Stick up don’t move smile: reinventing black, 1957 to today • Johnny Alcazaren, Felix Bacolor, Vic Balanon, Ringo Bunoan, Annie Cabigting, Bobby Chabet, Jigger Cruz, Patty Eustaquio, Pete Jimenez, Elaine Navas, Mawen Ong, Bernie Pacquing, Gary-Ross Pastrana, Nena Saguil, Hubert San Juan, Gerry Tan, Maria Taniguchi, Tanya Villanueva, MM Yu, Reg Yuson, Cos Zicarelli (Curated by Nilo Ilarde)

Oct 4 to Oct 31, 2014 • Finale Art File

Materializing Black

It is a color filled with contradiction: distant yet inviting. Vested with its own particular material qualities, black simultaneously marks the absence of light and the presence of the void.

Throughout history, black has been endowed with both functional and symbolic value. It has been used as a pigment for painting from prehistoric up to contemporary times, appearing in grounds ranging from neolithic caves to modern canvases. The color of night, it has been associated with mourning and melancholy, repose and anarchy. In the world of design, it is prized for being capable of conveying both minimalist elegance and industrial functionality. It can denote absence and space in the field of science; resistance in the realm of politics.

Curated by Nilo Ilarde, this exhibition delves into the material possibilities of the color black, collating works by 20 Philippine artists. Ilarde first explored the use of black as a curatorial concept eight years ago in 2006, mounting this second leg as both extension and expansion of that initiative.

The exhibition spans a period of 57 years, drawing out threads of continuity between history and the contemporary. The oldest work is a painting by Nena Saguil, produced in Paris, 1957; followed by a hanging installation by Roberto Chabet, first exhibited in the 1970s. The rest of the works in the exhibition were produced in the past ten years, spanning media such as painting, installation and sculpture. As points of origin and nodes of both expatriate and local art production, the figures of Saguil and Chabet denote the range of artistic practices that younger contemporaries have since then traversed: from abstraction to conceptual work, from representational to affective forms of expression.

The association between Modernism and the color black, however, goes far beyond the past five decades. One can immediately recall the painting titled Black Square, made by Russian Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich nearly a century back in 1915, to be reminded of how this hue has long been associated with the turn-of-the-century avant-garde.

The exhibition delves in varied references and individual postscripts to this history of resistance, which has taken on a different trajectory in the present time. The still inexhaustible potentials of painting, for instance, is underscored in Maria Taniguchi’s explorations of brick patterns and materiality. Abstraction and its fascination with gesture and texture is reflected in Jigger Cruz and Elaine Navas’ canvases, while the propensity of contemporary painting for referential irony are demonstrated by Gerry Tan and Annie Cabigting. Cos Zicarelli, meanwhile, seals the connection of black with drawing through his work in graphite on paper. On the other hand, demonstrating the varied sculptural potentials of black are Pete Jimenez’s steel assemblages and Patty Eustaquio’s resin and crochet bed; state transformations from liquid to solid, meanwhile, are explored in Bernie Pacquing’s employment of used motor oil and Reg Yuson’s fiberglass globs of petrified gloss.

The expansion of contemporary art through new technology and media is also demonstrated in installation works that incorporate film, such as Mawen Ong and MM Yu’s use of photography and wielding of stop motion animation videos of Johnny Alcazaren and Vic Balanon. The continuing fascination with installation art, on the other hand, is best chronicled by the creation of black books of Ringo Bunoan and objects by Felix Bacolor, Hubert San Juan, Gary-Ross Pastrana, and Tanya Villanueva.

In the end, the works in the exhibition not only pay homage to this darkest of colors, but also testify to both history and modernism as presences and voids within Philippine art.

—Lisa Ito