Text by Alexandria Mesias
“That’s what they did during the Japanese occupation.” my grandmother says, “They were our gardeners, carpenters, craftsmen. Little did we know they were soldiers. Just you wait, history repeats itself.” The trauma she endured from the war remains in her words, I see it in the way she would tie knots and use heavy chains and large labels to secure her home and her belongings as if someone could take them away at any moment, just as they did before.
As the Philippines enters a precarious relationship with China, the more I begin to grasp what my grandmother is trying to say. “Invasion doesn’t have to be violent”, Ginoe writes about his series of building tools arranged into the shape of Chinese made guns. Infrastructure is booming in the Duterte administration, creating jobs in the construction sector, most of which are jobs for the Chinese, and not open for Filipino workers.
The Kiln, Ginoe’s first major solo exhibition in Archivo, is a timely observation filled with many serendipitous moments. The exhibition opened just within a few days of the sinking of the Philippine fishing vessel Gem-Ver by a Chinese boat that happened to be trespassing in the country’s exclusive economic zone. The Filipino fishermen were refused aid and left behind with their boat half sunk until a Vietnamese crew rescued them 12 hours later.
Ginoe’s installation piece of resin Bangus (Philippine milkfish) spray painted blue and white to look like porcelain carp was executed a few weeks before the incident with an almost prophetic accuracy. With the fish heads buried in the sand, the first thing it prompted me to think about was the administration’s blatant use of red herring, muddying their citizens’ heads in half truths and conflicting statements. “The fish could be coming from China, and the fish from the Philippines could be going to China if we want to be technical about it” says Senate President Vicente Sotto III, in defence of President Duterte’s statement that it was okay for the Chinese to fish in Philippine waters. The government unwilling to put the needs of its own citizens first, its primary promise of their citizen’s safety has turned into a running joke.
In line with the Filipino tendency to respond to distress through humour, Ginoe’s background in illustration and design helped him create visual puns that deliver information within a glance. Decontextualising the blue and white motif reminiscent of fine china and the use of traditional Chinese imagery such as pagodas and carp he says, is “my tiny revenge, my historical hijacking, to co opt their visual language to use it against them. It is nothing compared to their exploitation of our territory. Not all Chinese will understand or even know about the maritime accident, or the political situation, but the Filipinos will get it”.
But Ginoe also understands that a balance needs to be struck when dealing with these issues. The first issue that needed to be tackled for The Kiln was dehumanisation. “This is what I wanted to convey in my Citizen Series- we should not attack the individuals, but the systems and agreements put in place by the people in power. If we look at it, we are all citizens and we are all statistics of our governments.”
In “Dissident Residents” Ginoe chooses to distinguish the difference between the person and the celebrity. While the Citizen series focused on the nuances of the individual, Residents were portraits of notable Chinese nationals (Ai Wei Wei, Joshua Wong, Ren Hang) who expressed their dissent towards their own government. Their images are surrounded by the symbols that have defined their notoriety.
Ginoe is an advocate for using art and its influence as a means of resistance. However, his art also warns against the saviour complex. “My art will not bring the whole archipelago to change their minds. We as artists need to remember that art is only a small push towards a solution. If I can get just one person to think about it then that is enough”.
The Kiln is an exercise on the artist’s restraint, on both work and ego. Usually the flamboyant Negrense, focused on identity and local imagery, Ginoe discards his regional pride to present himself as the nondescript citizen 0, staging a calm criticism of current events with all the works coming together as a visual and internal conversation which places the system as the oppressor and views the citizens of both nationalities with humanity with all of its complexities.
The show runs until Saturday, July 20th, at Archivo 1984, Pasillo 18, La Fuerza Compound 1, 2241 Chino Roces Avenue Makati.