Unnatural Love

BY DANIELLE LIU

The Art Stage 2012 was the first massive contemporary art event I’ve been to in Singapore. Overwhelming, bursting with a plethora of visuals within its never-ending labyrinth of art within clinical walls, and these walls within galleries from almost every corner of the Asian Continent.

The space was gargantuan, its immensity immediately apparent to the viewer upon entering. This was a rather stressful moment for me, as I quickly realised the impossibility of devoting equal time and respect to every work. As I progressed I saw that that was the case for most attendees, there was a lot of striding past works which were only glanced at. I was guilty of that as well, in light of the very structure and visual potency of the show, one remembered being a child in a candy shop, but that is pitifully inevitable.

With such flamboyant gallery spaces come larger than life paintings and sculptures which steal the show with their sheer and indigestible size. These were impossible to miss and naturally held the audience’s attention for a longer time, regardless if the concept was shallow or did not match up to the enormity of the artwork itself. What caught my eye, however, was what seemed to be a futile attempt at camouflaging a CCTV camera, perched on the right wing corner of the Hedron Contemporary Gallery space. It was an artwork by Pio Abad, a young Phillipino artist who graduated from Glasgow School or Art in London.

Pio Abad was born in Manila, Philippines in 1983 and lives and works in London. He received a BA in Painting and Printmaking at Glasgow School of Art in 2007 and is currently completing his Masters at the Royal Academy Schools. He’s an artist of installations, photographs and prints that explore the disparate and often absurd monopolizations of power to which everything and everyone is a suspect and hence rendered dangerous. Working with a combination of found objects and constructed imagery, Abad’s work creates juxtapositions that highlight the questionable and contradictory relationships between things and events. These significant and chosen objects are remade or re-presented in order to emphasize their metonymic relationship to viewer, context, and narratives. In Art Stage 2012, he presented the CCTV camera piece, made in 2011, titled Natural Love.

Natural Love as displayed at the Art Stage (Photosource: theskinny.co.uk)

Pio Abad reminds me of Mona Hatoum, in terms of the nature of the themes presented in their artworks. Both deal with notions of personal irony, and play on juxtaposing ideas existent in a single work, constructed to displace the viewer conceptually. Contrasting themes of desire and disgust are presented to us as a physical whole, such that the viewer has no choice but to make that representational link, regardless of how mentally uneasy it may be to take. His ying-yang flavoured themes run along the provocative lines of decadence and decay, deception and belief, all centered and rooted on the concept that an opposite serves to strengthen its reverse when put into context, that the theme cannot stand alone without being next to its counterpart. Abad’s work also explores aggression and hostility, as inspired by the constant conflicts ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having spent his childhood in Philippines, this has had a significant part to play in Abad’s works, as we see the exploration of a central theme of excess ultimately leading to a breakdown, perhaps his own. With these images and conceptual puzzle pieces linked to his historical understanding, Abad begins to construct patterns which form a series of process-driven drawings, which ultimately transcend their own physical boundaries and becomes a surface of a sculpture.

The artwork’s existence in the viewer’s mind is almost attributed to a chance encounter, as an ignorant or striding bypasser would very likely have missed it completely. Natural Love is a pair of black dummy surveillance cameras, placed side by side, encapsulated by layers upon layers of hardy seashells of all shapes and patterns. The seashells are collaged in a neat but ineffective manner, still revealing the cold and mechanical parts of the CCTV equipment – indubitably intentional of Abad. The two cameras were placed at standard surveillance levels, high above in an overseeing corner and out of reach to the average human. In the curator’s text we are told that the machines are dummies, rendering them non-functional and pervasive, what then, after exposing its incapability, is the purpose of this artwork which instigates no fear or repulsion?

When I first spotted the bite-sized artwork in recluse in a little corner of the gallery, I immediately looked past the fact that it was a security camera – instead, my initial reaction was amazement at the intricate beauty of the seashell arrangement. In retrospective, I believe that my reason for overlooking the core (literally) of the sculpture was due to the habitual sight of surveillance cameras. These computerized eyes are all around us to a point that they blend into the environment, becoming an object that we do not question. Well, that is until someone like Pio Abad removes it from its context and adds a touch of nature-inspired serenity to it, giving us mixed feelings of possible displacement and confusion as to the unusual coming together of metaphors and material.

These very incongruent thoughts seems to be the desired outcome of most of Abad’s works. “I am interested in the corruptive function of excess, particularly its central role in constructing closed systems of meaning that proclaim the absoluteness of power and the obsolescence of societal values,” Pio writes on his profile on the Saatchi Gallery website, “Through drawing and sculpture, I seek to explore the relationships between excess and collapse, ornament and excrement, decadence and delusion, relationships that have defined the trajectories of history, from the consequences of Marie Antoinette’s rococo revelry to the anachronistic but all too appropriate presence of Louis XIV furniture in the private chambers of totalitarian governments, to our own schizophrenic relationship with luxury that oscillates between desire and disgust.”

Also on show at Art Stage was a work evoking rather similar emotions – that of Hardiman Radjab’s, an Indonesian Artist. A few galleries down from Pio Abad’s was Radjab’s suitcase, situated right in the middle of Edwin’s Gallery alongside a few other installations lined up along the walls. Nested on an apple box podium was the open luggage piece, with a miniature world of intricately crafted houses appearing to be architecture reminiscent of those from the 1980s Asian ‘kampong’ village. On one side of the suitcase were four toy houses and a couple of withered trees, sitting pretty in the midst of artificial grey smoke rolling around the interior and forming a semi-opaque layer of wispy magic. On the perpendicular side was an impeccable painting of the sunset, a composition of well-blended blue and orange striations. It was whimsically fascinating and was one of those things you try and get obnoxiously close to, in an attempt to feel a part of it.

Made in Indonesia as displayed in Art Stage 2012 (Photosource: Mondaymuseum)

Thankfully, Radjab’s Made in Indonesia was not all meretricious in its mixed media. Upon inspection, the adorable little world was actually a portrayal of houses half-submerged in dirty water, an echo of the 2006 Lusi mudflow catastrophe which occurred in Sidoarjo, East Java. Immediately the work becomes potent with meaning and depth, and the plastic beauty carries with it a kind of ominous sadness and gloom. Akin to Pio Abad’s Natural Love, which appears to be a well-crafted piece of art until you align contextual, metaphorical, and juxtaposing meanings together. Both pieces have displayed a proportional and sensitive balance of aesthetics and concept.

Different individuals are drawn to different approaches to art. For most, especially gallery owners, prefer works of epic proportions and size, impactful and attention-seeking upon first sight. Personally I find myself drawn to more intimate and personal ones, works which speak to you on an individual level and basis. Sometimes these are the works which involve more interaction, subsuming you into its being as you look inside, bend down, or crawl into them, allowing yourself to become a part of its entity and existence. Such was the work of Pio Abad and Radjab, who have displayed impactful and stunning works at the Art Stage; and in spite of its seemingly underwhelming size compared to the immensity of the other Art Stage works and the gallery itself, they spoke beyond their appearances.

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