Viva Tuazon!

BY JAY BAUTISTA | “If You Aren’t Political Then Your Personal Life Should Be Exemplary.” This phrase comes from American artist Jenny Holzer’s "Please Change Beliefs" series which consisted of short statements or truisms, and I thought about it when I saw Wire Tuazon's "After Jenny Holzer: In the Darkest Hour, Let There be Light."

Jenny Holzer is famous for her use of running texts set against public spaces as background. Holzer likes to project her truisms on spaces like on the walls of old buildings or the façade of a movie house. Her works are meant to elicit reflections or reactions from passers-bys.

Looking at the pieces exhibited in Tuazon's recent show "Talisman Bomb," one cannot help but admire the extent at which the artist went through to achieve his conceptual intentions. Wire Tuazon takes a painstaking approach to his work and a Tuazon technique depicts three simultaneous and intertwined levels of visual narrative:

1. The title
2. The image, and
3. The texts.

The three are interconnected (the title to the image, the image to the text, the text to the title). It is like talking to someone having dinner as he is talking to someone else on the phone while keeping an eye on the TV screen. There is no narrative "center." Oh, there’s a fourth element here: for the visually-challenged, Tuazon has crafted a message etched in Braille: The message reads: “Your past is not my past, your future is not my future."

Wire Tuazon is a master of both iconography and iconology. He leaves it to the viewer to discover deeper truths. His previous works have dealt with text placed on incongruous picture-images to draw out new interpretations from an unlikely combination. Similar to a popular device in print advertising, Tuazon emblazoned seemingly randomly chosen words over seemingly randomly chosen images. The disruption caused by a line of text somehow confers a mystery or elusiveness to the entire work.

Wire grew up in Angono where senior visual artists copied Botong Francisco’s works to sell. In fairness to these artists (there are 150 practicing painters in this small town), they signed the works as their own but the Francisco "signature" of rural idyll showing fishing, rice-planting and fiesta culture are very much in evidence.

Wire and his generation of artists in Angono have moved on from Francisco's idyllic Philippine countryside scenes. Was he consciously rebelling against the commercial practice and Francisco-centric tendency among older artists in his hometown? Whatever the answer is, it wasn’t an easy road for Wire, whose works are a radical departure from traditional Angono artworks, to find himself in Angono's art scene. It took a while before he was accepted in Angono and be accepted as one of them.

When Wire accepted his Cultural Center of the Philippines 13 Artists Award he had the whole town with its brass band cheering him (his late dad played cymbals for maestro Lucio San Pedro).

Wire Tuazon offers a distinct perspective in Philippine art history. He is one of the founders of Neo-Angono (remember their fight with National Press Club over a censored mural?) and was a student of UP Fine Arts College professor Bobby Chabet. Curator Bobi Valenzuela chose him as one of Boston Gallery’s upcoming painters to watch few years back.

But Wire is not one to be put in a box or have “isms” supplied to his name to describe his manner of expression using paint or installation material. Wire and his wife Keiye, together with artists their age established the biggest little artspace of our time, Surrounded by Water (where the works of Louie Cordero, Jason Oliveira, Lena Cobangbang, Geraldine Javier, Nona Garcia and the Ching brothers first saw light). Surrounded by Water is now reaping the fruits of their labot. Someday, a detailed account on contemporary Philippine art history should be written about this maverick artspace and Wire will have lots of stories to tell.

"Talisman Bomb" is Wire’s way of figuratively “slaying the fathers,” by literally shooting bullets into the stainless steel sheets that form the surface of his works.

By shooting holes into the steel, it's as if he is forcing the issue of breaking with certain traditions. "Talisman Bomb" is a big leap in terms of style, substance and artistic intent. With this landmark show, which vary from concurrent shows not just of style or materials but also in terms of concerns, themes, and agenda, a new promise emerges.

I have always thought that Wire was better as a painter than as an installation or conceptual artist. This show has proven me wrong.

In Angono, one shouts “Viva” at the patron saint as an expression of praise. I shout “Viva Tuazon.”

Catching Wire’s "Talisman Bomb" on the last day of its exhibition run at the cold and posh context of the Podium at the Ortigas Center, as if solicited on purpose, words failed me when I looked at the "freshly gunned down" pieces. I wonder who bought the pieces and when will people see them again?

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