Felix Bacolor’s recently concluded Toy Stories at Nova Gallery Makati was rife with contradiction. Disparity rendered Bacolor’s pieces complexity and his brilliant handling of forms and objects placed in stark relief disturbing contrasts. The coherence that may well describe his installation pieces and back-lit transparencies revealed underlying digressions, grounding art world realities in real life aberrations.
Bacolor amassed cheap plastic toys from Divisoria for this exhibition. Brightly colored, lightweight, crudely crafted, bewilderingly plenty, the artist tamed and infused their howling vacancy with leaden clarity. He did not elide their surface gaiety but made most of their beguiling form to enforce reflection. And better still, it is reflection that is most subtle, neither shoved-in-your throat nor thrust-in-your-face realization. This was achieved by ties that reflected the quality of individual pieces across each other: pieces in the ground floor gallery space ingeniously echoed those at the mezzanine. The swarming forms, the assemblies of small, brightly tinted objects were swirling specks in a milling orchestra that swayed to the twin rhythms of fullness and scarcity.
I was welcomed into the gallery space by a well-lit wall of plastic alphabet blocks, a field of either pixels or tesserae of saturated hues. From afar, it would seem this expanse was an exercise in composition and space, but closer scrutiny revealed names highlighted on the blocks themselves. Flanking the wall-bound work were glass encased towering forms of precariously balanced toy plates, those that come with kitchen sets for little girls and two other vitrines of still and composite forms. Bacolor snaked an entire string of plastic plates inside a horizontal vitrine, rendering with littlest effort the appearance of a headless serpent or a writhing worm. Yet he took our imagination further titling the piece Gut It thereafter casting it with morbid tinge. Across the encased metropolis of vertical and toppled plates was a suite of red-eyed silicon bunnies warily staring beyond the confines of their glass cage.
The vista formed by the wall of alphabet blocks and the suite of glass-encased plastic toys fed an atmosphere of eerie joy, a strange plenty evoked by the trove of disposable objects to play with. Yet Bacolor succeeds to find alternate use for these disposable by mobilizing them as carriers of brutal truths. Bacolor turns collecting on its head, ‘plays collecting’ so to speak by puncturing its thrill and dampening the joy that comes from amassing objects. Abecedarium made from alphabet blocks was punctuated with names painted in relief. Among the seeming randomness of letters were unfamiliar names, curiously inserted into this alphabet weave. A to Z was represented by children who were victims of atrocious acts. This alphabet-block wall harbors within it a frisson of fear, confusion and disgust.
Doll shoes lined one of the gallery’s mezzanine walls. Yet they were not presented in pairs. Arranged singly in rows, the vast array of shoes of various makes appeared to march in suddenly-halted parade. Their reflections in the mirrored display casement evoked missing pairs. Bacolor placed image and reflection side-by-side, the real thwarted by the image of an object that simultaneously appears and reappears. Re-collections was a cabinet of mirages, the miniature shoes it contained an embodiment of a fetish kept secret. The act of viewing weaves an incessant web of foreboding, and associations mostly grim.
Toy Stories was punctuated by a suite of Duratrans images. X-rays of prone forms pocked by bullets were tinted in neon and candy and placed side by side with weapons that caused death. Transparent images of guns were placed alongside skeleton x-rays, their positions tracing a bullet’s trajectory, the invisible arc of death that marked an aborted life. These arguably are the exhibition’s strongest pieces, perhaps due the catharsis they offered. They seemed to have provided the answers to the riddles that shaped the entire show. The names on the alphabet block wall, the missing halves of shoe pairs, the nude mannequin standing in a shallow pool of plastic coins, the wobbling towers, the wary-eyed bunnies, and the slithering gut, all seemed to have place the viewer in a limbo of attraction and disgust. Such unease however, is the power of Bacolor’s art.
The deliberate mix of the oddly attractive and unexpectedly repulsive informs Felix Bacolor’s pieces. In Toy Stories, the former may have been alluded to by references to childhood through the visual qualities of saturation and gloss. The crude character of the elements that made the fragile-looking structures, about to topple any given moment may well connote the tentative ventures a child makes into the world. Yet in Bacolor’s candy-hued world, such a place is marred by cruelty and danger. He chose for the vitrines to remain unfinished perhaps to echo such uncertainty. The rough character of these many singular elements however, was rounded out by the artist’s thoughtful placement of his pieces within the space as well as the meticulous construction of these assemblies of objects.
In Bacolor’s body of works, juxtaposition directs the resurrection of meanings through salvaged forms. Such renewals are carried out with reverence to process as evident in pieces for Never-Never Land, a 2009 exhibition comprising objects from flea markets or the mound of prewar Philippine maps for a group exhibition of the same year.
Bacolor imbues emptiness astounding weight through a play on the senses, a trick on what the eyes see and miss and a prodding to make connections between seemingly inert objects and the larger, harsher truths that befuddle humanity. In his works, there is jarring contrast between what is initially perceived and belatedly understood, rendering the act of viewing a protracted puzzle, a labyrinth of introspection and sometimes, perplexing joy.