Presenting the present and the past at Pablo

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SINING Kamalig introduced me to the arts of Kim Oliveros some two years ago. If I cannot place the time I first saw his works, it is because there is always something old about this young artist. He is fascinated with Japonism, with kimonos and geishas standing by old telephone booths. Memory becomes the instrument of Oliveros and it is a tool that incises through time and space and yet leaves the incision whole again, as if his remembering heals and brings back something from the past. I was not surprised therefore when I stumbled upon a collection of paintings under the exhibit title When the Past is Always Present and seeing the name of Kim Oliveros.

The curator’s notes talk about five artists tackling “the past in various ways, bringing what’s past to the present in this show.” The notes say When the Past is Always Present is also the title of a book about “psychosensory therapy,” which introduces the idea of havening as therapy for trauma, “in which the emotional event is brought to a safe place, a haven, through sensory input.” The curator’s words finally declares: “Although psychotherapists use touch as the key to the senses, this show posits that art can be just as effective as healing agent, both for painter and viewer, and the gallery becomes a safe haven.”

The gallery becomes the site then not just for the display of works but to provide refuge, a haven, for the artists and, in the process, the viewers who are expected to find repose in the site and partake of the healing properties of the works.

Who are the artists? Do they agree in the havening effect and in art as therapy?

Annie Cabigting’s works are described as “small black-and-white paintings.” Her subject is presented as historical past relating to the present, “in which the viewers become part of the discourse.” One painting shows a clenched hand, the delineation of lines so monumental one is bound to view the painting as a copy of a carver’s opus. The engagement of the viewer is initiated by the fact that one grapples not only with the intensity of one’s gaze but also with the significance of what is being gazed at. And what is that thing the hand is holding?

Kelly Ramos, as the notes put it, creates an “image depicting the passage of time…a once-expensive object, abandoned and overgrown by nature.”

In the work of Ramos, the scenario of the past in the present assumes a literalness that is sentimental and poetic at the same time. How did it get there? A car has vines and leaves and twigs hiding it from present use. Did a cluster of small trees fall over the old car? The car, despite the passage of time and maybe because of the short passage of time, still shows its bumper and headlights. The vegetation has not grown all over it giving us an artifice that is urged by memory rather than madness. One feels a hidden force would crank up its engine and it would run past the twigs and branches and leaves that seem to protect the car rather than destroy it.

The power of yesterdays in the hands of Maggie Obana is about the day after, the “scene of a room after a great flood.” This is about a great flood rather than The Great Flood. The room is in a total mess but there is a sweet recollection in how the mess came about. The bed is in disarray and a walking stick and a collapsible stool ride the softness of the mattress. The stain of water drapes down the middle of the bed. The stain, strangely enough, does not annihilate function but softly reminds us about intimacies related to beds and boudoirs.Dolls, eternal shorthand to childhood and the past, are Weng Kok Lee’s melancholy province. The artist plays with “the allure with dolls gone awry…people with doll joints.” The notes sadly do not wait for us to be with the work as it imposes on us the idea of “humans as marionettes, grown-up play objects.”We are told this is “a different kind of doll collection.”

Finally, Kim Oliveros paints “…childhood memories of the family business of importing tela and a fascination with Japanese cloth…Geishas in Russian bathing suits…old postcards from the 1904 Russo Japanese war…the sensory allure with cloth deepening into a commentary on war and culture…after a hundred years, who has conquered whom?

In Oliveros’s painting, the postcard is the source of the painting, a shadow of depictions in a hallway of mirrors. Who is the author of this memory? The card with the images is now reproduced through different media. The reproduction adds multiplicity to an otherwise rare imagination with rarer images. The painter takes on authorship but adds his personal memory. Even memory has become quite complicated.

The late Enrico Manlapaz used to tell me how he was “bothered” by exhibits with many quotes and theorizing. I wonder how he would feel with the deconstruction provided through the notes on the artists’ works. I can see him raising his eyebrow and telling me: “C’mon, let’s just view these paintings.”

The exhibit When the Past is Always Present ran from June 30 to July 28 at Pablo, which is at Unit C-II, South of Market Condominium, Fort Bonifacio Global City.

In Photo: Kim Oliveros’s Savage Beauties


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