Gajah Gallery Singapore is delighted to present In Excess, its first group show featuring contemporary artists based in the Philippines. Curated by Joyce Toh, this exhibition revels in “excess” – in its manifold meanings and multitude of connotations – and teases out the tensions of its negative and positive implications.
To exceed is to surpass expectations or limitations. Yet excess also conjures up greed, gluttony and glut – the afflictions of a contemporary world caught up in consumption.
Indeed, in the furore of modern life, notions of moderation, temperance and balance are upheld as rationales for the rational; to simplify and reduce are advocated as ways towards peace and well-being. But the minimalist moment is tenuous – somehow (but always), emptiness calls out to be filled. Aristotle postulated that “nature abhors a vacuum”. And while nature may not care for nothingness, it is perhaps a more human impulse to push for more, to go beyond, to have the cup runneth over.
It is never enough to ‘be enough’; full can still be a state of insufficiency.
The Latin term “horror vacui” gestures to an aesthetic whereby entire surfaces or spaces swarm with detail or patterning, and in folk art across varied cultures, there is a profusion of decoration and explosion of colour. Yet ornamentation and the grandiose are as much an artistic and aesthetic style deployed in contemporary art forms. Still, it is the skilled artist who exercises restraint in being redolent – an art of excess need not be one of chaos.
In the art of the Philippines, the aesthetic of excess cuts across generations, artistic movements and stratas of society. The modern artist Vicente Manansala’s iconic Jeepney (1951) evoked excess through the crowded chaos of Manila’s streets in the years following the Second World War; the Cultural Center of the Philippines, built to project a front of progress for the nation, came to exemplify the extravagant constructions of an “edifice complex”. In superlative words and grammar like “sobra” and “napaka”, it points to an adding on and a multiplication: that life lived is one that is always pushing at the edges.
The ideas of “excess” proliferate. This exhibition of Philippine art critiques and celebrates its conundrums, complications and paradoxes.
Excess: it’s too much. Or, maybe, it’s not enough.
More is More: A Conversation about “Excess” and the Art of the Philippines
23 September 2023, 11 am | Gajah Gallery Singapore
Join eminent Philippine contemporary artists Annie Cabigting, Charlie Co, Leslie de Chavez, Mark Justiniani, and Christina Quisumbing Ramilo in a critical conversation on the multiple dimensions of “excess”, as it relates to their art practices. The panel is moderated by curator Joyce Toh.
We live in a world redolent in excess, from personal consumption, to the glut of imagery in media, or the misuse of power by authoritarian figures. Yet excess can also be seen as celebratory – embracing the largeness of life – especially after the austerity of a pandemic. Contemporary art too, is now in a moment of “maximalism”. Yet this aesthetic has a long and historical trajectory in the art of the Philippines, epitomised in the Tagalog word “sobra”. It’s not enough to be ‘enough’.
About the Artists
Victor Balanon (b. 1972)
Victor Balanon is a self-taught artist based in Quezon City, Philippines. He started to study Dental Medicine but left school to pursue his interest in art. He later studied film and animation at the Mowelfund Film Institute in Manila. He has worked as an illustrator creating storyboards, album covers and posters for film, independent comics and alternative music labels and later as an animator for a major Japanese animation company. Keen on exploring alternative ways of artistic production, he has supported various local artist-run initiatives in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s and had since participated in various group shows both locally and abroad. He had his first solo exhibition in 2011 and had more than 20 exhibitions to date. His works have been shown at the Jakarta Biennale, the Manila Biennale, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, the University of the Philippines’ Vargas Museum, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts and the Singapore Art Museum. Currently, he co-organizes a moving-image centered artist-run initiative called Lost Frames, where programs focus on providing a platform for screening video works, discussions and artist talks.
Annie Cabigting (b. 1971)
Annie Cabigting is most recognised for her photorealistic paintings, many of which depict people looking at paintings by iconic artists—Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Chuck Close, for instance. She holds a profound understanding of art history, and in recreating the works of masters, has herself mastered their painterly techniques. Yet, more than merely copying these works, she infuses her paintings with a subtly subversive quality. Her paintings are typically set in pristine museums and galleries, exploring the complexities of what it means to present and gaze at an artwork. They have thus been compared to institutional critique, and have been hailed not only for their skillful depictions of masterpieces, but sharp observations of the relationship between an artwork and viewer, filled with sly, minute details.
