Thursday, April 24, 2008

Weapons of Mass Destruction in Cesare & Jean Marie Syjuco’s Aesthetics

Weapons of Mass Destruction in
Cesare & Jean Marie Syjuco's Aesthetics
By Danny Castillones Sillada
“Por que también somos lo que hemos perdido...”
(Because we are also what we have lost…)
-Amores Perros, the movie

Published from Manila Bulletin, Page E-4, Monday, April 21, 2008

There is an air of intangible emptiness and, at the same time, that ineffable feeling of finding oneself in the midst of Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco’s installation art. The more one goes deeper within the maze of their works, the more one feels that delicate part of human soul tiptoeing between the temporariness of time and eternity.

In their recent and first collaborative art exhibit titled “2 Minds, Many Madnesses”, after thirty years of their marriage, the couple virtually created an immense space on scanty walls and floor areas of the newly-opened Mag:net Gallery at The Columns in Ayala, Makati.

Congruent to the yin-yang principle of complimentary opposites, these two great avant-garde Filipino artists cradle their viewers with the intensity and the gentleness of their aesthetic creations.


The birth of art from ancient civilization to the romantic and classical periods generally evolved and revolved around women. In fact, in the recent archaeological research about the ancient European civilization between 7000 and 3500 b.c., researchers found and unearthed some 30,000 sculptures of clay, marble, bone, copper and gold from 3,000 sites about the figure of goddesses, an indication of the ancient belief that the Creator of the world was Goddess.

The Filipino society, with its unique culture and tradition, is a society raised by mothers or women. Similar to the ancient European civilization, women have played a very important role in nurturing humanity in our post-modern society. And women, in general, are the artist’s muse and inspiration to create, the cradle of his dreams and the source of his creative power.

But what if a woman creates, what could be the source of her inspiration?

In her installation “I am the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane”, a quote from Vladimir Nabokov’s “Pale Fire”, Jean Marie Syjuco poignantly creates a sad picture of an orphaned egg snuggled on a tiny bird’s nest. The installation narrative tells a mother bird, after crashing through a glass window, fell and instantly died leaving its solitary egg untended.

Powerfully woven with realistic objects sans a dead bird, the theatrical composition of installation portrays the inevitable reality of death and abandonment. “Someday soon, I will depart from this world” said the artist to this writer with tears oozing from her eyes, “and I am worried for the eggs (children) that I will leave behind.”

In another installation, the artist tiptoes on the same trail of indefinable melancholy with her sentimental homage to a family friend, the artist-poet-writer Sid Gomez Hildawa, who recently passed away.

Jean Marie uses the premonitory last poem of Hildawa, which he wrote shortly before he died. She portrayed an empty wall with a trace of white rectangular space at the second floor of Mag:net Gallery. The only visible object is a rusted nail on top of a lighter surface, an indication that there used to be a painting hanging on that empty wall.

If one gazes long enough, he or she will experience that indescribable feeling of nostalgic sorrow looming in the air. And one will feel not only the absence of the painting on the wall, but also the absence of the one wrote the poem about an empty wall.

“Now that the artwork is gone,/”, wrote the late poet, “visitors ask, “What used to be there?”/ and “What was it about?,”/ as if they hadn’t seen the piece before,/ or maybe not carefully enough…”. (Excerpt from Sid Gomez Hildawa’s poem “Sick Leave”).

By just looking at an empty wall or by just reading the poem beside it, an individual will experience that wrenching feeling in one’s heart, so powerful as though one had just lost the presence of a loved one.

The artist, the poet, the viewer – all is confined within the symbolic reality of an empty wall – an inevitable reality of absence, death and departure.


The art of Jean Marie Syjuco, in general, touches the sensitive part of human soul. She brings her viewers face to face with their own existential realities. As indicative in her portrayal of orphaned egg, empty wall, floating roses, virtual cage, among other works, the artist as a woman perceives life, despite its bleak reality, as something to be endured, embraced and nurtured.

Her art professes its own unique source from the womb of a woman, whose maternal instinct is to conceive, labor and deliver life into the world to be nourished, healed or bandaged from the brokenness of human existence.

In essence, her art is not something to be dissected and decoded with complex meaning, but something to be seen and understood as it is. It must be felt in one’s heart and soul as delicate as the woman’s fragile nature. However, it is the same fragility where the woman’s power emanates, flourishes and nurtures.

As an art born out of a woman, in a philosophical sense, she maintains the balance to create rather than destroy and build again in order to maintain the balance. Unlike man’s art, which characterizes the conquest of the uncharted, a woman’s art, on the other hand, creates what has been empirically present with such passion and dexterity.


