Okay Mountain, Austin
Through May 23, 2009
by Dan Boehl
Louie Cordero and Mariano Ching
Lucio and Miguel Collab #1, 2008
Courtesy the artists and Okay Mountain
Photo Carlos Rosales-Silva
For the performance Two Rings (2008), artist Gary-Ross Pastrana got two rings from his mother and took them to a goldsmith. He had the goldsmith melt the rings and forge them into a small sword. After cutting himself with the blade, he bathed the object in his own blood and then had the goldsmith recreate the original rings by hand. In the triptych that documents Two Rings, the left-hand photograph shows the two rings, one a fat yellow signet patterned with leaves, the other a white band rounded with a braid of small dents and divots. The middle photograph shows Pastrana slicing his bicep with the blade, the shape of a cocktail skewer. The recreated rings in the right-hand photograph look similar to the originals, but no one would mistake them for the originals. They are thinner, more jaundiced than gold. Familiar, but different.
The feeling that things are familiar yet different pervades the fourth installment of Okay Mountain’s series No American Talent, Bayanihan—Work from Manila. Filipino society has been deeply influenced by its close relationship with the United States since the late 1800’s. These cultural influences, which include American cable television, sports, and music, are evident in the collaborations of Louie Cordero and Mariano Ching. Four 4 by 4 paintings of acrylic on paper dominate the gallery. All four have a similar composition of Westernized figures engaged in harmonic communication with a tumescent deity of some sort. In the most compelling composition, Cordero and Ching depict a KISS concert. Gene Simons and Paul Stanley are reduced to two pairs of boots topped by toothy hair. Imagine a pair of cousin Itts on stage. A rainbow shoots from one of the mouths, ringing a stage full of rotting vapor. The other mouth chews it like taffy. A giant Guston eye floats above the drum kit. The image is at once funny and dead on, summing up rock and roll with a handful of vaudeville cues. Yet, there is that grand eye, almost, but not quite, familiar.
For all the guts and gods of the Cordero and Ching collaborations, this is generally a quiet show. It is interesting, but in a very library way. I feel like I am learning something by being there. And like a library, the real gems are the books in the show. Bea Comacho made flipbooks, Portrait Series (Simon), Portrait Series (Lorenzo), and Portrait Series (Nuni) (2007), by mimeographing in series the portraits of the individuals depicted in the book. As she reproduced each portrait, the faces of Simon, Lorenzo, and Nuni fattened and flattened, until they disappear from the page all together like fading ghosts. Read left to right, their eyes stretch and heads squish into Asian stereotypes. Read right to left, the slanteyed stereotype reconstitutes into a modern Filipino. The books reference home life, family and the reality of Filipinos immigrating to other countries to find work in the phenomenon of “tago ny tago”, which translates into “hide and hide.”
Like an archivist, MM Yu obsessively compiles photographs into little books of like things. Eight of these books make up Collective Thoughts (2007). My favorites are the book of yuck, featuring a festering dog’s anus, a BBQed chicken foot on a stick, chickens in a yard, a stack of pig heads, and other gross animal products, and book of bawal umihi, which shows a myriad of signs in various locations that say bawal umihi. At first I thought it meant “no parking” but it means “you can’t urinate here.” The book of sleep is full of Filipinos sleeping on the streets or in dumpsters.
It’s hard to make a living in the Philippines as an artist, so most of the artists work in commercial design. In a way this is reflected in the intimate, non-commercial work in Bayanihan—Work from Manila. As a viewer I feel like a guest in the gallery, rather than a spectator. The title of the show Bayanihan translates to “being a hero to one another.” It’s simple, but this heroic intimacy captures the spirit of the show. There is a tangible sense of community and place invoked by the pictures of people’s faces, road signs, street trash and building facades collected here. These artists are making art about where and how they live.
Dan Boehl lives in Austin, where he is working on a post-petroleum children's novel.