Annie Cabigting majored in Painting at the University of the Philippines. In 2005, she won the Ateneo Art Awards. She has been exhibited in various solo and group shows in the Philippines and abroad, one of which included the Prague Biennale in Czechoslovakia.
Imelda Cajipe-Endaya (b. 1949)
Imelda Cajipe-Endaya’s art and advocacy focus on people’s culture and women empowerment. She has gained recognition in the Asia-Pacific contemporary art world for the distinct Filipino and womanly visual language in her paintings, prints and installation art. She co-founded the feminist artists organization Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan (KASIBULAN). She recently held “Pagtutol at Pag-asa” a 50-year retrospective exhibition of her life work at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Her works are in the collection of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Philippine National Art Gallery, National Gallery of Singapore, Metropolitan Museum Manila, Okinawa Prefectural Museum, and Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. Among her awards are Ani ng Dangal from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in 2009 , Republic of the Philippines CCP Centennial Honors in 1999, Araw ng Maynila Award in 1998, and the CCP Thirteen Artists Award in 1991. She is also an author and independent curator.
Charlie Co (b. 1960)
Charlie Co has produced more than 40 solo exhibitions since 1983, presented internationally in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and The Philippines. A mature and prolific career, Co established his own distinctive style early on, an individuality that has awarded him many accolades among them the 13 Artists Award (1990), Juror’s Choice of The 6th Philip Morris ASEAN Art Awards (1999), an Artist in Residence in Japan, China and Australia, Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan (Pintura) (2003), and the Dr. Jose Rizal Award for Excellence (2007). Furthermore, Co has represented the Philippines in important regional surveys including Brazil’s 23rd Sao Paulo Biennale (1996), 2nd Asia Pacific Triennial (Australia 1996), “Asian Modernism” at the Japan Foundation Asian Cultural Centre, Tokyo (1995, traveling to Bangkok and Jakarta). Despite his successes Co’s practice has remained deeply rooted to his home of Bacolod City, where he runs and co-owns Orange Project and Art District supporting emerging Visayan talent. Co was a founding member of the 1980s group Black Artists of Asia (BAA) and was also pivotal in establishing VIVA EX-CON (Visayan Visual Art Exhibition and Conference) in 1990 and is currently the longest running biennial in the Philippines.
Through his career, Co has consistently recorded our times: socially alert, politically astute, and globally concerned. His paintings are loaded with symbols, deeply personal and allegorical with a vibrant palette and quick sketchy style. Co is also known for his multi-disciplinary works, turning to clay and mixed media, oil pastel, pen and ink and most recently, acrylic on modelling paste on canvas. Charlie Co is represented in major public collections including the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Singapore Art Museum, Queensland Art Gallery Australia, Metropolitan Museum and Lopez Museum Manila, the BenCab Museum Baguio, Philippines and private collections globally.
Louie Cordero (b. 1978)
Louie Cordero was born in 1978 in Manila, Philippines and is currently based in Cuenca, Batang. There is always an air of ambiguity in the world created by Louie Cordero: a world that is often described as bizarre or riotous, and sometimes even grotesque or abject. In his paintings, sculptures, and installations Cordero uses anatomical innards, muscle tissue, veins, and eyeballs to construct a new, unclassifiable species that has evolved through forms, shapes, and patterns, and then juxtaposes them with iconographies from the current social milieu: the images of Catholicism, the relics of the so-called Third World (Southeast Asia and Africa), the air- brushed panels of the Manila jeepney, the stuntmen of lowbrow Filipino films, the primitivism of native crafts, and the localised narratives of Western Popular culture—from Hollywood imagery in shop signs and graffiti to the sanctification of American pop songs in run-down videoke bars.