Cesare A.X. Syjuco’s art, which is known as the New Literary Hybrid, is characterized with wit, humor and satire. In contrast to Jean Marie’s works that appeal to the human emotion, Cesare addresses the cognitive level, exploring the widths and depths of human consciousness through the linguistic and visual structures of his aesthetics.

For instance, in his “Weapons of Mass Destruction” installation, there are six framed artworks with texts and illustrations that are horizontally arranged on the wall: (1) If it grunts like an ox, (snail), (2) If it quacks like a duck, (mouse), (3) If it bleats like a sheep, (grasshopper), (4) If it squeals like a pig, (lion), (5) It must be bum yeggs, (eggs), (6) It could mean a World War, (nuclear scientist).

What would happen if a mouse quacks like a duck or a lion squeals like a pig or a grasshopper bleats like a sheep?

In an intelligent and playful manner, Cesare explores the sounds of animals and insects with hypothetical propositions and, finally, arrives at a conclusion in the last sequence that says: “It could mean a World War!”

Although, the syntactic propositions defy the logical principles, there is but one reality that the artist wishes to convey – the weapons of mass destruction and its imminent presence and peril to humanity.

In the same vein, in a more compelling installation titled “Divinities”, a meter-long acrylic panel backlit by fluorescent is vertically attached on the wall. On the transparent surface of acrylic is an almost invisible caption running upward in a vertical direction. At a relative distance, the installation appears to be an ordinary fluorescent bulb, yet, at a closer look, it signifies more than what it represents.

Human perception and judgment on reality can, sometimes, fail and the artwork itself proves that the viewers can be wrong with their perception of reality. Unless an individual is keen enough, he will notice that an ordinary fluorescent light tells more other than its factual existence as a bulb.

And, in this case, it announces that “God Speaks to Cesare” or to anyone for that matter, who notices the inscribed text on the acrylic panel. The fluorescent light signifies the light of God or as God Himself, a symbolic reality that the artist cleverly wanted to reveal.

For God, as the artwork signifies, could be everywhere speaking to anyone in any form or manner.


The cohesive use of textual and visual devices in Casare’s art is akin to the mass media campaign, albeit, in a hybrid and avant-garde manner – highly intelligent, poetic, humorous and satirical. In the same manner, his aesthetics trudges on the philosophy of language addressing the problems of (1) the nature of meaning, (2) the language being used, (3) language cognition, and the (4) relationship between language and reality.

The basic principle that his art proposes is the symbolic elements of written texts with visual devices in relation to the truth and, whether truth is verifiable or not, he challenges his viewers to delve deeper based on the given elements of his aesthetic composition.

From the viewer’s point of view, perhaps, the salient question that he or she must ask: ‘What is the meaning of text in relation to the visual presentation of aesthetic elements or vice versa?’

In literature, this can be answered based on the “connotation” (what does art suggest and imply) of textual image, the “denotation” (what is the aesthetics’ point of reference and its essential meaning) and its “intention” (what is the final cause of the aesthetics in relation to reality).

Knowing the background of the artist as a poet, a literary iconoclast, his works can be best understood as visual poetry or poetry of space, text and image, all in one aesthetic presentation. Or, in a more poetic description – writings on the wall – which is infused with carefully chosen visual devices to enhance and magnify the artist’s revelation of reality.

“I am an experimental poet first,” says Cesare, “and a visual artist second. But I write mostly for the walls and not for the page, and that’s where the boundaries between the two get crossed.”

His genius as a poet-artist is incomparable in his generation. He is a linguistic philosopher, whose art and poetry challenge the normative concept of aesthetic reality. He is a poet, who engages a complacent mind to think deeper and explore the uncharted part of human brain, and a man of compassion and reason, who affirms the creativity of others and their respective contributions in the development of art and culture in the Philippine society.


The art exhibit at Mag:net Gallery by the two Filipino renowned couple, Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco, is the first of a series commemorating their 30th Anniversary of partnership both in marriage and in their respective artistic careers.

Cesare A.X. Syjuco is a multi-awarded poet, painter and critic, known as the golden boy in Philippine art scene in the 1980s, while Jean Marie Syjuco is a multi-awarded sculptor, painter and performance artist.

The amalgam of the two great artists produced multi-talented children ranging from musicians, poets, performance artists, fashion models, among others.

To sum, Fr. Reuter says, “A family that prays together stays together”. Aside from praying together, art or creative passion binds the Syjuco family together. Hence, “A family that creates together stays together!”

© Danny C. Sillada
Above Photos: (1) Jean Marie's “I am the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane”, (2) & (3) Detail of I am the Sahdow..., (4) "There are no heirarchies in the problem politics", by Cesare Syjoco, (5) Portrait of Cesare Syjuco, (6) "And I And I", by Cesare Syjuco

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