Ged Merino: Beneath the Surface, Structures, and Scratches
by Jeho Bitancor, on the occasion of Merino's solo exhibition at the CCP.
All photos submitted by the writer courtesy of the artist.
WHAT does it mean to embody a problematic stance of trudging on a claimed unfamiliar ground while reifying the almost inadmissible yet cathartic identification with one’s roots? To what cause do artists invest themselves, and at what cost? Is this investment a result of one’s sheer hubris that owes disbelief?
For Ged Merino, the practice of art is simply a continuum, a still evolving prospect (from a history of learned and perfected traditions) that asserts itself on all circumstances, be it from a privileged position or a squalid one. His (art practice) is a constant/conscious mining of resources afforded by memory, if not a means to subtly confront hegemony.
"His (art practice) is a constant/conscious mining of resources afforded by memory, if not a means to subtly confront hegemony."
One can only sense his primordial impetus as a plethora of artifacts adorn his studio-cum-gallery. From the scattered santos and bul’uls to woven tinalaks and pasikings, dusty paraphernalia all connect him to his native Philippines. Apart from his works of heavily-textured abstract paintings inspired by his father’s stories, there are his woven tapestry of tales. They scream unheard in the confines of the periphery, yet are indicative of his formal explorations and identification with his origins.
To foreground Merino’s practice is to recognize his bent towards process-oriented art-making. Trained at the Philippine Women’s University in the ‘80s by Manuel “Boy” Rodriguez Jr., he had early on insisted on making his marks, as it were, through thin application of ink or acrylic paints on textiles, textiles which he would then stitch and stuff to create protruding or relief elements on an equally printed surface. The result was neither a painting nor a sculpture but an approximation of both. Was it fiber art or soft sculpture? For the artist, categorization was insignificant as long as he was able to pursue a singular vision---that of utilizing his abstract sensibilities while employing hard-learned printmaking techniques.
Of recent, and as a result of his conscious engagement with contemporary strategies, the artist’s method had to shift its means and modes. To quote my own short note during an exhibition in New York: “… relative to Filipinos’ penchant for diligence, … Ged Merino employs unconventional means of image-making. His textile-based works were stitched prints sourced out by rubbing, hammering on objects, and scratching onto any surface with texture from among the scattered detritus, walls, streets and pavements of his neighborhood in Queens. For the artist, it is a way of collecting artifacts from people’s lives, a sort of archaeological expedition where he sought to record traces of the living and thus preserving memories as links to otherwise forgotten existences.”
This same methodology applies to his recent series of printed dragonfly wings on rags and scrap fabric, displayed in uneven, varied configurations. Except that he has made the material the subject itself, emphasizing its pliant and tactile qualities. Staged as a clothesline or sampayan, these tightly-knitted minutiae of inscribed worlds or universes are echoes that constitute yet another metaphor on top of another. Already, the insect’s wing as image would lend associations with vulnerability and the need to re-assess societal priorities. How apt that they managed to rest on a seeming disarray of pastiche and squalor while projecting a masterfully-crafted if not a seductive presence. It is as if makeshift homesteads commonly known as barungbarong (shanties) suddenly revealed their festive spirit from beneath amidst the chaotic burgeoning of claustrophobic, but nevertheless livable, spaces. In some pieces, there are even small stitched patches that seem to hide or deny a trace or evidence of a defective state. One can easily associate Imelda Marcos’ effort to cosmeticize poverty by erecting fences over Manila’s “eyesores” during an American President’s visit in the 1980s. In fact, Merino’s imagery is ripe with all sorts of interpretation that parallel politicking in the still semi-feudal social relations of the Philippines. Could it be that the artist’s subconscious was operative as he “created,” thus readily empathizing with the fate of his nation? Filipinos can, after all, find the happiest moments in the worst of times. Or is the artist simply adept in the language of irony?
But this and his recent forays into weaving discarded materials that mimic the visceral are but an ethos in disarray, his practice a subliminal reparation of the looming historical incongruencies both in his native country and his adopted home. And while this theme parallels other artists’ concerns, the threat as signaled by man-made and natural occurrences can only alarm progressive elements in society, the artists among them particularly. Ged Merino finds himself critical of squandering and deceit in his unforgiving world that defines lavishness as the way to live. And drawn by the trend, or necessity, he laboriously transforms refuse into objects that question its (the system’s) legitimacy.
As an artist, Merino can only scratch a pavement or ransack a bin at a time (as a strategy, or as a means to resist or survive). This, while asserting a commonality we share as humans. In respite, he shares his studio, Bliss on Bliss Art Projects (in Queens, New York), with fellow strugglers---artists of able support, kindred spirits all. [ d ]
The above is the author’s short wall note at Ged Merino’s recent show at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (which ran until November 23, 2014). The title of the wall note was appropriated as the title of the show. Jeho Bitancor is a Filipino social realist painter based in New York City.
© 2014 Jeho Bitancor. All rights reserved.
© 2014-2016 diskurso art magazine online. all rights reserved.
diskurso is an independent, Philippines-based online magazine on art aiming to veer away from a present mental landscape replete with the customary peacock and weasel words that continue to service the art industry.