Thursday, July 03, 2008

Aesthetics of Collocation & the Women of Bencab

“The society based on production is only productive, not creative.”
~ Albert Camus

Published at Manila Bulletin
Lifestyle Section (Arts & Culture)
Page F 1-2, June 30, 2008

“Mass Culture,” as part of popular culture, produces diverse products for mass consumption. As a commercial culture, it does not follow the principle of economics; instead, it subverts the laws of “supply and demand” by inventing or creating “needs” for the insatiable consumers.

Every day, consumers are bombarded with hundreds of products being advertised on television, newspapers, glossy magazines, internet, billboards, and so forth. The textual and visual images are, aggressively, inescapable!

Most often, the consumer’s capability to make a decision on what or which product to purchase is hindered by a wide array of “product-collocation”, as a result of multiple subliminal messages (textual or visual) that are imbibed in the human psyche and consciousness via mass media advertisements.

“Product-collocation” is a collective display of two or more similar products of different brands, placed side by side for the consumers to choose from.

Every consumer has to make a choice among those presented “product-collocations”, and before an individual can make a decision on what brand or product to purchase, he or she is already suffering from “decisional exhaustion”. When an individual suffers from headache, nausea, or unexplainable anxiety while shopping, it is a symptomatic result, if not the cause, of “decisional-exhaustion”.

In aesthetics, the counterpart of product-collocation is “media-collocation”. It is when two or more mediums are placed side by side as integral part of the pictorial composition.

As an aesthetic device, media-collocation mimics “mass culture”, albeit in an explorative or satirical manner. The best example of both product and media collocations is Andy Warhol’s serial copies of celebrities and branded products in what is known as the aesthetics of “pop art”.


The literal meaning of “collocation” is the close association of things, or the arrangement of things beside each other. The etymology of “collocation” comes from the Latin word “collocatus”, past participle of “collocare”, which means to place or to set side by side in a place or position. “Locus” is the root word of “collocare”, meaning “place” or “position”.

In the corpus of linguistics, “collocation” is defined as the co-occurrence of two or more words that are frequently or typically used together. For example, “herd of cows”, “crystal clear”, “blue sky”, “red sun”, “part and parcel”, etc.

In art, “media-collocation”, as coined and defined by this writer, is the juxtaposition of two or more mediums, arranged sided by side in a single or series of textual or visual composition.

As an aesthetic device, media-collocation elicits discursive interpretation of the binary subjects from referential to the final juxtaposition of the artworks. Media-collocation heightens the portrayal of textual and visual images into a deeper understanding of aesthetic symbol and meaning.

There are two kinds of media-collocation: inductive and deductive. Inductive collocation is to produce the same textual or visual image from the same subject and arrange them either in a linear or layered locus. The deductive collocation, on the other hand, is to extract a symbolic image from textual or visual sources and place the artwork (texts or images) side by side with the referential subject as integral part of the entire aesthetic composition.

A well-known Filipino avant-garde artist who uses both inductive and deductive collocations is Cesare Syjuco. His media-collocation, known as “literary hybrid”, is varied and complex as he explores both textual and visual images alternatively on Plexiglas, board, back-lit frame and boxes with Plexiglas or tarpaulin. His unique art is the multifarious combination of both literary and visual references, using an assemblage of texts and images within a defined space.

Another type of media-collocation can be found in Francisco Viri’s “Abstraction of the Figure”. During his 2005 exhibit at The Crucible Gallery, Viri created a four series of works from realistic to abstract images of the same subject and placed them side by side on the wall. Abstractionist and taxidermist Lindslee uses a unique juxtaposition in his “Figuring Abstraction”. In one of his works, he stuck a sliced taxidermal goat at the center of the canvas with texture, form and color that mimicked the skin of the goat.

Equally arresting is the video animation of painter and performance artist Jevijoe Vitug during the Philippine International Performance Art Festival in 2005 that was organized by Yuan Mor’O Ocampo. From the footage of his performances, he created a series of frame by frame drawings and morphed them into video animation as part of his live art performance.

Perhaps, the most complex and varied presentation of media-collocation was during the Chromatext Reloaded exhibit in 2007 at CCP, organized by PLAC and curated by Jean-Marie Syjuco and Krip Yuson. It was a brilliant and diverse array of textual and visual collocations from holographs to photographs, from illustrations to paintings, and from sculptural to video installations.

