THE LOST IN THE FOUND: A retrospective review of Frank Peñones’s collection for the “Apulas” exhibit
By Dennis B. Gonzaga EXALTATION OF THE RUDIMENTARY DESPITE its considerable pedigree, Western Art History has been notoriously linear in its practice, reactionary in its progress, and restrictive in its perception. Scale, proportion, precision, and adherence to realism were the prevalent attributes of the creative process beginning from the Classical and Hellenic ages all the way to the Renaissance. Western Art progressed to the point where it exists purely for its own sake. In contrast, Eastern Art has retained its rudimentary and meditative core. Traditional Eastern Art is largely transcendent, conceptual, and intuitively abstract. There is no overt consideration for realistic space, except when this tool aids in conveying contemplative themes. In terms of medium, Eastern Art has been traditionally elemental and ascetic. This is evident in the Chinese shuǐ mò huà and in the ornamental sculptures and bas reliefs common in Southeast Asian Art. Whatever the mode or medium, traditional Eastern Art is never divorced from the realm of function and purpose in both the spheres of the material and the otherworldly. The concept of the “sacred space” is central to the Art of the East. Tibetan Buddhist thangkas can be used as decorations. But more importantly, they are used for spiritual instructions. A more compelling approach to the concept of “sacred space” can be observed in sand mandalas. The intricacy involved in its creation and the ritualistic nature of its destruction are deep commentaries on the impermanence of life and the world. There is a concurrent crudeness and loftiness in these creative forms. RETROACTIVE RENAISSANCE The return to a more primitive appreciation of the creative process is a fairly modern development in Western Art. Objet trouvé started as a novel development. Pablo Picasso experimented with the idea of incorporating everyday items into his usual works. Marcel Duchamp, of course, is considered to have refined the form and medium. The craft of the “found object” sought inspiration and expression through the organic and the mundane. But while, traditional Eastern Art utilized and exalted the ordinary to reflect on the divine, proponents of objet trouvé used their pieces to critique the processes of commodification and consumerism of the industrial West. ODE TO THE LOST Peñones channels both the temporal and the divine in his pieces. His sculptures are never self-contained. Each is a call to action or a prayer to some folk deity. He is never detached from his times. Peñones fully embraces his roles as prophet and town-crier. He is never unconnected to the elements. He skillfully cobbles his poetry and his socio-political statements from the artefacts of air, water, fire, and earth. Peñones is rarely heavy-handed in the way he engineers his solid medleys. Instead, he works with their natural alignments and patches them to create plausible juxtapositions. His “sacred spaces” are never insulated from temporal engagements. In “1972” he puts together random debris to articulate a powerful narrative on contemporary politics. While he evokes history and nostalgia, he also cautions the uninitiated against the darker aspects of authoritarian statecraft. There is nothing romantic about the composition. It is crude, brutal, and direct. In “Venus” Peñones uses a recycled ball bearing, a wood fragment, and a repurposed base to create a rebulto which simultaneously acclaims the effeminate form and censures the societal and cultural forces that forced such form upon the idea of the female. The piece lionizes and then deconstructs. Peñones showcases his grasp of relevant and contemporary social issues in the piece, “Mine (After Gata)”. On a more basic level, it is an innovative sculpture. And yet, it is a subtle treatise on the perpetual clash between the natural environment and progress. “Ingat Igin”, and “Rhetorical Q” share the same attributes. The craftsmanship is the discourse. Still, Peñones is capable of dwelling in the abstractions of Modern Art. “Yves Klein’s The Leap” pays tribute to the French artist who is considered to be one of the pioneers of Performance Art. Peñones mirrors Yves Klein’s “Saut dans le vide”, a manipulated photograph which shows the artist seemingly leaping from a wall and into a concrete pavement. The choice for the tribute is rather fitting since Klein’s piece was also a critique against the hubris in modernity and technology. CONCLUSION Peñones collection reveals the inevitable social and political role of the creative process. The craftsman is a cultural worker. The creative cannot confine himself or herself within the comfortable bounds of cloistered ruminations. The artist is a product of time and space. He is never vestigial. He is at the center of the landscape. He is witness and mover. He is a detached observer in times of calm. But if and when necessary, he can and must rouse the rabble. There is a lean and sinewy truth in Peñones’ sculpted commentaries. But this truth is not handed out easily. He invites us to see, to listen, to wade deeper into the discussion, and then to act. He speaks in parables. And these parables are in the language of the mundane, the fragmented, the disposed, the lost, and the forgotten.