Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Back from his stint as one of the artists who represented the Philippines in the country's historic return to the Venice Biennale last year, Jose Tence Ruiz is now mounting his first solo exhibition at Silverlens Galleries. Called “SIPA,” this new collection of paintings and sculptures is charged with statements both political and societal.
As an artist, Ruiz is no stranger to symbolism — his work is often imbued with it, rich in meaning for as long as he has something to say. “Hindi tayo mauubusan ng gagawin,” he says, referring to the amount of material available to him as a Filipino, given the current climate of national politics and culture. “Baliw ang bayan natin. I don’t want to ignore it.”
He has extended his commentary on power in its many forms to “SIPA,” using religious imagery and many of the old images he constantly returns to: the cotillion, towers, the “Abang Guard” (which is a series he began in 2011), and even the materials he has chosen to use.
When asked about his use of velvet — the rich red fabric he previously used to wrap a wrecked version of the BRP Sierra Madre in the West Philippine Sea in what he describes as a cocoon of confusion, in his work “Shoal,” for the Venice Biennale — he responds with the question, “Did you not grow up Catholic?” For Ruiz, velvet creates a “sensation of a divine space and centralized authority.” He uses it as a visual weapon, drawn as he is to the texture and depth it creates, especially when the light is cast on it, as well as the possible emotions it may elicit. “There are things that don’t lend themselves to words,” he says, which is a hint as to why all his work relies on heavy symbolism.
Ruiz exhausts the meaning of his images, finding intersections and nuances, even as he returns to them. His “Kotillion” series, for example, is a commentary on how humans make themselves powerful through the manipulation of their “skin,” their outward appearance. “Everything we choose is a statement of power,” he says. In “Ang Swimming Party ng mga Abang Guard,” he depicts a number of important figures in local literature — including Jose Garcia Villa, Amado V. Hernandez, Alejandro Abadilla, and Tomas Pinpin — all as abang guards (important figures in history reduced to watching over their own memories, the term itself being a play on “avant garde”), watching over a pool that has devolved into a mine. “What happens when someone takes away the wealth of your country?” he asks.
He relishes the discourse art inspires, believing in art’s power of presenting ideas. There are many other issues Ruiz contemplates. In “Ang Melankoliya ni Bernardo Carpio,” he recalls the titular legendary hero, who Ruiz believes “got stuck forever trying to be the liberator.” “We got stuck somewhere,” he insists. In “Mother Nurture,” a sculpture that fuses images of the bakawan or mangrove with industrial structures, he questions whether or not our modification of nature is a perversion, and if it exists merely as an extension of our nature as humans to survive.
“I freeze a thought or idea at a certain moment, and [I] walk away,” he says. “You keep making new things, and you move on.” However, for Ruiz, the discussion never stops, not even at the creation of his final pieces. Lately, he has found himself concerned with the durability and permanence of a piece, something he did not use to pay attention to. “It takes people 20 years to get the message,” he says, “so the work should last.”
“SIPA” is on display from April 30 to May 28, 2016, at Silverlens Galleries, located at 2/F, YMC Bldg. 2, 2320 Don Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati City.