BY FIEL ESTRELLA
In “Hysterical Blindness,” artist Buen Abrigo’s new exhibit, he puts a focus on the country’s current cultural and sociopolitical climate, from territorial disputes and youth protests, to war-torn wastelands and burgeoning dystopia.
Abrigo’s work breathes new life into discarded materials and forgotten objects by, in his words, “transforming them into something dialectical from their original function through collages and assemblage.” The imagery is vivid, purposeful, and able to evoke a wide, conflicting range of emotions. You are confronted with the content and what it denotes, and at its most effective, it elicits a sense of fear and dread.
Take the mixed-media piece Maelstrom, an arresting tableau that takes up over half of one wall, featuring a boat trying to sail through waves of increasingly distressing social issues that have remained prevalent and relevant for generations. The figures are shapeless and ominous, vaguely resembling humans—a haunting sight that asks to be examined and prodded, deep in the viewer’s soul.
Salvage, the first work to be seen upon entering the gallery, includes two paintings depicting brutality, flanked by a figure familiar to most Filipinos: the crucified Christ, burned beyond recognition. Beneath it lies His head, finely sculpted, albeit with only one eye.
Arguably, the centerpiece of the show is Armature, a massive installation made up of deconstructed armchairs etched with the portraits of political prisoners, and canvas paintings of more portraits cut in half and spread around. The attention to detail and the political prisoners’ unflinching stares, once you are able to piece them together from the pieces, make for an eerie, thought-provoking art experience.
Held at the gallery of furniture brand Space Encounters, the exhibit comes to life with furniture pieces and rural elements, such as low hanging lamps and school chairs. The interior design changes with every show, and for “Hysterical Blindness,” Abrigo specifically requested the armchair. It’s a full-circle moment for him, in a way, as he had gotten into art by helping his grandmother, a public school teacher, create visual aids and posters for class.
A major influence for Abrigo is the 1960s Italian art movement arte povera, or “poor art.” His work becomes a commentary that transcends social classes and brings to the consciousness the struggles of the marginalized. A recurring theme seen in all three works mentioned above is the element of obscurity—certain details and images are hidden or made unrecognizable, at least at first glance. Some of the pieces are in disarray, distorted and warped, both esoteric and in-your-face. The picture is right there; you just have to look harder and put them together.
The title begins to make sense: These issues affect us so much, make us feel so hard, that we become numb to them and become desensitized, blind to them. And if art has the ability to make you uneasy, to make you think and compel you to do something about it, then perhaps it has done its job.
“Hysterical Blindness” is open to the public until May 10, 2018 at Space Encounters Gallery, located at Unit 7D, 7/F Padilla Building, F. Ortigas Jr. Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.