Splashings and Thunderclaps

July 18 – August 12, 2023

Gerardo Tan

Enfolding through time and space, the waves from the sea reach distant shores in a neverending process of search, layering fluid information that is made and erased without cease, burgeoning towards the future away from past measures. This watery rhythm escapes boundaries, going outside the limits of its convention in a recursive dynamic to give way for deterritorialization. The constant rewriting of contour space generated from layering over multiple waves of incidents, in effect reproducing amalgams of new recordings, would become the generative refrain that creates assemblages from different sources.[1]


Water flows from the Venice canal out into the Adriatic sea that leads to the Atlantic Ocean, which then connects to the Pacific Ocean where the South China sea and the Philippines are located.[2] Not a simple linear route, but a winding course that each large body of water follows through a series of translations. Similarly, Gerardo Tan’s recent paintings reverberates with a dynamic aural pattern generated by the waves of the sea, an expansive painterly field with depths of blue registered allover with various sonic wavelengths mapped. Tan presents tropes of color field painting imbued with a geopolitical aesthetic[3], using sound as a source and signifier for translational experiences. These paintings are arranged accordingly in grid-like formation on the wall following lateral and longitudinal orientations.


The pattern of sound waves that Tan replicates in his paintings become the residual marks of time and space as rendered. Sound, like water, is a temporal medium formless in totality but arresting in effect. The mere sound of flowing water is a captivating sensation that contributes a profound creative agency to the psyche.[4] This fluid solution thereby provides solvency to more rigid conventions. To use an example from the context of art history, Jackson Pollock’s style of drip painting revolutionized the medium with an engaging gesture of swinging a pool of paint allover the canvas that lay flat on the ground, a challenge to orthodox easel painting methods.[5] Correspondingly, Tan’s approach to painting by other means provides a reterritorialization of the traditional practice beyond its conventions and out into the open field.


As a dialectical counterpart to the analog expression of the paintings, Tan had arranged a ground level horizontal array of video inserts that feature the waters of Venice and Manila, projecting both the lapping waves at the shore that reach instantly there at our feet. Banded altogether like color test generators keyed in random order, the video work conveys the connection of the two disparate ends albeit through metaphors of technology, processing experience and perception through a mediated global network.


Additionally, Tan has produced an interdisciplinary work that includes performance, painting, sound and video, into an installation that explores further the process of representing meaningful phenomena, relating his recent visit to Venice[6] while hearing the sound of the waves at the canal and seeing the varying layers of blue coming from the sea. He connects the clash of the waves with the clap of the gunshot, choosing a gun instead of a brush to add the splash of color for his current set of paintings, reverberating with the violence of sound that triggers trauma set from a distance.[7]


“For the shooting (installation piece) I’m thinking of linking the two bays – Venice and Manila aside from taking myself away from the act of painting and leaving much of it to chance. This is extended to the sound composition that Tusa (percussionist) rendered in drumming. I had this crazy idea of the waters in Venice reaching Manila like blood circulating in our body. I think this is connected to my experience of physical space being demolished with digital technology (through communications) when we are connected instantly anywhere in the planet.”[8]


For this project, Tan had constructed a shooting gallery in his studio where he had placed several bags filled with fluid blue and green pigments that were scattered overhead and dispersed across the structure as shooting targets. Taking aim and shooting at these targets, the consequential explosion of the pigmented fluids would incidentally paint the force of the event upon the canvas placed below, and effectively rendering the expansive abstract expression as oceanic motif for the sound wave paintings. The holes made by the gunshots on the other hand translate into marked notes on sheet music that Tan had placed on the board across the shooting gallery, playfully calling the composition “Bullet Notes.” In an extended iteration of the event, Tan had a percussionist interpret the sounds from this score, thus arranging the apparent frenzy into a reified artistic event – the notation of presence (from the void of absence), a rhythmic weaving of present experiences amidst primal chaos and sublime forces, that are all generated by chance.


Approaching various ways to deconstruct visual phenomena especially in relation to the concept of representation in art and culture, Tan’s artistic projects question the received perception of things imbued with meaning, probing our experience of given situations to invent new paradigms of communication. Such that in one project (Apparition, 1999), he had shown a single screen video of a melting candle in the vernacular mold of a religious icon, which Tan thereafter had played the recording back in reverse time lapse manner to demystify cultural constructs.[9] Another (Code, found objects, installation, 1999), using common household objects which he then arranged on the gallery wall like an investigative array of classified cultural signifiers, “in code” so to speak, Tan explored the idea of identity, place, community, and shared experience, plumbing the collective consciousness of the local Filipino, vis-a-vis the Filipino’s migrant counterparts across the globe, in defining what is “home” or “property” according to the economies of the everyday.[10]


And most recently at the La Biennale di Venezia, with regards to the many artistic issues that Tan explored throughout this project, it was the concept of translation that had taken his main focus. His initial insight came during his field work visiting a weaving community, where he had heard the sound of the looms from afar while initially not knowing what they were, and consequently, began to wonder what would they be weaving if they were merely following the sound of the looms rather than a set of readymade patterns. In particular, what if the sound generated by the looms would inspire an original set of aural patterns, creating a unique language shared and translated ad infinitum.


