Excerpts from catalogue essay for Living Memory ongoing through 10th October 2013 at Wada Fine Arts Tokyo:
Memory is central element of this recent exhibition by Plet Bolipata and Elmer Borlongan. When memory is content or force in expressive form, more often than not it connotes time gone past. In contemporary art, representations of memory are strongly mobilized to construct understandings of identity and to decode structures wherein notions and ideas of self are better understood. In a similar vein, Bolipata’s and Borlongan’s art veer away from presenting memory in ossified form. Their works illustrate shared understanding of memory as alive and changing, embodied through shifting forms and cloaked in various skins. Memory for these artists is force that is alive, coursing well through their art with vigorous force. The artistic gestures through which they record memory’s trace and course are distinctive. In unison, their works strongly impart the notion that memory seen through art’s prism partakes of a ‘looking back’ while simultaneously steeped in the present and inferring, if not hopeful for, a future.
Philosophers have variously reflected on the nature of memory. How do we remember exactly? What forms do memories take? How and why do recollections change? One of the strongest arguments for memory is its being ‘the faculty of imprinting images’. Thus, it can be said of memory as active deposition of imagination, in crafting self and its relations to outside world. Imagery produced by sense perception while drawing from worlds within is indelibly marked by encompassing contexts well beyond. In their shared life as artists and life partners, Plet and Elmer demonstrate what it means to craft and chart memory as active force in the construction of art and self, through evocations of place lived in and through alongside imagined settings where similar explorations are likely to unfold.
Plet Bolipata’s figure is pronounced presence in the works Comfort Food Diaries, Curtain Call, Ghosts of Childhood Past, At Faith’s Door, and Mabini Street Revisited. In these works, Plet renders her settings in light hearted and vibrant manner in much the same way she depicts herself in jaunty pose and playful garb. Manila, the city we know is embellished with seeming abandon. The streets in Malate to Plet’s imagination are littered with characters, some going about their business, others in busy frolic. Much has changed in this part of Manila giddily transforming over time between crudity and refinement but always partaking of its kind of strange seduction. Plet renews this section of the city with a recollection of the joys it used to offer, vestiges of which hang in the air and lie in forgotten nooks and corners. This succeeds to divest places of the bitter strain of longing and renews them instead with the joys of discovery.
Elmer Borlongan’s works on the other hand, all depict solitary figures against settings that are either landscapes or swathes of natural forms for ground. They are the former in the raging sea and skies of Of Crows and Pigeons, the vast sand dunes with cement blocks in Liw-liwa, and the eerie carnival grounds of Pop Cola Kid. The latter is depicted in the dripping monochrome grounds of Choc-Nut, the fleecy backdrop of clouds from whence Plastic Man emerges, the enveloping greens of both Intermission and Daydreamer, and the grey backdrop in Mask of Santol. This visual device coupled with the figuration that has so defined Borlongan’s pieces departs from his more known works of beleaguered urbanites. Due to lack of specific markers, these settings open up the vista where the figures are located, endowing them greater distance and vaster expanse. Male figures people Borlongan’s canvases, preoccupied with thought, dream, toil, or a flicker of joy. Their eyes stir beyond the limits of the painting to hint at a larger event, a more encompassing life, yet uniformly absorbed and sober in demeanour.
Elmer Borlongan and Plet Bolipat confirm memory’s robust place in a life forged by nature and art. These avid reflections on how recollection actively constructs the past to become alive once again in the present, bodes well for a thriving practice, indeed a lifelong partnership. Memory is apt theme explored by them because it charts the self within place and across time. Through evocations of site, we are reminded that ventures in the realm of remembering are not bound exclusively to individuality, or the singular self. As Plet and Elmer chart their journeys across numerous locations, through the deeply engaging forms of their art, we are closely reminded of how the self is rightfully regarded through a communal context. None speaks of this facet more strongly than the roots cultivated by the artists in their Zambales home and the diverse art that thrives within the world they had embraced.
Plet Bolipata and Elmer Borlongan render this world anew through the reworking of images that remind of childhood, revisiting sites of dreams, fears and joys, remaking rural environs for personas encountered within banal contexts. All these conjure for us through the evocative qualities of the visual, an intense, more immediate environment. Indeed, a world refreshed yet significantly animated, flushed with possibilities, and made enduring by way of history. Elmer’s and Plet’s art embody this gesture of hope, a potent recourse in a world constantly endangered by tragedy and sorrow.