Among the participating poets, writers and artists were National Artists Edith L. Tiempo and Virgilio Almario, Jimmy Abad, Merlie Alunan, Tita Lacambra-Ayala, Juaniyo Arcellana, Cirilo Bautista, Butch Dalisay, Ophelia Dimalanta, Marjorie Evasco, Pete Lacaba, Vim Nadera, Danton Remoto, Frank Rivera, RayVi Sunico, Cesare A.X. Syjuco, Jean-Marie Syjuco, Ricky de Ungria, Krip Yuson, and the late Sid Gomez Hildawa, to name a few.

Typical of Bencab’s works on paper, print and canvas like “Sabel”, “Larawan” and the “Japanese Women” series are, generally, demure and downtrodden but pullulating with majestic presence, pompously garbed in a seemingly stolid and austere manner.

With the exception of some of his works like the Bali sketches of women, which are more elaborate and relaxed with a well-defined facial expression. In the same vein, some of his “Cordillera” women elicit tension and drama with anxious look, muscular arms and body, and exaggerated hands and feet as if laden with hard work.

In his recent exhibit titled “Related Images” at Silverlens Gallery in Makati, Bencab explores and reinvents a new style and technique in his art making. He created a suite of stylish media-collocations, juxtaposing his nude photographs and drawings of women in a dynamic and sensuous manner.

He arranges his nude drawing, in a linear collocation, with the referential subject (photograph), dashes it with a single vertical stroke of color either red or yellow, and the result is elegantly stimulating. The viewer will have difficulty of choosing which of the two collocated mediums is better – the photograph or the drawing.

Bencab does not only explore the visual form and technique in his new series of nudes, he also exploits the technology of digital art as ancillary device to his pictorial composition. He crosses over between the traditional and modern art making and comes up with a unique structure of form, style and mood of his nude subjects.

For instance, in his “Related Images 01”, Bencab uses a negative filtering of nude photograph in digital manipulation, thus, enhancing the sensuality of bodily shape and contours of the female body. In similar manner, the transparent and oblique mass of dark yellow and gestural lines on the nude drawing creates a dynamic interplay between the binary subjects of his composition.

His nude women, in this particular series, are carefully choreographed, reclusive, genteel and, at times, dreamy. There is fluidity and harmonic structure of collocated images in a sumptuous and graceful manner. The artist’s hand and mood is placid and more relaxed as though he is relishing his subject or just having fun during the process of art making.

As a master illustrator, painter, printmaker and photographer, Bencab has created vicarious portraits of women that reflect their nature in different mood, time and epoch. He articulated the strengths and vulnerabilities of women with such passion as though they were his own in a metaphorical sense.

His “Sabel” series, for instance, is an iconic portrayal of a woman in flight, destitute and rootless. Perchance, this is the only series that the artist is so passionate about addressing the social issues in the country, translating the existential angst of the mother nation in flight, laden with adverse economic and political scuffles.

Bencab’s women, in general, are elegant, reticent and existential with a fragile existence yet, they evoke a powerful and enduring presence in his works. Whether they are dressed or naked, the artist conjures up their mystical allure not only as muse in his art, but as an indispensable presence both in his artistic career and his life as a painter.

He has explored and transcended the nuances of forms, moods and colors of his art in such a way that his women are portrayed not as a mere element or adornment in the pictorial composition, but as the very essence and convergence of female’s ontological meaning both in art and in the society.

To sum, Bencab’s recent exhibit is the simulation (drawing), in a philosophical sense, of the simulation (photography) of the simulation of empirical reality (the reference of actual subject), transforming the collocated mediums into a compelling symbol of metaphysical reality.

© Danny Castillones Sillada

Above Arworks: (1) There Are no Hierarchies..., by Cesare Syjuco, (2) Campbell Soup I Portfolio, 1968, by Andy Warhol, (3) Figure with Umbrella, 2005, by Francisco Viri, (4) Nude Variations and Bencab (photo by Erwin Obcemea), (5) Related Images 01 by BenCab, (6) Related Images 03 by BenCab