The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world—impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family, just like the lover of the fair sex who builds up his family from all the beautiful women that he has ever found, or that are or are not—to be found; or the lover of pictures who lives in a magical society of dreams painted on canvas. Thus the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy. Or we might liken him to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.
Riel Hilario is a carver in contemporary art. He is caught up in dreams in a world of tools. The wood that he shapes in the workshop converses with spirits that he gleans when he stares at the sky or when he is lost in his unconscious. The tension permeates this practice, between a material that is starkly of substance, index of nature that is prone to exploits, easily morphing into image that is either revered or defiled, and an intimation of sheer signs discerned in phantasm or a repressed past, something on the edge of epiphany and trauma.
The Indian poet-critic-curator Ranjit Hoskote visited Paete in Laguna and was moved by the carving agent in a town fabled for its sculpture, whether of paper or of wood. Hoskote wrote a poem that speaks of a place that is also a realm, and he begins by interrogating the one who is witness and the one who whittles:
The carver? You mean the Redeemer’s right-hand man. Not a
merchant of torsos, hardly that. More like a surgeon, I’d say. He’s
studied the lesions of hate, greed’s excemas, and does sutures if
you repent. That’s the Virgin waiting for her diademed head, and
those three saints, baby-naked, should soon be wrapped in satin.
He’s walking among them, sawdust in his hair, checking lathes,
gouges. His nails drive deep into wood made flesh.
At once, the carver communes with the otherworldly: the process of incarnation, the “world made flesh,” is apparent at the very moment of making, of enfleshing and of enworlding. This history of craft is Riel’s inspiration, having been reared in a household that made furniture for a living. In this environment, the chair or the table or the cabinet is not something fully formed ready for use; it is part of the task of working on something that has reached a level of accomplishment. It is not mere commodity to be circulated, although it is surely a source of income, but a “family tradition,” so to speak, that traces generations of knowledge bearers and the means of reciprocating the faculty. In other words, the materialization that the carver enacts through the object assumes “social life,” its facture lying at the heart of an aesthetic proposition. Also, the subjectivity of the carver takes on a spiritual dimension because of the ethical character of the devotion to the talent required to make things, a gift shared across ancestral lines. It is here that Hoskote’s limning of the carver as complicit in the conjuring of images surfaces:
He’s handing out scripts to angels, taking them through their
paces from raw prototype to flight model. Innocent of paint, gilt,
lace and haloes, his martyrs grieve and lust as common clay. He’s
crafty. He won’t save them from what awaits: bonded to their
slaves, they’ll stand for ever in a chapel or cathedral, piety’s
gardeners, wielding instruments of healing and devious hurt.
Hilario’s recognition of the transformative nature of the rebulto or statuary takes him to the movement from one “culture” to another, arising in this situation by way of colonialism. The transfer of the image as a potent delineation of likeness makes sense for the most part in the context of conquest. The same is true of its illusion of dimensionality, its being real and actually existing, as it were. It is here where distinctions between the local and the western are contrived, as well as the “inclination outward.” The artist is keen on the “transcultural,” referenced by the object of the sculpture, probing how it inscribes the marks of passage from what is “vernacular” to what is “colonial.” He recovers these ties in contemporary art, which reaches out to the so-called folk artist for a conversion of sorts, to redeem a heritage vitiated by the modernity of art. At this point, we realize that Hilario’s art is about himself as well, the ways in which he tries to mend the rupture of his art and hopefully restore the ecology of his biography through a return to his childhood, his dreams, the various modes through which his imagination of form was chiseled back in the day. This demands the labor of memory, and Hoskote reminds us of the travail:
He counts out the weeks in bruised fingers, wax plugs, lacquer
skins, ivory pendants, turning these prayer-soiled bodies, these
impious arks of lovesong and lament, into sovereign powers that
arbitrate between men and their fate, guard their journeys. Even
he, their carver, prays to them: that’s rough water he must cross,
its black islands rippling, gleaming like the hums of rutting bulls,
and he must swim it in the long fall of light parsed with the raining
world of sweat and strained muscle: they deflect the bullet from
his heart, lift the crumpled shroud of night from his face.
The rebulto, therefore, references the contemporary artist Hilario, and the rebulto maker is at once the other and himself, conflated in the translation of forms. This is why his sculpture is almost but not quite the rebulto; it is the interval between the two and the affinity binding them that render it peculiar. This opening up to the vernacular, retroactively stirred by a desire in the present to belong to a custom of facture, lets him touch the fragile fringes of the “communal,” which refers to the coterie of rebulto makers in San Vicente in the Ilocos region. It is a precarious foray because it is distant, facing a gap that is crossed by this revisit, this memory of form, this rekindling of dream that might have started in 2001 when the artist took to wood as medium.
