Monday, January 19, 2009

Titles Matter

The two current exhibitions at Silverlens, Stella Kalaw’s “Family Spaces” in the main gallery and Renato Orara’s “Library Bookworks” in the SLab gallery investigate the importance of titles and their relationship with the associated image.

In “Family Spaces” Kalaw presents “a series of photographs of her immediate family members' homes all over the world.” In the main these are well composed and technically excellent photographs which admirable display Kalaw’s skills with her camera and in the dark/light room.

But without their titles and the associated artist’s statement their significance is greatly diminished. These interiors could have been taken anywhere and, where this is in part the author’s intention, without her drawing the viewers notice to the fact they could have been taken in my home in Australia before I immigrated to the Philippines. There is little that a non-Filipino would identify as being Filipino. And when viewed with this stateless persona they become nice photos of which many examples can be found on Flickr. In fact this exhibition could well be an example of what Tom Wolfe lampoons in his book “The Painted Word”.

Over the bridge in the SLab gallery Renato Orara presents “Library Bookworks,” an exhibition of a hidden installation. Orara has defaced 15 books with the rendering of a human ear on one page in each book. The books have been placed in 15 Libraries throughout the Philippines, one book in each library. The SLab exhibition is a series of photographs of the defaced page from each book along with clues to the locations of the originals with their pen and ink drawings.

By the placement of the rendering over a section of text from a book, that text becomes the de facto title of the work, the significance of which the artist invites the viewer to ponder. And with some of these titles being several sentences long there is plenty of food for thought, especially with the selected text being taken out of the Hurley Burley of the story’s narrative.

That the chosen rendering is of a human ear, whilst encouraging the viewer to use more than one sense to experience the works, underscores the oral tradition of the medium. The choice of books for these renderings also emphasizes that tradition, from a written record of an oral history in the Odyssey to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. With the latter being a book my parents read out loud to me as a child and which I in turn read, in a like manner, to my children.

Then there is the treasure hunt, searching out the originals from the clues provided at the exhibition. Like a search for that perfect gift for a loved one or for the art work that speaks to the heart, the journey is half the fun. This is a project that will keep on giving whilst one scours the nation’s libraries. And being the lackadaisical tourist that I am, I now have an incentive to visit Baguio which has been on my “to do” list for some time.

“Library Bookworks” is highly recommended, especially if you are a fan of the written word as well as the visual arts. In these few words about it I have only skimmed the surface. The defacing of the books and the associated concept that the act of creation is an act of destruction, I will leave you to ponder at your leisure.

Stella Kalaw’s “Family Spaces” exhibition is at the Silverlens main gallery until the 7th of February and Renato Orara’s “Library Bookworks” is at the SLab gallery until the 14th of February. Both galleries can be found at 2320 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City and more info can be found online at .

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