By Samito Jalbuena
A CURIOUS case of wanderlust can bring you anywhere—even to the ends of the Earth, to the utmost of your creative powers, or even to Baguio or the boondocks. But in the case of artist Leeroy New, a perennial favorite among our younger creative minds, this award-winning genius and recipient of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s Thirteen Artist Award of a few years ago, always pushes the envelope, achieving new forms that are as exciting and as exemplary of his and our larger social and creative metamorphoses, perhaps none as potent or as equivocally forward as the totems he has created for his latest art show, titled “<3 u, lolz,” at the peregrine destination of BenCab Museum in Baguio.
Yes, you read it. The first two characters form the digital emoticon of a heart, followed by “u” for “you,” to form “Love you,” which is punctuated by a “lolz.” As in, “Love you, lots of laughs.” The “lolz” is not to be confused with “lulz,” another iteration of love in the face of oppression and struggle often used by the hacktivist entity Anonymous, but stands for something equally reverent…. Or, in this case, irreverent.
We say this because, through simple selective perception, or rather subtraction, one can also detect the word “bulolz” for “bulols” (rice gods) if one can go down path of the local pigdin and read the title as “Lab u, lolz.” Just take out the L and A, and there you have it. In a form of bastardized Tagalog and Spanish: “La Bulolz.”
The title of the exhibit gives a clue to the utilization of a battery of techniques and practices of the younger generation of artists who apply late modern (a few would prefer the word “postmodern”) deconstruction of binary opposites, where the once-preferred and dominant is now abandoned in the hierarchy. Whereas formalism was much revered in the past, the present is more informal to the point of incredulity. But attached to deconstruction is also the practice called pastiche, or rather, according to New, the “appropriation of culturally specific iconography [and symbols] to suit artistic rearticulations of culture” whether local, regional or global. In this way and in many others, these artists, exemplified by New, continue to define themselves by the creation of new work using old work, with some better than others in the act of transformation and renewal. New points to an instance as an example: “The use of the ‘jeje’ slang text over the word ‘bulul’ (rice god) is an extension of this,” referring to an artwork perhaps or an idea.
Okay, so you got the gist of using the vernacular over the pure, but late modern technique can take this further. He says: “This practice of arbitrarily using archaic forms with the intent of making them contemporary and in context is also disguised as a nationalist, and/or a racial, identification in his work, which is often wrought with controversy and mixed opinions, like how purists resist the ‘jeje’ text as a bastardization of language. But personally, the show is just me responding to the space and context of the BenCab Museum.”
And what a reaction/revolution/revelation this is. First of all, the artist deconstructs and reconstructs artifacts found in the museum, beginning with the erotic Ifugao sculptures assembled there by National Artist for Visual Arts Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera, the founder of the art space that bears his name up in Baguio. This museum has a hall stashed with uncensored erotica and Ifugao iconography. This is the locus where New starts “<3 u, lolz.”
Using his techniques of hypermodern transubstantiation, New provides new ground for love found in the sex act by making contemporary and renewing some of these images of amorous, albeit wooden and archaic, love beginning with his Cowgirl, a humorous and whimsical readaptation of an antique Ifugao statue featuring a man on the ground and a woman atop him, sitting on his penile extension, like a sexual position fresh out of the Kama Sutra, the Indian instructional on love, or the stance of Lilith who wanted to take the top (active) position from Adam and caused all these rebellions.
Acting as a totem of the divine feminine over the earthy masculine, it is exactly in New’s candid intervention that you begin to see the novelty of the candy in his colors, the dripping molten lava of his love for plasticine material that transmogrifies the archaic into the new and delicious. Wham, bang, slam. We cannot but fall in love with these drippings that may also look like ice cream whipped to classic perfection dolloped on celebrations of sex and love.
What can one say, except that it’s a gift. This talent of New has moved us to the point of commissioning work, now most apparent in the addition of one major masterpiece by the artist into our private art collection over at Samito.net. The piece may be viewed at bit.ly/1XxZQg2.
Aside from that, we can all marvel at the other works up in Baguio. The erotic is again reexamined in another sculpture, Sixty-nine, which bravely contorts upon itself as it follows the acrobatics of an Ifugao rendition of the numbered oral sex position.
But the real orgasmic denouement of this tour occurs when one comes face to face with Urns, a three-part saga composed of three reimaginations of rice gods in non-sexual poses. Leeroy New uses acrylic sheets to form their plastic exterior, which houses various colored toys, and other candy-colored material he has used for previous work, even bits of flotsam, like the parts that make us a tattered whole. This is to say, in worshipful terms: It’s not about what we were but what we are and what we will be. Love you, lols.
***“<3 u, lolz” is on view at Gallery Indigo of the BenCab Museum. The exhibition runs until November 29.