The ‘Crux’ of the matter

By Lito Zulueta

 

Philippine Daily Inquirer (October 15, 2007)

 

MANILA, Philippines – Image and word compose a universe both familiar and strange in “Crux,” described by its organizer, CANVAS (www.canvas.ph), as an “exposition of paintings and poems,” at the Ayala Museum starting Oct. 18. The word denotes the large-scale exhibit of Emmanuel Garibay’s paintings (some 20 works, which is quite big for a new show) while connoting the strategy of the verses by young poet Angelo Suarez that complement the canvases, the poetry being an expounding or explanation of the issues posed by the paintings.

 

A collaboration between Garibay and Suarez, “Crux” does not so much locate the pivotal point where and when image and word clash or bond, as stir the conundrum and the poser whether indeed meaning is fixed and reinforced by the tandem (of the image and word, not of Garibay and Suarez, although whether the latter pair embodies the former’s concepts is itself one of the “cruxes” of the matter).

 

The scholarly jargon here is “problematize.” Do signifier and signified indeed synthesize? The exhibit shows there’s no clear answer; the matter is, to say the least, “problematic.”

Consider the gestation. It appears that Garibay first did his paintings that became later the template and trigger for Suarez’s inspired versification. The result is not so much complementarity, as one-upmanship, the image, being immediate and seductive, luring the viewer to the canvas, making it the basis for determining the meaning of the verses beside it. This appears to reverse the Johannine dictum, “In the beginning was the word,” making of the image deity and determiner.

 

But since, as Suarez writes, “The referent was bracketed out/ because the referent, too,/ is a sign,” and “You cannot use language after all/ Rather, it is language that uses you,” the words find a compelling energy all their own to commit to a trajectory away from the precursor-painting. The result is not so much crux, but flux.

 

As Suarez writes in the verses that accompany Garibay’s paintings of the exterior and interior of a packed jeepney, “w/c-ever crams/ the meaning best/ packs the most signification.”

But because he has a more evolved imagery, Garibay’s works mesmerize and transfix. Here are the vintage Garibay images: a withering critique of folk Catholicism and the ecclesiastical hierarchy, a heady rendering of Manila’s urban chaos, the sheer clutter and utter nausea of inner-city living. The images compose a veritable iconography, a network of meanings and interpretations.

 

All of this of course lends well to Suarez’s city-seared, Rastah-spirited poesy. Both Garibay and Suarez, after all, are poets of the streets, their essential spirit uncannily fused, for example, in the painting and poetry about a woman’s back clad in manton de Manila, which was famous in Europe during the Spanish era and was supposed to have come from Manila but was really from China, a metaphor of the complexity of meanings and locations as well as the tortuous complexion of the so-called Filipino soul, a complexity that is best rendered as mimesis, farce, parody, and inevitably, nihilism: “The spine is a window through which peers out the travesty of mimesis, the mime acting out the clown acting out the comedy acting out the actor acting to the tune of nothing in particular-really- . . .”

Despite his images holding dominion, Garibay takes to Suarez’s linguistic games by painting a university don holding a pipe, on which Suarez inscribes the famous words of Rene Magritte about his painting of a pipe, “This is not a pipe.”

 

The meaning of the collaboration becomes apparent: image and word in one canvas invoke what Michel Foucault describes as “the separation between linguistic signs and plastic elements; equivalence of resemblance and affirmation,” which means the tension that exists in classical painting that excludes language and meaning. By joining image and word in one canvas, Magritte provides a discursive space for painting and poetry to interact. Whether they come to a modus vivendi of some meaning is for the viewer-reader to decide. And that’s the “Crux” of the matter.