Cordero is a graduate of the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines and held a residency in the United States at the Vermont Studio Center (2003). He’s a recipient of numerous awards including the Thirteen Artists Award from the Cultural Center of the Philippines (2006). His work has been exhibited at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, France; the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Australia; Singapore Biennale (2011); the 14th Jakarta Biennale (2011); and the Singapore Art Museum.
Marina Cruz (b. 1982)
Marina Cruz graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. In 2021, she presented Tide Table curated by Patrick Flores at Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts. In 2007, she won both the grand prize of the Philippine Art Awards and the Ateneo Art Awards. She was also awarded the Freeman Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center in 2008, and the Thirteen Artists Award in 2012.
Marina Cruz is predisposed in each exhibition to use her diverse collection of antique, nominal, and semantic material in such a way as to bring into attention some characteristic of painterly representation. The astute presentational tactics; the devices of display and the source of her imagery; the recollection of events in her family history and the history of her depicted objects, pile the many layers in Marina Cruz that are waiting to be surfaced and understood. For this reason, notwithstanding her intentionally nostalgic use of old things and old lives, we suitably recognize Cruz’s practice as a meticulously contemporary one, primarily concerned with the conflicting nature of the painted object and the actual event behind it.
There’s a flair of a simultaneously tangible but untouchable presence felt in the photographs uncovered by Cruz and her grandmother from more than fifty years ago which serve as the source for her paintings. She deals with the stories of survival and recapture of the dresses of her twin mother and aunt which she summons in her exploration of the life and after-life that inhabits these objects. Her painting process, like one’s memory, is often faintly trailed, recognizable under her elusive lexis of portraiture.
Leslie de Chavez (b. 1978)
Manila-born Filipino artist Leslie de Chavez has been widely recognized for his incisive and sensible forays into history, cultural imperialism, religion, and contemporary life. Responding to urgent material conditions through his deconstructions of master texts, icons, and the symbols of his times, de Chavez strikes a balance between iconoclasm and an affirmative outlook to the relevance and accountability of art to one’s milieu.
Leslie de Chavez has held several solo exhibitions in the Philippines, China, Korea, Singapore, UK, and Switzerland. He has also participated in several notable exhibitions and art festivals, which include the Singapore Biennale 2013, 3rd Asian Art Biennale in Taiwan 2011, 3rd Nanjing Triennial in China 2008, First Pocheon Asia Biennale in South Korea 2007. A two-time award winner (2010/2014) of the Ateneo Art Awards for Visual Art, Leslie de Chavez is also the director/founder of the artist-run initiative Project Space Pilipinas, in Lucban, Quezon.
De Chavez’s practice has involved the creation of diverse art forms that scrutinize various issues in Philippine society such as history, colonialism, religion, imperialism, miseducation, power struggle, contemporary culture, politics and social values. His process entails the resurfacing of historical templates, re-examining contemporary social discourse and rediscovering introspection as methods to pin down the truth about the many realities Filipinos experience. As an artist, he believes that responding through art to our continuous victimization from the chronic conditions of our society can be truly liberating.”
Geraldine Javier (b. 1970)
Geraldine Javier is a Filipino visual and installation artist who has forged an impressive artistic career through her experimentations with diverse mediums: from collages, paintings, embroideries, found objects to installations. This technique creates stunning works that marry static pieces with kinesis and three-dimensionality to invoke a powerfully emotional response. Film and photography are her immediate sources of reference; the sensibilities of her practice are known to reflect the moodiness of old European films. Intimately connected to her materials and processes, she uses her hybrid mediums to tackle tensions in themes such as childhood, death, nature and the environment. Yet, her evolving body of work constantly escapes neat categorizations, as her style fluidly fluctuates from figurative to conceptual to abstract. What stays constant throughout the changes, however, is her ability to tell haunting stories in her works—implying that there is always something more complex and profound beneath her otherwise deceivingly soft and delicate surfaces.
Javier is celebrated both in the Philippines and beyond, having participated in the Prague Biennale and held over 30 solo exhibitions in different countries, such as the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, China and Germany. She has also garnered critical acclaim, having won the coveted Ateneo Art Awards (2004) and the Thirteen Artists Award of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (2003).
