roundabout, Adelaide Central Gallery, OzAsia Festival 2016

Catalogue essay by Cath Kenneally

Each artist represented in roundabout has been a winner of the 13 Artists award, presented since 1970, recognising commitment and compelling artists under 40 in the Philippines. These three are tremendously productive, their language is universally understood; they have located themselves outside their home for long periods, shown work as far afield as Russia and Korea and here in Australia. They are wanderers who are by no means lost.

The Juror's noted from 2015 (when Mark Valenzuela was among the 13) characterise the art scene in Manila as 'rowdy, belligerent, pagan, meditative, intellectual'. Young artists are 'semionauts' navigating the shoals, intensely aware of global art streams and criticalities. But rather than simply jostling for position and attention, their work constitutes 'crucial advocacies' both embracing and agitating against the ironies and idosyncrasies' of their realities. 

Valenzuela, resident now in Adelaide, has focused in earlier exhibitions, on displacement and relocation, conquest and dispossession, stratagems of survival, critique, revolt and renewal. Hilario and Valenzuela have arrived separately at often strikingly similar vernaculars, embracing the excesses of the phantasmagorical register to convey the bloody clash of systems whose shock-waves reverberate in their country. Valenzuela's 'trigger-fingers' prod his blindfolded heads rolling mindlessly on egg carton platforms, bland masked faces sprout cockscombs, balaclava'd bandits await orders; rows of white-clay tags suggest the morgue, dozens of ceramic coat-hanger nooses offer handmade final solutions. Finely pencilled inscriptions constitute tattoo-like postscripts and overlays. His work to date brims with body parts, reconstituted humans crossed with fighter-planes and birds, surreal disputed landscapes. He finds ever more audacious images of enforced mergers, unholy alliances, overspill.

Hilario, trained in the tradition of santo making, channels centuries of Catholic iconography, overlaid, overgrown, invaded. 'I knew that rebulto making is a loaded practice,' he writes, the carved saints emblematic of a history of conquest, taking root and growing in colonised soil. In They came from the sea, saints who might be Francis and Clare are mutating, their modular components undressed, caught in rigid supplication as voracious plant and bird life overwhelms them. Earlier paintings and installations bespeak later violent incursions into home territory, the resultant distortions and metamorphoses multiplying in a rampantly diverse menagerie.

Artist-photgorapher Wawi Navarroza studied in Manila, Spain and New York, and founded the thriving art platform Thousandfold, finding time to sing in a post-punk band, The Late Isabel. Among her pieces: bleakly beautiful drapings of lava landscapes and icy shorelines recorded in superb photographs and an artist's book, Dominion; weirdly empty and resonant gallery hangings of netting and sheeting, photographic recreation of Frida Kahlo paintings in carefully staged tableaux. Hunt & Gather, Terraria began with an invitation to Manila dwellers to forage for soil, plants and ephemera from city locations. The foraged materials are preserved and encouraged to grow in glass terraria, hot-housed and beautified, specimenised in deceptively pretty, discrete encapsulations of depredation, depletion, disruption but also clear evidence of the undiminished vigour of ever-regenerating indigenous conditions.

Together in roundabout, these three provide forceful evidence that what goes around comes around and that they are more than equipped to help bring it on.