Apparent things seen below our notice that embody latent social constructs is thus a constant fascination and challenge for Tan in translating and reproducing new forms for discussion. More likely, Tan’s predilection for such open-ended experimentation comes from his experience as an abstract painter, to question painting’s conventionality and to form a unique language of expression. His interdisciplinary practice follows the mode of collage where disparate images are juxtaposed on a single plane, which the artist would thereafter translate these multivalent combinations into thought-provoking designs for painting. For this exhibit, Tan combines both analog and digital expressions in the painting to create an assemblage, using two forms of information that run parallel transmissions at various speeds. Today’s explosion of information across many media platforms and channels around the world, along with our comfortable deference towards the burgeoning application of emergent artificial intelligence in daily life, it would be a wonder then whether critical awareness would still appeal to the everyday as Tan would seem to advocate, and otherwise, to consider the relevant role creative imagination takes in fostering challenges to the language of human experience.


– Arvin Flores


[1] Deleuze and Guattari state that: “The refrain moves in the direction of the territorial assemblage and lodges itself there or leaves. In a general sense, we call a refrain any aggregate of matters of expression that draws a territory and develops into territorial motifs and landscapes (there are optical, gestural, motor, etc., refrains). (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 1987, page 323).

[2] Starting from Porto di Venezia, Adriatic Sea, Ionian Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Damietta Branch River, Nile River, Ismailiya Canal River, Suez Canal, Suez Canal River, Gulf of Suez, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, Laccadive Sea, Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea, Strait of Malacca, South China Sea, and ending at the Port of Manila. (Port.com)

[3] A termed coined by Fredric Jameson referring to the problem of representation in his study of cinema made across the First, Second, and Third Worlds, depicting certain conditions of the postmodern relating to technology and information, government and conspiracy, identity and the global imaginary. (Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System, Indiana University Press, 1992).

[4] Bachelard speaks of the clearness of water, sparkling like simulacra that is informed through its transitivity, but all in all merely remains upon the surface, superficial and artificial. Water becomes a materializing element in the process of distilling from the surface of general information, towards a metapoetics of water – a wandering state of collective imagery in contemplation and reverie, turning water as a contributing agent in the process of imagination. (Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams: An Essay On the Imagination of Matter, The Pegasus Foundation, Dallas, 1983.)

[5] On examining the work of Jackson Pollock, David Joselit describes the groundbreaking painterly “routine,“ or mode of passage, initiated by the artist in producing certain passages within the work that would instigate open-ended becomings, which, through a network of lines exhibiting optimum optical velocity, sets the eye to move allover the space of the canvas, furthermore facilitating the conversion of images within the measure of time. He explains, “This pertains equally if not more so to the endless process of assertion, regression, reorganization, and regeneration of form in Pollock’s work. As the physical manipulation of paint on a ground, passage is the material operation that allows signs to be convertible, and convertible signs, are what make Abstract Expressionist painting dynamic, open-ended, always a process of becoming.” (David Joselit, Signal Processing, Art Forum, Summer issue, 2011).

[6] Tan represented the Philippines in the 59. Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte La Biennale di Venezia, featuring an interdisciplinary and collaborative project with Fe Prudente and Sammy Buhle entitled “Andi Taku e Sana, Amung Taku di Sana: All of Present, This is our Gathering.”

[7] Remarking that is, if destiny of a contested territory was decided from afar, what would the link be between nautical waves from a distant country and colonialism – nothing but the loud clapping of sound, like a gunshot or the crashing of waves. The common connection both give is the ability to reach distances from afar.

[8] Gerardo Tan as told to the author.

[9]  Tony Godfrey cites the spectacular effect of technology in presenting the miraculous courtesy of Tan’s work “Apparition.” (Gerry Tan: On Things and Thinking, Catalog for the Philippine Pavilion La Biennale di Venezia, 2022.)

[10] In his essay about Gerardo Tan’s Code, Patrick Flores elaborates on the spectral trace of things following the flow of consumption and exchange between Filipino communities at home and abroad. He states accordingly: “For the Philippine Pavilion, these problems are rigorously fleshed out through Gerardo Tan’s archive and museum of objects which intimate the presence of communities imagined by materials and the conditions of their appropriation. The artist attempts to curate the conveyance of possessions and crack the code of consumption, which is underwritten by the dialectic of personal choice and the structures of “shopping,” only that in this attic or basement or gallery or show window of used merchandise, there are no buyers and sellers. There are only traces of the economy which had made buying and selling – the transaction –  possible. Moreover, there are no potential owners and profiteers, only participants who re-collect the goods of their communities. And there are no new things, only people renewing ties with, but also to a certain extent disowning, “common” objects in a collaborative setting of recollections.” (Patrick Flores, Belongings and other Philippine Possessions, Signs of Life, Catalog for the Philippine Pavilion Melbourne International Biennial, 1999, page 203.)

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