Not quite impressed with the valentine exhibit at Manila Contemporary in February – save for Angelo Suarez’s “Not the Object, But the Energy It Consumes Over Time” and Rachel Rillo’s “Keep It Taut” – I was ready to be disappointed in the I Love You exhibit at Hiraya Gallery (530 UN Avenue, Ermita, Manila). But I was impressed, at the works that were there, bound together by the idea and act of saying “I loveyou”. The sculptures should’ve been an indication: Agnes Arellano’s “Kissing Yabyum” was clean white and sexy; and Ramon Orlina’s “Father’s Delight” seemed to be in action, dancing joyfully to its notion of i-love-you. I was in for a good show.
A funny kind of lovin’
Ronald Caringal’s “Love is in the air, or the source of it” is a funny take on love doggie-style, that is, an image of a real dog smelling the behind of a stuffed dog. Against a dark backdrop with cartoon-like dogs, and “I love you” in tiny red letters, this takes a jab at our own humanly acts of saying I love you when it is based on the way something looks versus what something is.
It is humor as well that Vincent Balandra’s painting requires. Entitled “Albopholiph”, which seems to refer to the creature it features as well: a tamaraw head atop a buff male body that’s all curled up and fearfully holding on to something for dear life. And yes, it is holding onto to itself, i.e., its penis, the length and hardness of which (as if a pole here) necessarily stands for manhood, what drips from it the self-centeredness it stands for. On the one hand it speaks of what men fear they’ll lose in the act of saying I love you; on the other, it could be nothing but man loving himself in the act of self-pleasure. Maybe just that all men are animals. How sad for womankind!
The abstract in I love you
The abstract works were a perfect contrast to the more conventional works such as “Affectionate” by Caloy Gabuco and “Thank you for that home I once knew” by Robert Shook. Norberto Carating’s “Monument” has a three dimensional isosceles triangle lying wide side against a bright green, blue and orange backdrop, rendering strange and different but stable his concept of love. Fernando Modesto’s “I Love You” is quiet in its white, gray and pale green colors, but is creepy too in its use of vertical strokes that meld with the three words written in black in very thin lines.
Lindslee’s “Blood Line” is without structure but has hues of orange and yellow and peach brightly splashed against a gray-white background, allowing for an imagined order. One that’s dependent on a seeming repetition of colors and shapes, an arrow here, a jagged rectangle there, that cuts across the words “History Repeats Itself”. Where the act of uttering I-love-you is one that repeats itself, one that’s always the same, no matter how it goes through change.
Some double-edged swords
Successful as well were works that seemed conscious of intertextuality. Butch Payawal’s “Exanimo” banks on our sense of the sadness/happiness of the clown, its truth of living masked, and how this informs – or not – the joyful dance that the woman is doing atop a flight of stairs in the background. The mask versus the music, the clown’s fake happiness versus the real happy dancing, the I-love-yous we invoke with actions, and the masks we wear, as we say ex ani mo, which is Latin for “from the heart”.
Nisael Agag’s object “I Love You But” is a wooden rectangular prism painted on one side with what looks to be a human figure wearing colorful armor. Different size screws cut across and jut out of the opposite ends of the prism, as well as from the back, and through what would be the body of the figure in front. It is reminiscent of this magic tricks: a girl is put inside a box, which is cut through with swords and knives. It isn’t about the cliché of love as magical, but of the act of saying I-love-you as a form of torture that isn’t felt, of pain that isn’t made real. And then of course we can just say that once we say I love you, we’re screwed.
The best of love
Finally there’s Mark Salvatus’ “How’s your first kitsch?” which, from afar looked like standard graffiti in black, white and gray. Up close, there is what looks like a white flower within which is the word kiss. Seems cliché? Well no. The word kiss is rendered using the heavy metal band Kiss’ standard font. And with the notion of kitsch, we are allowed a layer of critique here: is the name/band/idea of kiss what’s kitschy? Or is it the standard graffiti on the canvas? Or maybe it is about the whole idea of saying I-love-you, as nothing but a mass-produced product, literally and figuratively.
And then there’s the uniqueness of the band Kiss, and the individual acts of I love you in the various works in this exhibit. Maybe in the end, what it reminds us about is this: as kitsch is mass-produced “art” that’s deemed unoriginal and cheap, I-love-you, when said too often and too much becomes just that.