The promise that Geraldine Javier makes in every exhibit—be it one that spans a whole gallery or museum, or a smaller space in an art fair—is one of patience and persistence, vision and focus. It is a promise that she keeps in Landscape As A State Of Mind Is A Landscape (May 2015, Finale Art File).
Death and detailed work is Javier’s default. Crocheting over skeletons, doing needlework relative to vestiges of the past, become counterpoint to the magnitude of large empty spaces. There is no comfort to be had in the worlds she creates. But that is precisely the point.
From stories to state of mind
In Curiosities (Vargas Museum, 2012), what Javier built was the interiors of a home, old and neglected, and the story of a woman, forgotten and silenced. In Chapel of Many Saints and Sinners (Art Fair Philippines, 2013), a make-shift shelter is filled with wooden statues of saints and demons reconfigured by Javier’s crochet and tatting work, and installed particular to the stories these stand for, and not as mere holy icons.
Javier’s preoccupation with the dead and inanimate is about telling a story: these do not include skeletal remains of creatures and animals just for the heck of it, nor is everything crocheted over as a matter of course. One is drawn to how these installations prove an artistic patience to create a world, one that hews so closely to the real, even as it traverses how sometimes that is stranger than fiction.
In Landscape As A State Of Mind Is A Landscape, the world that Javier builds is one in the exteriors of a space, where human, animal, plant meld together in an eerie yet bright and colorful display of natural life. Consider: images of old women and little girls with antlers, real and painted on; the “Green Man of Candelaria” sitting with his dog in the midst of foliage, a real cow skull attached where his head should be; the artist’s self-portrait with dog, embroidered owls, and a deer’s head coming out of a canvas within the canvas.
A garden is built as a set of installations of wooden boxes within which are encased the characters of the wild (imagination) and folklore. Faceless children and animals, with bodies and heads of leaves and foliage, blend into and become landscape; unidentified flora and fauna are painted in bright colors. These are all trapped in casings of wood and glass, further layered with geometric woodwork, signifying real concrete foliage. Each installation here also creates a landscape all its own.
As standing installations, a 365-degree view of each work reveals Javier’s sharp focus on creating a small narrative within this bigger world; going around the installations reveal a changing garden, the landscape shifting as one moves from one perspective to another.
Even for the spectator, this landscape is a state of mind. It is changing and evolving as one speaks, even as it is about entrapment and capture. It is living and breathing, even as it is nothing but dead leaves hammered into creature-forms, and a cow’s skeleton standing for an old man’s head.
To say it is eerie is an understatement. It would also miss the point: there is this balance that it strikes between life and death, recreating a Filipino child’s sense of delight in nature, as well as her inability to grasp it, to capture its strangeness, in her little hands.
Death and danger
But there is a layer to Javier’s geometric woodwork as foliage and fauna that renders it dangerous, if not menacing. With tips pointed like spears and arrows, there is a sense that one is not welcome here, in this landscape of color and creature, even as one is enamored by it—if not lured into it by its familiarity, its peculiarity. It’s a form of entrapment for sure.
This feeling of entrapment continues on the second floor of the gallery, where dead leaves are pressed between translucent cloth and built into 15 dividers that function as walls. Across these walls of dead leaves are paintings of dry flowers in vases, still in bright colors, texturized with a skilled hand at encaustic. On top of these paintings is geometric woodwork that creates landscape, rendering each image larger than the frame. For two paintings, the woodwork function as smaller frames for preserved insects, their death borne of another’s.
Inside a smaller room is a “Tree Cemetery,” where blocks of charcoal stand as tree stumps on the floor, black and heavy, without value. On the walls are some frames of hammered leaves, rendered unfamiliar, a death in itself.
Tried, tested, trapped
The movement from the garden downstairs to the landscapes upstairs is one intricately staged, one that builds on jouissance and then uses this to punch you in the stomach as a last hurrah. The point being made is of course cliché. But the process is one that is about Javier’s deliberate and purposeful placement of one artwork alongside another, the use of one media with another, given a predisposition to speak of life and death, the fictions that are real and the realities that are fiction.
As states of mind go, Javier’s landscape is worth walking, in what might be seen as a state of reckless endangerment. For once, it did not seem like an oriental(ized) identification with notions of death and horror, the kind that would be universal. Instead it was the creation of an imagined national community, the kind familiar to any Filipino child who’s taught that nature is a double-edged sword of freedom and danger, and who grows up seeing how it is fleeting and transient, becoming less and less important and valuable.
Javier’s state of mind, is in fact yours and mine. As it is the state of the nation.