Notes on Caloy Gernale's Bring Your Own Magnifying Lens

Bring Your Own Magnifying Lens is the third exhibition of Carlo “Caloy” Gernale’s airbrushed works on metal since he introduced the first one (Personalize It) in May 2008 (although he established himself as an artist 6 years ago). Caloy never denied that his first set of airbrushed works was “inspired by one of the country’s great eyesores, the jeepney, as well as the city’s seemingly inescapable traffic.” However, he has since been able to go beyond the idea of “driv[ing] jeepney art into the art world’s pristine galleries,” as evident in his previous one-man show, Tetano (August 2009). Tetano provided him the perfect opportunity to explore metal’s many facets. He used his exceptional skills in airbrushing to create “permanent damage” (permanenteng pagkasira) to salvaged metals, in lieu of making a statement regarding the deterioration of Philippine society.

Caloy continues to make visual interpretations of his social commentary in his 6th one-man exhibition named Bring Your Own Magnifying Lens. He draws inspiration from popular PC games like Pop Cap’s “Mystery P.I.: Lost in Los Angeles” and Big Fish’s “Prime Suspects.” He challenges the viewer to make cohesive meaning out of seemingly disjointed objects scattered around the central figure. Viewers may take the role of a detective aiming to locate and gather images that will help them create one unified meaning.
In Bring Your Own Magnifying Lens, Caloy supports the idea that meaning-making lies solely on the artist/creator. As stated in his concept paper:
When the spectator sets his eyes on the painting, interaction occurs. The spectator should no longer act or be perceived as a passive viewer. Instead, the spectator is encouraged to participate by attempting to make a consensual meaning with the artist, using the artwork as a “common frame of reference.”
For instance, in “Midnight Transaction” (46”x 60” acrylic lacquer on metal, 2010), Caloy shows us a seemingly empty room. What message could this painting possibly want us to discern? Using the title as well as the cleverly positioned objects—pen, documents/contracts, used condom, presidential seal, handcuffs, etc.—as clues, the viewer may perhaps sense that the painting refers to issues deeply concerned with the government, in particular with the “midnight transactions” that take place between and among bureaucrat capitalists.

Caloy also takes meanings to varying levels, as in the case of “Double Dead” (46”x 60” acrylic lacquer on metal, 2010). Literally, “Double Dead” depicts a vehicle shattered by a fateful accident. Little details adjacent to the smashed car are crowbar, wrench, and other similar tools typically used for fixing. However, these very same tools are also used to take car parts away and be sold very cheaply. In a metaphorical sense, “Double Dead” is a statement on the current situation of marginalized Filipinos who are constantly exploited by the few and the powerful.

Moreover, Caloy uses close-up images that evoke different levels of meaning besides what is already conveyed literally. He dares the viewers to think out the box using the images of a machine propeller, a good luck cat, vintage bombs, and dilapidated sandals as clues. This is the principle behind “Makina” (16”x 12” acrylic lacquer on metal, 2010), “Swerte” (16”x 12” acrylic lacquer on metal, 2010), “Bomba” (16”x 12” acrylic lacquer on metal, 2010), and “Bitak” (16”x 12” acrylic lacquer on metal, 2010).

Caloy, through his unique and exceptional approach in painting, encourages spectators (fellow artists, collectors, art aficionados, students, and more importantly, ordinary people—jeepney drivers, balut vendors, domestic helpers, factory workers, peasants, etc.) to take viewing/reading to a higher ground. He does this by expanding the role of the viewer. This is why we are invited to “bring our own magnifying lens.”

In my opinion, Bring Your Own Magnifying Lens will be one of the most important exhibitions of 2010, if not of the next decade, simply because it is a daring response to the pressing issues Filipinos confront today. Very recent historical events in our country compel us to make meaning, make choices, and take sides. Caloy embraces his role as the artist who never forgets his social responsibilities. As E. San Juan, Jr. (2004) points out:
Sa panahong ito, ano ang tungkulin ng manlilikhang may progresibong pananaw? Una, dapat niyang mabatid na ang sining ay nag-uugat sa nagtatagisang lakas ng mga uri sa lipunan. Kung hindi man siya pumipili ng uring papanigan, pipiliin siya, sa ayaw man niya o sa gusto. Pangalawa, layunin niyang itaguyod at pagyamanin ang sensibilidad na pangkasaysayan, ang imahinasyong pangkasaysayan na nagdiriin sa pagbabago at pag-iiba ng kapaligiran bunga ng kontadiksyon na siyang pinagmulan ng walang-humpay na kilos o galaw ng mga pangyayari.
Setting the spotlight on the viewer as a meaning-maker is of course not a new concept. Nevertheless, it still remains to be utilized in favor of the marginalized. Caloy Gernale successfully takes advantage of this.

(Ang Bring Your Own Magnifying Lens ay ikaanim na one-man art exhibition ni Caloy Gernale. Ito ay inilunsad noong ika-22 ng Mayo, 2010 sa Metro Gallery, 455 P. Guevarra St., San Juan, Metro Manila. Ang eksibisyon ay hanggang sa ika-5 pa ng Hunyo kaya't inaanyayahan ang lahat na makadalo sa Metro Gallery para mabistahan ang pinakahuling mga gawa ni Caloy Gernale.)