Seasoned Beginner • Juan Alcazaren

Jan 9 to Feb 1, 2020 • Upstairs Gallery

Seasoned Beginner (Chapter 1)

For a plethora of reasons, the turn of the new decade is an auspicious year for many people. For artist Juan Alcazaren, it is the year he will turn 60 and is the 20th year after he was conferred a Cultural Center of the Philippines Thirteen Artists Award. Now more than ever, he is especially aware of time’s transience. In Alcazaren’s practice that spans through 28 years, he has been working steadily daily unless compelling reasons not to emerge. His background in architecture, sculpture, and animation solidifies the importance of a thoughtful creative process that recognizes limitations of skill, resource, physical and mental dexterity. Because of this, he is also conscious of acknowledging the origins of his philosophies such as artists, writers or thinkers who influence him. Alcazaren has produced quite an impressive body of work that utilizes language to initiate meaning-making. But even in artworks that do not display words, the linguistic is a significant part of his creative process whether as inspiration, provocation, or a layer that adds potency to the idea. His current exhibition Seasoned Beginner highlights the effect and affect of time in his artistic process. In a note for this show, he wrote:

Here are the things I believe I have become an expert at:

  1. Waiting to begin something
  2. Staring at nothing
  3. Beginning something
  4. Beginning something then abandoning it right away
  5. Beginning something then abandoning it half-way
  6. Beginning something, seeing it all the way through then changing it to something else
  7. Imagining limits to my abilities
  8. Accounting limits to my resources
  9. Ignoring imagined limits to my abilities
  10. Ignoring limits to my resources
  11. Accepting all limits when there’s no way to ignore them
  12. Persisting

Such capability has discreetly made its way into many of Alcazaren’s artworks. The assemblage series ABEL Traps is an offshoot from Angel Traps, his tribute to the late Chabet. In making the small-scale works, he used found objects and gathered them on clipboards, treating each item as pure material while relying on the form or shape as part of a composition. He wants the objects to lose their identity as things, much like what Nicolas Bourriaud’s description of an artistic process that fights “to preserve a poetic zone within the functionalist world.” In Bourriaud’s essay The Realist Project, he analyzed Gustave Courbet’s painting The Artist’s Studio: A Real Allegory for a Seven-year Phase of My Artistic Life through the discussion of the presence of art “which traces a line of demarcation between product, which is socially useful, and waste, which is supposed to be rejected and held at a distance.” Here he described the period in art where there was a progressive split of natural Beauty and artistic Beauty which paved the way for artists to unapologetically employ the found object as art material that can be transfigured. This transfiguration was an abandoning of the ideal sphere where there is only an evolved grandeur and sublime that embraces the ‘anything at all’. The evolution propelled creation that evokes significance and is reflective of the current context that displays the artistic tenacity. “Persistence turns the first idea into the best idea,” Alcazaren notes. For him, it was the only tool he needs. It is an intangible instrument that never needs renewing but “works on Grace of resoluteness.” (Con Cabrera)