Which is the task of this review. In taking Delotavo’s works separate from Ruiz’s, one intervenes in the narrative itself of this two-man show, and renders it unstable.
Oplan Noplan is premised on nostalgia: here are two artists who had a landmark exhibit a decade ago, what might they say in the present?
A sense of history is being invoked here, yet there is nothing within the exhibit that would educate on what the 2004 exhibit was actually like. That these two names are of course already legend, is what this exhibit banks on, alongside a generation of art spectators who would either know of the 2004 works and / or would blindly trust in the kind of nostalgia that is being sold here.
To some extent one would like to think that the works here might be measured by its relevance regardless of nostalgia.
Beauty in instability
Each of Delotavo’s five paintings work with a pastiche of real images and icons that are at once familiar and strange, existing on different planes but bound by a universe of machines and humans. The creation of hyper-reality seems to be both the point of these works, as it is merely the outcome of the task of rendering the present’s notion of what is real, given what is created by technology and machines, capital and humanity.
To say that I was awed would be an understatement.
“Kahariang Marupok” is the unexpected amalgamation of various colorful exotic birds against a backdrop of trees and some rays of the sun. The birds fly against a foreground of a tree stump and the blade of a bulldozer.
The effect is one of serenity, where the wonder of flight and color that the birds represent, where the backdrop of fauna and the sunlight, allow for an imagination of an ideal. The motionless bulldozer blade seems harmless, the tree stump like a normal perch for the beautiful peacock atop it. The normalization is what makes this instability—if not this violence—beautiful.
Dejection and surrender
At the center of “Giniling Na Binhi” is a woman carrying a child, looking straight out the canvas, the weight of what she carries in her expressionless eyes. The humanity that surrounds her is that of the every Pinoy and Pinay, walking the streets with almost blank stares, their fatigue rendered in the slouch of their shoulders.
These images of the every-man and woman are interspersed with images of decadence: a cup and saucer in the air, a piece of gold cloth, a whole cake, various types of kettles, a blob of an art object. These objects exist on the same plane as the bodies of faceless women in fancy clothes, in poses that might exist in fashion magazines.
Large gears are on top of the canvas, as if to point out what controls the uncanny scene below it. The effect is one of cognitive dissonance, but also of hyper-reality, where the machine renders everything that exists here to be nothing but real and concrete, even when it exists on different planes, even when one plane is more real than the other. The violence is clearly about the machine versus humanity, as it is merely humanity bowing to machine.
The veneer of violence
The same kind of dynamic exists in the works “Markado” and “Kombustyon,” installed like a diptych on one of the gallery walls.
In “Markado,” the exhausted every man and woman exist alongside an overturned car in the foreground, a tank in the background. The sky in the form of an airplane is held in place by a larger-than-life Ronald Mc Donald, who lies on the ground, on a different plane altogether from the humanity around him.
“Kombustyon” meanwhile has the backdrop of an old Manila building, and overturned machines in the foreground. At the center of the canvas is a sheet of polka dot cloth on top of which a headless female body poses in a red gown, her head uncannily hidden by—eaten up by?—the machine above her. The people here look upon the scenes with curiosity, even as these might exist on a plane that they do not see.
For these two works, the violence is in not just in the exhaustion and surrender of the people, but in the kind of pain and suffering that the submission spawns. In “Markado,” a woman holds onto her forehead as if in pain; in “Kombustyon” a woman covers her mouth with one hand, as she holds a fan in another hand. Pop culture’s iconic images (Mc Donald’s, fashion mags) are rendered as violent in themselves, relative to the machines that these live of.
Institutions as machines
“Red Carpet” removes the machine completely from the imagination of a world that is out-of-control, if not merely controlled by the more powerful among us. In this case, it is the institution of the Church that is backdrop, towards which a red carpet is laid out, on one end of which a bishop stands in his vestments. In the foreground is a headless bride, holding a bouquet, lying across the canvas. A statue of an angel holds a bouquet in the background.
People are removed from the goings-on of celebration. One man carries a sack on his shoulders, while another is dressed in what looks like protective clothes against viral outbreaks. The effect is one that renders the wedding and the Church devoid of any romance, where real labor and viral outbreaks are brought to bear upon the notion of celebration.
In this sense human institutions have been made into machines too, selling the unreal and unnecessary in the midst of need and want, pain and suffering.
That message of course is not new, and could be exactly what Delotavo worked with in his 2004 exhibit. It was what he did brilliantly in the now iconic “Itak Sa Puso Ni Mang Juan,” (1978) where the Coca-Cola logo hits the every Pinoy in the heart like a dagger. In his works for Oplan Noplan, Delotavo proves that where global capitalism lives, this message of surrender and suffering do not die as quickly as people do.
That’s not hyper-real. It’s just the truth.