Capiz_194 | Antonni Cuesta
Open Edition with a Fotomoto Certificate of Authenticity.
8 x 10in Pigment Print on Hahnemuehle Photo Rag.
A faceless figure, an intruder to the seemingly calm and peaceful scenery, holds at arms-length, a rectangular frame, an image that seems to be a photograph of colorbars from an old television set. In search for a home, the artist takes on the role of a colonizer of space, an imposing entity that forces meaning over a landscape that used to be free of any visual load and artistic encumbrances. To make sense of your roots is a jarring experience; at least, that was my experience in 2004-2005 when I chose Capiz as the main topic for my university thesis. The final outcome was a full-length screenplay that centered on the concept of the Batak Ka Dungan, a ritual by the Panay-Bukidnons which calls on the “Double”, an entity akin to a nature spirit which contains the same “Essence” as the person to which the ritual is being exercised for, with the purpose of imbuing the subject protection, provision, and overall wellbeing. But that is a side story. While I was successful in graduating that year, moving on with my life as a fresh grad pursuing creative jobs centered on photography, I failed to shake off a gnawing feeling that I undeservingly extracted so much of Capiz’ culture and history when my only ties to the land was that it is the home province of my mother. I was born and raised in Manila, my consciousness shaped by imagery of the modern, the advanced, and the urban contemporary, but instead of using that as material for my college project, I chose to mine my mother’s home for its abundance of literary meaning. That feeling of guilt stuck with me. So 2 years after, in 2007, I decided to come to terms with it. But instead of approaching the situation ashamedly, I came back to the same land, this time with clear and impassioned intent to claim and declare: THIS, TOO, IS MY HOME.
The initial encounter with the space is of exotic bewilderment. It is plain, just another view of a farm and islets and shrubbery, but the plainness renders novelty to the urban eye. And so I walked around, slowly pacing myself, exploring calculatedly. Everything is contiguous, there is wholeness, of volumes and dimensions. That’s until I peered into the camera. The space that used to be enveloping is now reduced to a small frame in the viewfinder. The sight was pleasurable and had to be conquered. The land being investigated is the immediate area around the house where my mother spent her childhood until she left for Manila in 1969. Destructive as the process of photography may be, the resulting images, small diminutive rectangles, still retains traces of what used to be an expansive terrain. Effectively, the land still fights for independence, its identity still kept in “regions” demarcated by the frame. But then, the introduction of a frame within the frame lands a homogenizing blow. It used to be home; now with the introduction of a foreign body, these sacred sites are now simply rendered as a study on typology. It is peculiar though that the frame resembles something that some people are familiar of. The “cloned” image is a result of the artist photographing the color bars of a CRT TV in 2006 past midnight, when TV stations in Manila would have already signed off. This captured image, shot with an old Nokia phone (with the growth of vernacular photography using mobile devices during that time), was then printed in a commercial laboratory without any special instructions to color reproduction. It used to be layers upon layer of personal meanings for the artist, but now also reduced into a type: a photograph. The colorbars however, by means of popular association, is suggestive of a portal, a floodgate of urban experiences showcased in telenovelas and news programming, waiting to be opened. The photo of the color bars evokes a mix of real and invented realities from Manila imposed (superimposed) over a terrain that used to have its own identity. It is the artist’s weapon to subdue the unruly terrain and claim it his.
The artwork is presented as a series, an act of repeating, very much similar to the act of continuous coercion directed to the viewer to make a connection: the color bars, the hand, and the defeated scenery. A series, as a way of presenting images, specially in photography, is visual oppression, regardless if it is a photo essay, an advertisement, a photobook, even a family album: you have to believe that what is shown is complicit truth. You have to make sense of the image, to speculate, and make meaning. And if the photographic image can’t subdue you in one go, it shall beat you down relentlessly until you submit: Make a connection, make a connection, make a connection. This is the way of a tyrant. Contextually, when exhibited, you will see 6 frames displayed side by side, the sixth curiously smaller than the rest. This frame, the last frame, is the “original” photo of colorbars displayed beside the 5 attempts to bind it into a type. Suddenly, the weapon nows takes materiality, the viewer of the exhibit knows that it exist outside the 5 frames. It asks to be recognized, the amalgamation is out, the Minotaur has escaped the labyrinth. The work is a simulacra, of the endless framing process of photography, an act to contain, to bind the wilderness. To capture is to make meaning, and to intrude into spaces is to create a dwelling. Engagement with the artwork feels abstract, confusing, as much as it is literal and direct. Much like when I landed in those unfamiliar territories of home.