But this rebulto is also santo, and therefore an image suffused with religious meaning and affect, the politics of creed, and in these parts, cipher of a brutal coloniality and its irresistible guarantee of salvation. Hilario subjects this image to multiple coding as spiritual vessel, objet d’art, heirloom, artifact of tradition, vector of reverie. These plural significations enable him to create a critical position in relation to it and reflexively strike a stance in its light. He confesses that his initial trajectory to the project was connoisseurial: that he was fascinated with the material and its techniques, its formativity, its allure as an achievement of human invention. For this reason, he alienated himself from its supposed originality. Instead, he conjured his own mythology of the origin of his expression by resisting the exotic reception of an actually invented tradition. He “faked” its antiquity, and offered a semblance, a certain “seeming” that eluded identity.
Scanning his statuary, we intuit the fragments of Hilario’s search for form, which is quita y pone, or modular in the parlance of sculpture, never whole or seamless, the body parts flung from elsewhere and congealing in a dreamscape. They are pieces to be put together and also torn asunder. His sculptures evince integrity and strong iconography, with adequate polish and rigidity, on the one hand, and are forlorn and clumsy in their contour and posture, on the other: isolated from a vast cosmos, whirling like lost menageries, or somnambulists in the thickets of a dense forest. They are hybrids in polychrome, whimsical, grotesque. In a somewhat folk surrealist vein, they are inchoate, passing through the rites of forming, dispelling their wooden constitution with the promise of renewal. Hoskote writes the epilogue to this tale of tricky crafting:
Their pasts are safe with their maker, and their dreams: he’s put
them away with his tools before shaving, bathing, choosing a
starched new shirt for Mass. Night scares him, but with sun in the
windows, he’s a relaxed connoisseur, cherishing the crooked
timber of humanity, the regularities of the misshapen day.
Art practice is linked to modes of existence as an expressive resolution to contentions, exuberance and contemplation. This kind of art emerges as a range of creative responses to the dilemmas, dramas, contingencies and insights of everyday living and considers the truth-in-the-vernacular as the point of departure for creative work.
This kind of art practice is affirmative in formulation as it does not subsume authentic present experience for either a) elaborations of imaginary utopias (conceptual art, mannerism) or b) ravings against and for dystopias (provocateur art, protest art). The zone of its concern is the here-and-now where the artist’s personal response is of primary interest. His or her work is not decoded as a construct of any system but is accepted as a genuine engagement of subjective experience.
Because of this affirmation, art practice emerges organically from the vernacular phenomenon where the original language and sign-systems provide the most authentic meaning relations to both subject and work. Yet the work can also extend the vernacular realm in its need to communicate globally. There is no need to conjure a “globalized art scene” between participants of the dialogue. There is also no anxious need to be allied to such “outside” influences, just to “belong”. Indeed, this kind of art practice believes that while there is truth in the vernacular, there is also greater possibility of meaningful contact and discourse through it and with it. This is a manifestation of art and communication as intersubjectivity.
The series of sculptures that are part of the exhibit Astral Projections began as representations of the night sky, or the regions of the celestial sphere. They reflect my original interest in cosmology. And had I not chosen the profession of art I would have been a man of Science. These are my belated attempts to rekindle the passion for astronomy. But my work has developed over production time to also consider "the night" as a subject and all its somnolent associations. Astral Projections becomes a journey through a landscape of nocturnal thoughts - of nighttime heaven and earth.
My exhibit "If an apostle looks in no monkey can look out" is on view at The Drawing Room until November 7, 2010. When asked where I picked up the title I answer: Kierkegaard. Although the great Dane actually also quoted the same for his work In Vino Veritas from Georg Lichtenberg. When I was making the series I really don't know what they would end up: my work process is more intuitional in sculpture than it is with my paintings and writing. I knew that rebultomaking is a loaded practice. Lots of connotations and references there. So when I finished my last piece (in time for the opening on October 16), I discovered how the complexes of meaning in the rebulto gave my work a fecund grond of interpretations. I love the openness of the artwork structure to the public. I always maintain that the public competes the circuit of the artwork's function to communicate. I tried to make the works encourage touch and interaction, but I suppose I will have to make yet another series for this.
Now, after the Apostles. What next? Another iteration of the rebulto form.