MALYN BONAYOG: Inevitable Presences
“Old houses, I thought, do not belong to people ever not really, people belong to them.” That’s how homeowner Gladys Taber reminisced about her family’s old house. But whether the old house is a family property, or an old house that one remembers from one’s past, that old crumbling abode sends out emotional resonances that affect us, summoning unbidden feelings and thoughts about the past, and by implication, about the present and the future. Thus it is for artist Malyn Bonayog, whose exhibition of works devoted to old habitation is on view at the Galerie Anna.
An integral part of the artist’s memory is of her grandmother, her lola, whose narrations of the lives of people who once lived in old houses in their hometown Gapan, in Nueva Ecija, that have taken grip on a child’s imagination. And the bittersweet, ironic aspect of the memory is that Malyn’s grandmother will, soon enough, leave her for the afterlife, thus in effect, finally joining the others who have gone ahead of her. Such memories have galvanized the artist into giving visual life to those precious memories, and if the cruel inroads of relentless urbanization have caused those old houses to disappear, then the artworks that have provoked them into existence might as well bring them back to life again.
While other artists have also been fascinated by these old structures, what differentiates Malyn’s renditions are the insights that emerge from her contemplations. She has gone beyond the rudimentary need for architectural documentation, surely a worthy cause in itself, but her painting activity is also her emotional and personal projection into her own past, her own vanished childhood, and as it was with her grandmother’ demise, the artist’s own future departure from this world. Malyn’s artworks bind her into a space and time that is one mysterious continuum, where past, present and future is a transfiguration, and not a redundancy, of one and the other. Where each one intersects the other, is where the artist is most present.
But expect no nostalgic blues in Malyn’s visions of these old houses. It is true: what another homeowner, Grace King, remarked of her own experience – “We wander through old streets, and pause before the age-stricken houses, and strange to say, the magic past lights them up.” For Malyn, lighting up the past is better contrasted and enhanced by the sensibilities of the present, cast within the interior space created by the visual utilities at the service of the artist, such graphic and compositional devices as stripes and bands and zigzags, high tonal contrast and printing technology. They invest currents of motion and activity upon the unnerving stillness of these provincial streets and landscapes, as witness those jangly electric wires hanging awry, like rude behavior in the presence of these stoic and dignified old houses.
Inevitable is the past being swept by the present, at the very moment the future thrusts itself into our existence.
JOSUE MANGROBANG, JR.: Inevitable Secrets
The Hungarian artist named Christo, together with his wife Jeanne-Claude, made a big splash in the art world in the Seventies, with a single daring act: wrapping. With that one gesture – wrapping the most ordinary, commonplace and familiar objects, such as a telephone, a pedestal, an armchair, magazines, champagnes bottles – with fabric or polyethylene, they invested these workaday objects that we all simply ignore, with mystery and intrigue, drama and suspense, cloaking them in the viewer’s mind, with qualities and attributes that they otherwise would not have provoked into existence. Christo and Jeanne-Claude went one step beyond Marcel Duchamp, who introduced the concept of the “ready-made.” With one magisterial decision, Duchamp had chosen functional, utilitarian objects such as a bottle rack, a urinal, a shovel, a window pane, and proclaimed them to be art.
Closer to home, Filipino artist Josue Mangrobang, in his own revelatory way, introduces the concept, not of wrapping, but of its reversal: unwrapping. The medium, however, is not sculptural, but in the two-dimensional, a visual image on canvas. The material which he uses illustratively is not fabric or polyethylene, but paper. To be sure, there are significations inherent in Mangrobang’s choice of material. But first, what are the implications of the gesture of unwrapping? Indeed, one must precede from a wrapped state, a hidden and concealed situation, suggestive of secrecy and denial of transparency. The intent is to abolish the truth of a certain reality, to disconnect the sight from the object of its search, to mystify what has been so ostentatiously displayed. Unwrapping has been so associated with Mangrobang since he participated in prestigious national art competitions and gaining the attention of critics and the jury. Moreover, the presence of children in his works, wrapped then in ruled paper pad, has taken on the specter of allegory, instruments of messages that may be at first be too lofty for their young, innocent minds, though, indeed, these children are tragically and ironically the first victims.
Thus, in this show, we witness a series of works titled “Children Petition To Global Warming.” The poignancy and sorrow that resonate from these images cannot be overestimated. Their past, present and future are inextricably subsumed by a disaster of global proportion, when in fact the fate of humanity teeters on the balance, and when the thought of human extinction is not just a possibility but a looming probability. Using paper as their medium and material of communication, a material that can be literally soaked into extinction, these children, half-comprehending the gravity of the situation, are petitioning for their lives and for the necessity of world leaders to save the planet with extreme urgency. A powerful message has already been sent through the world’s television screens: Nature does not need people. People need nature.
Likening himself to a writer, unveiling the truth about our present reality, Mangrobang must perforce convey his message in the most direct and vital manner, delivering a warning through a material that literally and symbolically stand for a ravaged world. He has started to use panels of old wood, reminders of nature that has been destroyed by man. Thus, these pieces of wood have become sacrosanct relics that must bear the burden of uncovered secrets, ultimately unwrapping and unveiling the reality that man is truly the murderous assassin of his own world. We may be seeing the last of the paper that is Mangrobang’s symbol, frail issue from the tree that has been brutally felled.