Tuesday ∗ 24 Nov 2009

Art of Our Lives in Pacena’s Static Reverb

a version of this was published in the PDI on November 23 2010.

The noise was crazy at the opening of Jay Pacena’s recent exhibit Static Reverb. Cramped as we were in the small space of Blanc Gallery, the energy was deafening in its youthfulness, the excitement really quite overwhelming. This came in contradiction with the fact that Pacena’s canvasses were filled with the quietest colors of sad blues, grays and whites; his short film that was on loop on the flat screen TV was in black and white.

But maybe this moment in contradiction was the whole point as it forces one to embrace the cognitive dissonance that Pacena’s work requires. An act of going beyond the canvas and living with the contradictions of its quiet violence.

Using acrylic and digital archival ink, notions of what connects us and the spaces they traverse are represented here by geometric lines and shapes in various angles, interwoven with lines that link differently-sized balls. This stereotypical notion of the things that bind us – as shapes that we have in common, as the things that we hold in our hands and make us concrete – is rendered differently by the naked faces and bodies it doesn’t only co-exist with on canvas, but actually lives off of. At the same time that it allows it to die. To change. To be redefined.

The huge canvas of “The Banquet 1 and 2” is a stark representation of this dynamic, with digital images of men and women in various poses of movement. Here, the geometric shapes become weapon (held to the temple, to the nape, to the neck) with which to kill self and other, it is the blindfold that keeps sight at bay, it ties us down, encompasses our bodies and minds, the things we hide within.

And yet there is no resignation here. The people in motion seem to be in various moments of distress but also resistance, always in the process of movement, responding to the geometry that pervades this world. It is in this sense that Pacena’s exhibit resonates: the violence is redefined by the silence of colors on canvas, which in turn seems to allow for the screams of desperation and resistance to be louder and more violent in themselves.

But where “The Banquet 1 and 2” allow for the body to be engulfed by and be resistant to the world it inhabits, for both “The Jester” and “Machine Head” it is speech and the particularity of self that it affects. There is no laughter for “The Jester” here; instead, there is a deluge coming out his mouth, covering his face, keeping his body bound. He is naked, revealing himself as nothing more than what he speaks, which in this case isn’t just about us, but about himself. “Machine Head” meanwhile builds upon a naked woman’s body, and the disappearance of that which she gives birth to, that which is hers. Her whole head is but a mouth engaged in a scream, also spouting a deluge of geometric shapes that spread down to her neck. Her hand reaches out to another’s hand, a seeming chance at liberation, from that which binds her, that which is self. Her body is treated as machine, but she herself might not know how else to be, or why she must be otherwise.

But it is in the series “Floaters” that Pacena’s statementabout the world we inhabit reverberates. A series of eight smaller works, each one is a rendering of individual silences, with human heads that are differently engulfed and revealed by the geometries that inform our lives. Here though it is the eyes that are covered and uncovered, the ones that speak in its static state. It ultimately a reminder of how we are eaten up by the things that we see, the things we know of. That we are in effect, willing victims.

In the end, it is this that does echo days after seeing Pacena’s exhibit. There is a glaring statement about what we imagine of ourselves, and how we only value the things we hold and see. We imagine that this is what makes us, even as this is an unmaking, an unraveling. It is an assertion of how what we don’t know, hurts us, maims us, even kills us.

And yes, what resonates after Static Reverb is Pacena’s highly theoretical perspective about what it is that ails the lives we live in the midst of notions of development, technology and the transnationalization of labors and of lives. Static Reverb is a statement on how we are rendered ill-equipped and unprepared for the times, and how in fact, in third world Philippines we are all being eaten alive. And we yes, we have the power to resist, because we can refuse to be static.

Which is also what remains most powerful about Pacena’s work. The spaces he inhabits on canvas forces the spectator to jump off of the page, and reinvent, reassess the things she knows. Not even the video installation (which this exhibit didn’t need), or the too difficult exhibition notes that Karen Ocampo Flores (which would remove the spectator from the artworks, really), could ruin Static Reverb.

Where we come from, in the midst of these times of despair and tragedy, Pacena is in fact in a league all his own.

Static Reverb is curated by Mr. Noel Soler Cuizon, and is co-produced with Slash/Art Artists’ Initiatives in cooperation with Blanc. It runs until December 2 at Blanc Gallery, Makati City. Visit www.blanc.ph for details.

Posted in: arteng biswal, bayan, kultura, review

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