History, as much as it is literature, is material—scrolls and codices, maps and photographs, etchings on a copper plate and writings on the (digital) wall. Seen this way, history becomes more palpable as a thing arranged and arrayed, sequenced and sequestered into rectangles of paper, its linear chronology nothing but the fingers moving through the pages of a book. The document is not mere medium, but the organizing principle, whose limitations and possibilities directly implicate in how history is shaped. There is no history, at least how we understand it, without printed matter, which becomes alive at the touch of human flesh as the eyes scan and make intelligible the permutations of the alphabet.
In Bukang Liwayway, Liv Vinluan and Ryan Villamael reckon with history's physical properties. Known for their material manipulations and eloquent engagements with maps, photographs, and Colonial Period illustrations, the artists re-energize some of their recurrent themes to locate terra firma in the face of loss, instability, and questions about the nature of truth. While certain contact points between their works exist, chiefly the jouissance in consulting and appropriating archival documents, they pursue not a collaboration but a disarticulation of the stitches of their related/relational practices, prompting multiple forays into how history may be envisioned, executed, and extended into ostensible space. How the gallery, bathed by the warm color of an equatorial sun, unfolds with images of tropicalia—indigenous flora, native habitations, pre- and Hispanic clothing and weaponry, effulgent celestial bodies, shifting archipelagic islands, bodied forth by the contained environments of Villamael and the sprawling topographies of Vinluan—which involve cutouts, both promised and performed. From three-dimensional models to flattened discs to Jacob's ladder constructions, their works constitute a malleable geography on which coordinates may be plotted to ascertain dense, hectic, and volatile hotspots of the post-colonial psyche, which is to say, the contemporary Filipino consciousness.
In the works of Vinluan, the circle functions as a structuring device, whether it is floating curvilinear quadrant presenting an accordion of fin de siècle signifiers (particularly women with their backs turned to the viewer, disclosing nothing except for their Filipiniana habiliments and long black flowing hair) or a flattened universe in which charging horses and arched gates and snarling trees revolve around an impossible void. Glowing orbs, moons, and suns emerge, providing a respite from the accoutrements of civilization. Time is not the subject matter per se, but its artificiality, the simultaneous constriction and expansion of phenomena. Even the paintings, with their dotted lines and perforations, resist linearity, daring the conscious eye to make out patterns, combinations, and re-combinations, as well as invest credibility on hand-written inscriptions that at once explain and elude.
Dotting the gallery space like tropical islands are the botanical configurations of Villamael, repeated by mirrors and covered by vitrines, like hothouse plants in need of their own climate. They are mirages, oases, affirmations of life, in which ferns and palms and coconut trees bristle with a flurry of leaves, clustering as distinct loci, their constitutive maps both avowals of indigeneity and alienation. While collectively, the works reference Locus Amoenus, the installation of Villamael that had covered various places with their indefatigable foliage, here they are contained and willing to be examined. Specimens, such as the betel nut, are dissected as though under a microscope for their magical powers; elements of a pre-Hispanic ritual meant to counteract plagues and pandemics are disassembled like an anatomical drawing.
History, in Bukang Liwayway, is not so much revised as it is re-plotted to accommodate varieties of shape, in which a strip of paper becomes a continuum or a scissored-up map transforms into its own fecund geography. Through the tangible re-enactments of the historical medium, gaps are actual spaces between figures, timelines are made to buckle from a straight line and circulate, the veracity of archival drawings is but an impulse to tug at the roots of folklore and mythology. Truth—a slippery concept as of late in light of fake news, historical revisionism, and black propaganda—is but the desire to inscribe a work of one's embodied presence in the world.
The viewer need not look beyond the surface of the works which is evidence—from the flatness of the doll templates of Vinluan to the marks of the reconfigured maps of Villamael. Consequently, this same skin registers the artists' confrontation of what appears to be the impossible task of wrestling with the past, which is neither lost nor vanished, only perpetually displaced. Appropriating extant visual forms, in this context, functions as a radical act of reclamation. Bukang Liwayway shores up the conflicting compulsions of telling a story about ourselves. At a magical hour, through either science or sorcery, they align into a conjunction of the personal and the collective, vaulting to the opaque regions of the possible so the flimsiest tendril of light can break through.
Carlomar Arcangel Daoana
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