Mark Justiniani (b. 1966)
Born in Victorias, Negros Occidental, Mark Justiniani grew up in a small town surrounded by sugar cane plantations and mills. Coming from a family of engineers and artists, he established himself as a professional artist known for his figurative paintings and jeepney assemblage using stainless steel, stickers and decals . He was actively involved in artist collectives such as Grupong Salingpusa (1985-1992), Artista ng Bayan or ABAY (1987-1990), and Sanggawa (1994-1998).
Throughout his career, Mark has received numerous awards and recognition for his artistic contributions. Notable among these are his Grand Prize win in the Metrobank National Painting Competition in 1990, the CCP’s 13 Artists Awards in 1994, the Jurors’ Choice in the Philippine Art Awards in 1998, and the Solidarity Award bestowed by the Pilipino Worker’s Center and the City of Los Angeles, California in 2005. He has also been invited to exhibit at highly esteemed art events, such as the 2nd Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane, Australia; the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco; Artjog in Jogjakarta; the Children’s Biennale at the National Art Gallery in Singapore; the Japanese Palais SKD in Dresden, Germany; and the Yokohama Triennial in Japan. Most notably, Justiniani participated in the 58th Venice Biennale in Italy in 2019, where his compelling work titled “Arkipelago” represented the Philippines.
However, Justiniani eventually shifted his artistic focus towards exploring the visible spectrum and delving deeper into his inquiries on realism. This marked a significant transformation in his artistic practice. He began to delve into the science behind his work, conducting profound investigations into perception, light, and visual phenomena. Through his art, he embarked on an exploration of the boundaries of realism and its interaction with the human experience.
Christina Quisumbing Ramilo (b. 1961)
Christina Quisumbing Ramilo lives and works in the Philippines as a full-time artist. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines, Bachelor of Fine Arts 1985, and of New York University with a Master’s Degree in Studio Arts and Art Education in 1988.
Christina Quisumbing Ramilo examines and reimagines objects and their contexts through comprehension of material. Her artistic practice involves an interest in and respect for the life and history of objects. With minimal intervention on their surfaces, she arranges them or reconfigures their parts, presenting other perspectives to their forms and functions. Often using unconventional materials (construction discards, architectural fragments, casts, recycled paper), and utilizing objects themselves as material (mirrors, bottles, old frames, clothing), most of which have been collected for years, she constructs the works in parts over long periods of time, never completely finished. Conferred with titles that employ wit and humor, they ultimately express her personal poetries.
Maria Jeona Zoleta (b. 1989)
Maria Jeona Zoleta is a visual artist from Manila, Philippines. She works with a range of mediums, from paintings, drawings, textiles, videos, sculptures, to installation. Following a nonlinear spiral timeline, she likes to imagine and research about topics that intrigue and challenge her, such as the concept of the “Uncanny Valley” by the roboticist Masahiro Mori and the idea of “Patchwork City: Class, Space and Politics in Metro Manila” by Marco Garrido. Yet her process is very much influenced by her context: Philippine history, the Y2K Millennium bug, and the Internet generation that raised her. She infuses digital sketches she makes in MS Paint, Photoshop, and Clip Studio, yet she still prefers the slow, meditative vibe of painting in the studio and making a total mess in real life.
Zoleta grew up in the red light district of Makati City, Metro Manila, and this informs her visual language. She takes comfort in her obsession with the weird and the eerie. She is a member of “j0L3na”, a “liquid shapeshifting entity, a rainbow glitter holographic consciousness” and a collaborative practice with her artist friends. A mother to a toddler, she is presently painting using what is left of her breast milk with watercolor pigments, and creating sculptures of different structures using wood, metal, and clay—which she sees as an extension of her painting practice. At the moment, the words and phrases that are important to Zoleta are resistance, triggering, memory, pipes, soil, sewage, underground passage, rituals of infection, decay, damage, and repair.In 2011, Zoleta graduated from the University of the Philippines Diliman (College of Fine Arts). She has exhibited widely locally and internationally. In 2014, she won the Ateneo Art Awards 2014 – Fernando Zóbel Prizes for Visual Art.