Mixed signals and ambivalent gestures



The dark and self-referential, the crises of self and becoming, is usually gloomy and sad, if not violent and brutal, at least if what we are looking at are the exhibition of works that deal with the psyche and ego, the inner self from which psychosis springs.

In Ferdz Valencia’s Ambivalent Gestures, though, this crisis happens in full color, and with less of the images and symbols we equate with neurosis and the search for meaning.

A serious question

The largest work, and which necessarily draws the eye, is of a ram deity hanging on a cross, not crucified, but with hands open in generosity. On the foot of the cross is a skull, above it a third eye— which is without the pair of eyes that render it as such.

 ‘Excess Baggage’ by Valencia

‘Excess Baggage’ by Valencia

The cross divides two seemingly opposing sides: a golden versus a gray skeleton, both kneeling in prayer; a piece of meat versus a head of lettuce; a head on each side sinking in the lava that surrounds the image; an evil hand in red versus what looks like a hand that has suffered through crucifixion.

The skill of course is that no side is better than the other – there is no sense of one being evil and one being good. The prayers on both sides are about sustenance and survival, but are also revealed as patterned abstraction. The eye that watches over these proceedings is not so much eerie as it seems to be a bit bored, looking straight at the spectator outside of that canvas, instead of at what is happening within it.

This is easily the work that one would think is cliché, because of skulls and skeletons, critical of religion and faith and prayer. Yet a closer look at this painting reveals that “A Wager on Sacred Tongues and Sweet Nothings” actually pokes fun at notions of faith and prayer as it’s been rendered before, as it is a statement on religiosity Philippines-style.

Above the cross, the hands of good and evil are in a perpetual game of rock-paper-scissors, and the scoreboard says they are at a tie.

A sense of humor

A sense of humor is brought to bear upon the works here, which allows it to go beyond the darkness of self-centered crises.

‘greetings From the Hell of Myself’ by Ferdz Valencia currently on exhibit at West gallery

‘greetings From the Hell of Myself’ by Ferdz Valencia currently on exhibit at West gallery

A man sits in a drunken stupor, an oversized San Miguel Pale Pilsen bottle in front of him.
He is surrounded by what goes through his head—the bright idea overshadowed by the dominance of heavy geometric images, of rain clouds, of bright neon colors strips and raindrops. This is “110% Alcohol Induced Ideas”—it is crowded and multifarious, but it also doesn’t amount to much.

“A Lesson on Commitment” also works with this kind of irony, where a man is in the act of jumping into a hole on the floor. The plainness of the pink and purple room stands relative to the man’s imagination of what that hole might have to offer: nature in full neon color, a decadence of imagination that even the man is uncertain about —he is not jumping willingly into that hole, his body in an act of resistance even as it is up in the air. It is being neither here nor there, the room and the hole both questionable options, both a form of entrapment.

It is almost a mockery of what we imagine to be freedom, and what we think it is that we carry —and what we do not need to.

In “Excess Baggage,” a man painfully carries his baggage against a plain green and orange backdrop. It is what he carries that is in colored stripes, a statement in itself on what it is we think we need, what we imagine important, relative to the plainness of our daily existence. That this baggage is eight times the man’s size, mocks even our own sense of what is important.

It is freedom meanwhile that is questioned by the image of a man, seemingly unconscious, being lifted into the skies by a large kite painted in full color with various geometric shapes and patterns. He speaks in the same colors, and imagines he is being freed from his chains. Except that of course this is a kite, and around him are paper airplanes, highlighting how low this flight will go, and how quickly he could fall back down on his chains, his un-freedom. This is “Solace Flight to the Stratosphere.”

Laughing at the self
There are two works though that stand strong in the existence of a persona who is not in a drunken stupor nor half-conscious, who is not busy making a decision or kneeling down in prayer. And it is here that the ambivalent gesture itself is put into question: for what is ambivalent about clarity, what happens when the signals are not mixed?

‘110% alcohol induced ideas’ by Valencia

‘110% alcohol induced ideas’ by Valencia

“How To Build A Wall Under Five Minutes,” are two canvasses divided between man and woman, speaking the same lines, but both incensed by a conversation that has effectively drawn a wall between them. We need not know what words are being spoken; we only know that regardless of the same conversation, the outcome is distance.

As with the rest of the works here, the bright neon colors bring the the sad state of affairs to the point of its irony: what are we doing to ourselves, and how much of this do we in fact control? The ambivalent gesture, one finds, just might be in those colors, and our ability to imagine these as both our doing and undoing.

One canvas holds a rainbow on its top corner, sitting upon a beautiful, calm blue sky.
This is “Greetings From The Hell of Myself.” And from the opposite corner of the canvas, a hand is giving the rainbow a dirty finger.


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