writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Recollections Recreated

Marina Cruz-Garcia, who is seriously one of the most talented Filipino artists among the young set, asked me to write the catalogue text for her exhibition, Recollections, that was held at Art Informal last 1-18 February 2008.

I gladly did so and also published the text in my column in Star (published on 18 Feb) because I really do believe in giving artists exposure. A lot of the media have picked up on the "art thing" since the Philippine art scene has never been more exciting and it's a bit hard not to notice once you start going to openings and feeling the energy. Yet, most of the art coverage is limited to magazines. Space for the arts in the papers is very limited. I'm very grateful for my column in Star which allows me to reach a wider audience.

Anyway, please check out more of Marina's work here. She shares a website with her husband, Rodel Tapaya, who is also another talented Filipino artist and who has recently been working with acrylic on large-scale canvases (usually he uses burlap) and I absolutely LOVE it.

You may also want to check out an earlier write-up I did of Marina for Preview's Creative IT List 2006. And click here to see the outstanding work she submitted in the Philip Morris Art Awards last year. I'm usually very hesitant about "declaring things" but her work at Philip Morris was, in my opinion, undoubtedly the best among the finalists.


Recollections Recreated

In the exhibition Recollections, artist Marina Cruz-Garcia once again explores the theme of memory. She delves into poignant but jettisoned memories of her relations, recreating them on canvas with new and realized significance to deliver an intimate contribution in family history. Each piece retells a story through Marina’s perspective. Whether lonely or charming, sweet or bittersweet, the records Marina narrates become shaped into her own. Tinted in a brown glaze that induces an air of nostalgia, the works offer an expressive disclosure of reminiscences that touch upon Marina’s circle of loved ones.

The piece The Roots of the Ancestral Tree depicts the paternal grandmother of Marina. She is sitting down on a chair that, along with her legs, molds down into a thick trunk with a multitude of roots. Her eyes are undefined, its shapes filled with pure dark color, her emotions hidden. The background is filled with green patches of an undulating pattern, implying the branches of a tree, the depth of a forest or multiple masses and divisions of land.

Such a foreboding appearance or presence is only fitting knowing the immense weight of the grandmother’s position. While it is not an unusual role to be a mother, Marina’s grandmother was amazingly matriarch to a multitudinous sixteen. The irony that, in all those numbers, the grandmother now resides alone does not slip past Marina. The Roots of the Ancestral Tree is indeed her homage to her grandmother, a way of recollecting her lola’s central role in establishing the foundations of the large family that Marina is a part of.

Roots finds resonance in You Said We Will Sit Here When We’re Old. By a rocking chair is the faceless figure of a distant relative of Marina, who was widowed several years ago after being married for nine years without children. Though she later adopted, she is, not unusually for a widow, continually revisited by the memory of her husband and her husband’s promise to sit together when they are old. But as age has come and the promise remains unfulfilled, Marina fittingly presents her standing by a rocking chair as if waiting, the door behind her carved with the image of his oath and left open as if anticipating his return.

Loss also imbues The Nighttime of Our Day on Our Master’s Bedroom. The painting features Marina’s maternal grandparents from a wedding snapshot, the image cut and tilted by Marina to lie on the bed the couple used to sleep on. Marina’s grandfather passed away long ago and her grandmother has since moved out of their old room, leaving behind there not only the picture of their celebrated nuptials but a feeling of pervading absence as well. Marina re-cherishes the memory of the event in her re-placement of the newlyweds on the most intimate space a couple can share. She adds details of flora and an outline on the wall of a pair of birds perched on branches, sweet reminders of the then blossoming love of the young couple, regenerating life into the abandoned room.

Marina’s maternal grandmother is also the subject of This Will Look Good on You. In the work, the outline of her grandmother, then young, sits at a chair by the sewing machine, a small piece of fabric in her hands. It is a remembrance of her grandmother’s sewing days, and sewing not just any little thing but elaborate dresses for her precious twin girls, one of whom is Marina’s own mother.

The fruit of the grandmother’s labor is seen in Twins’ Posing Pause which uses as source a photograph that candidly captures the then four to five-year old girls as they begin to wane in patience posing for the camera. Standing close to each other, they both awkwardly hold up one side of their fanciful dresses, spreading them like butterfly wings. The appearances of the twins and their dresses, which while not mirror images echo each other all the same, are resonated by Marina’s use of a lace runner mat pattern as backdrop, a double imprint that mimics the dual likenesses. The piece actually picks off from Kambal, a painting Marina did for an earlier show of the same title, illustrating the artist’s consistent forays into family memory and history.

In Souvenir of Our Performance I and II, the twins are now in their 20s and, not having outgrown the penchant of dressing alike, wear identical pink shirts. They sit with each strumming a banduria, a folk music instrument, together with their guitar-playing music instructor. The photograph Marina used as resource had the words “souvenir of our performance” scribbled behind it, which was a label that would prove to be so apt later on. The twins’ music instructor sadly grew deaf, losing evidently his ability to instruct with the photograph of a time gone by truly becoming a memento of sorts. Recreating the photograph into paintings, Marina refashions the memory as an elevated souvenir, instilling it as a kind of melancholic homage to a teacher in a treasured age before being renounced by his field.

I Used to Sit Here with My Dog is a rare work of Marina which projects into the future. The piece though is still marked by the past. On the left is a black Labrador, the current dog of Marina which she comprehends she will sorely miss when it has passed away. By the chair is an old lady that somehow morphs in part into a little girl. The old lady is no relative of Marina but is the artist herself as she imagines herself to be in the future—sitting at her chair and reminiscing of days yonder when her beloved dog was at her side. The parts of the little girl that peek out are Marina’s visual signifier on how a memory can transport and transform while the painting’s heavy texture is Marina’s parallel with time and character, believing that the more the former passes the more the latter is developed.

Marina’s engrossment with the past is attributed to her late maternal grandfather, who a day before her fifth birthday told her he had a present for her. But the next day, he died abruptly, leaving the young Marina forever wondering what his present was or if there was even really a present at all. Her continuing search for her fifth birthday gift bore a fondness of looking at old objects and unearthing stories and nearly forgotten memories.

As one of the promising young artists that lights away a brighter future of Philippine contemporary art, Marina Cruz-Garcia is singularly motivated by the past. The search for her lolo’s gift continues but, while it may not yield the actual present of her grandfather, it bears in abundance the fruits in the artworks and exhibitions she produces along the way.