‘Less is more’ seems to be the new mantra of the former frontman of the psychedelic punk band Poppy Field, Jet Melencio. He studied at the UP College of Fine Arts in the early 90s and has created a hybrid body of work that combines paintings, objects, installations and floor works made out of various incongruous materials. Also a curator, he has worked for the Ayala Museum and was a key artist at Big Sky Mind, where he led a barrage of collaborations between artists and musicians in a series of Soundlab projects. Back in Manila after several years in the US and Canada, he has shed much of his excess fur and his new works are leaner and more elemental than ever.
We saw his work earlier this year at The Unnamable group exhibition curated by Roberto Chabet at Manila Contemporary. Entitled ‘Swan Dive’, it is a deceivingly simple photograph of a makeshift and flimsy diving board perilously perched on the edge of a cliff, which later on is revealed to be the actual site of the infamous Jabidah Massacre in Corregidor.
In The Clear Light, a tightly curated group exhibition also by Mr. Chabet currently ongoing at MO_Space, Mr. Melencio returned to the basic technique of frottage or surface rubbings to map the gallery’s floor and installed the drawings on top of tables, each one with one leg shorter, creating an uneven and rocky terrain. Appropriately called ‘The First Bardo’, the work refers to “the first stage of death when one momentarily enjoys a perfect balance before descending to the lower states. It alludes not only to the tremulous quality of the surface/image but also to the instability of the human consciousness.”
Mr. Melencio’s installation occupies the entire floor of the gallery and is the perfect roost for the works of his two fellow dharma bums in the exhibition. In the small room within the gallery, Jed Escueta’s black and white photographs of drug-induced heavenly visions also speak of the same tremors that yield to a kind of little death or a light-awareness, which descends as soon as we partake of the holy smoke.
Sharing the main room with Mr. Melencio, Pardo de Leon’s new works are uncharacteristic for the artist known for her exquisite figurative paintings using vivid colors. This time she uses only white, still applied thickly, but sandwiched between two canvasses, so we only see the back of the painting, raw canvas and stretcher. Her other work, the skeletal frame of a kayak suspended from the ceiling of the gallery is likewise an abstraction and an affirmation of the material. Entitled Eftya (The Clear Light), it is a device similarly used in Zen theatre, which employs minimal gestures and props to create the faintest suggestion.
Speaking of theatre, Ballet Philippines’ most recent presentation Crisostomo Ibarra just had its first run at the Cultural Center of the Philippines last weekend. Under the direction of Paul Morales, it was an excellent abridged version of the epic tale, a minimalist take on an otherwise dense melodrama. Jet Melencio designed the sets and costumes and again brings his pared down sensibility in The Clear Light to the production, allowing for a harmonious equilibrium between the other elements in the show – the movement of the dancers, the lights, and an impressive original musical score.
Like the exhibition, Mr. Melencio’s design for Crisostomo Ibarra uses an economy of means – black and white costumes (except for the brown cloaks of Padre Damaso and Padre Salvi), a few simple props and a blank movable Japanese – type screen that serves as the only backdrop. The only thing that seemed a bit excessive in the whole production were the video projections, which could have been edited down further, and instead of appearing as a constant element on the stage, it would have been interesting if they were only projected during particular scenes, the rest could have been pure light or darkness.
The move towards simplicity is refreshing amid all the noise, controversies and frenetic energy in today’s art scene. Caught up with so much spectacle and speculation, many artists are embroiled in their own horror vaccui. Illumination may still be far away, but at least there are some glimmers of a clear light, an exit in times of emergencies.
(‘The Clear Light’ is ongoing at MO_Space until October 31, 2010.)