2013/02/09

Notes on Caloy Gernale's "On this site will rise"

This is the kind of art you'll probably never see in any carpark, especially if it is the carpark owned by the ones depicted in Carlo “Caloy” Gernale's February 2013 exhibit called “On this site will rise” which opens on the 16th, at Nineveh ArtSpace, Sta. Cruz, Laguna. It will showcase Gernale's airbrush techniques and how he employs them to convey relevant message.

Four of Caloy Gernale's most recent works will be featured in “On this site will rise.” One of them would be a 36” x 48” painting (acrylic on canvas) of the same title. It shows 3 human-like figures with the head of a hog, pig, and boar, all of which wear hard hats, long-sleeves and crisp ties.

“On this site will rise” is an allusion to “The Three Little Pigs,” a famous tale and a 1933 Silly Symphony cartoon produced by Walt Disney. In the story, three anthropomorphous pigs build homes using varying materials. Among them, only the house built by the “practical pig” does not get blown down by the big bad wolf.

Gernale makes his version of the three pigs based on one of the most basic issues affecting contemporary Philippines—the systematic land use conversion of agricultural lands, brought about by the worsening impact of neoliberal economic policies championed by big foreign investors, local bourgeois-compradors and landlords. In “On this site will rise,” the pigs are portrayed to be engrossed in discussing their latest “urban development plan.” This time, perhaps, they plan to build condominiums and malls.

Spectators also should not miss the chance to see “The Good Guys” (60” x 48” acrylic on canvas), which  depicts a half-pig, half-man figure clad in traditional barong. In front of him is a cat-headed figure in his fashionable fedora hat, long-sleeved shirt, and tie. He may have the face of a cat but he has the demeanor of a lion, and he seems to intentionally show that as he comfortably sits on a purple couch and gazes back at the spectator. Behind these two characters is a silhouette of an ongoing construction of what seems to be a complex of skyscrapers. In this piece, the barong-clad pig seems to woo the cat as he shows a blueprint of the buildings being constructed behind them.

Above: Jaime and Fernando Zobel de Ayala at AFP (source)
Below: Caloy Gernale's "On this site will rise" (source)
In “Mutual Agreement” (56” x 72” acrylic in canvas), the largest among the four pieces, we see two beasts dressed in barong, set against candy-colored horizon. They seem to perform a familiar ritual—an awarding ceremony, where the alligator-headed man hands a signed paper to the snake-headed creature.

Both “The Good Guys” and “Mutual Agreement” seem to describe the relationship between foreign transnational movers and the Philippine bureaucrats. This relationship is forged by their mutual interest in maintaining their economic advantage over neocolonial markets. To do this, the “good guys” would have to maintain and exploit the Philippines' semi-feudal characteristic. This unfair practice is made acceptable through the rhetoric of various cultural institutions including education and mass media. This is why the Filipino woman, for instance, is typically presented as someone who is nameless/faceless and objectified.

The nameless/faceless and objectified woman is what we see in “You are cordially invited”  (30” x 20” acrylic in canvas). This young female model with the tongue of a snake shows off her body as she strikes a pose, and invites the viewer to experience  the “ideal.” It is through this recurring image of the “ideal woman” vis-a-vis the“ideal life” that we see in many print and TV ads, as well as on billboards along EDSA, that accounts of land-grabbing, intimidation, and human rights violations are concealed from the sight of the public.

This is the kind of art that the owners of carparks and subdivisions that used to be farmlands, would never want us to see.