A Braver Beckoning
Oscar Villamiel’s art practice proceeds from the process of salvaging ephemera. He turns his eye towards things discarded and regarded as the most wretched of found materials, collecting discards until they accumulate and are reassembled into new presences.
Even the most humble and everyday of objects can convey larger truths about the world. Villamiel is fascinated and drawn to the possibilities of telling these stories: exploring how precious histories, current realities, and urgent lessons inhabit the material qualities of detritus and debris. A sprawling lot of throwaway toys and refuse, for instance, was collected for his installation Payatas (2012-2013) while thousands of carabao horns comprised another massive work, titled Damong Ligaw (2014). Both were compelling statements against the dispossession that persists in this time of vast material accumulation.
In this new series, Villamiel shows how the most abject of things testify to the precarious fragility of our natural environment. Over the past five years or so, he patiently salvaged iron nails, feathers, and skeletal remains across various locations—from scrap yards to aviaries—and, with a team of assistants, produced several works reflecting on how the personal and social experience of nature, and its debris, is intricately intertwined.
The exhibition’s colossal centerpiece is an installation titled Black Forest: a grim reinterpretation of the archipelago’s denuded and rapidly disappearing forests. The work was built from thousands of scrap nails, welded into skeletal growths, that are embedded in a vast field of firewood charcoal.
Villamiel sourced the iron discards from junkyard wood and old ancestral houses primed for demolition and the charcoal from communities which resorted to the practice in the struggle for survival. Rebuilt and rising from such ruined sites, Villamiel’s forest is a field of grim signs: reminders of what remains after cyclical histories of extraction, exploitation, and deprivation.
The exhibition’s wallbound works, on the other hand, are assembled from molted feathers, collected from birds both endemic and exotic, which are categorized or arranged according to color. Painstakingly stuffed into small clear bottles along with paper and various fibers or individually assembled into collages, the individual feathers collectively convey a sense of saturated hues and lightness of gesture. The individual works are all inspired from scenes, memories and impressions from his rural hometown in Quezon province: waking up at the break of dawn to find a forest covered in haze, looking up at the majestic length and ridges of an old tree trunk, encountering the colors and heat of a summer festival.
These memories of being one with nature, bottled up and held dear, coexist with other smaller assemblages that speak of decay, desolation and death. One encounters a bird’s nest and boxed skeletal remains within the exhibition space as randomly as a walk through wild undergrowth: quiet reminders of how such simple beauty and the seemingly timeless expanse of the natural world can be as fleeting and easily swept away as a feather.
Perhaps this is why Villamiel persists in collecting from nature and the debris-filled landscapes of today: to remind one of the precious presences that were lost, and that are continually destroyed, amidst these troubling times of greed, plunder and death. In beckoning the viewer to go back to nature, the artist opens the urgent imperative towards reflection and reckoning: wielding the most fragile of ephemera to create socio-ecological indictments on near colossal scale.
About the artist
Oscar Villamiel (b. 1953) is a multi-media artist who produces large scale installation works through the collation and collecting of found materials from urban and rural environments.
Growing up in Caloocan City, Villamiel studied Fine Arts at the University of the East (UE) in Manila. Working as a set designer and entrepreneur during past two decades, Villamiel returned to his first vocation as a studio artist in 2006, starting with group exhibitions.
Villamiel held his first one-man exhibition, a large-scale installation titled Wounded Spirit, in 2009 at the Art Center of SM Megamall in Mandaluyong, featuring large-scale multimedia paintings. His second solo show, Mourning Glory, was held at the Crucible Gallery in 2010 while his third solo show, titled Stories of our Time, was organized at Light and Space Contemporary in 2012.
Villamiel’s large-scale installation, titled Payatas, was exhibited as part of the Singapore Biennale exhibition, If The World Changed (2013) at the Singapore Art Museum. He continued to produce installation works for his solo exhibitions in 2014 at the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum and Light & Space Contemporary, in Quezon City. Villamiel currently lives and works in Marikina City.