By TERENCE REPELENTE
Artist Demosthenes Campos has always been interested in miniature creatures, plants, and objects, things the naked eye can barely see. This obsession started when he was a child playing with plants like the mimosa pudica (commonly known as the makahiya). He was fascinated with the way the small plant would shyly close its leaves with the slightest touch of a hand.
Since then, he has always inspected every plant, animal, grass, weed, algae he sees closely—or microscopically. More than a habit, these microscopic view of plant life has become the subject of his artistic pursuits.
These plants, organisms, and nature have become a recurring theme in Demosthenes’ work. “Lahat ng show ko tungkol sa environment o sa kalikasan (all of my shows are about the environment or nature),” he says. “Yung last ko noong 2016, ‘Sibol,’ ay tungkol sa puwersa ng kalikasan at kung paano ito humahanap ng paraan upang tumubo at lumago (My last show in 2016, ‘Sibol,’ was about the forces of nature and how nature always finds a way to live and thrive).”
One dominant element is the cracked soil. How nature survives and endures under conditions of dereliction and depravity, according to Demosthenes, proves that life always finds a way.
This time, in “Lurking Creatures in Paradise,” exhibited at Vinyl on Vinyl, Demosthenes explores the world of the microscopic and the (largely) unseen. “Tungkol itong exhibit sa mga hindi ko nakikitang nilalang, ‘yung mga tumutubong hindi ko kilala, ‘yung mga andiyan na lang bigla, o hindi natin alam (This exhibit is about creatures that I don’t see, creatures that I can’t identify, those that grow out of nowhere, those that are around us),” he says. ‘Pag may nakikita akong hindi kilalang halaman sa bakuran, sa TV, kahit saan, gusto kong pag-aralan, inspeksyunin (When I see an unknown plant in the backyard, on television, anywhere, I always want to inspect it more closely).”
This is why, according to him, the assemblages in the show seem to be enclosed, caged, somehow resembling a specimen on a petri dish, each deserving a closer and longer look. And when they are given the time to be inspected, the works show the real genius of Demosthenes as a mixed media artist. Worn wooden planks, soft fuzzy mats, twine, and pegs, lifeless and otherwise mundane objects given another life and assembled, perfectly detailed, to artistically signify different natural microscopic landscapes.
One of his noted works titled Outdoor 2 shows a kaleidoscope of colored wood nestled in a carpet of synthetic greens and blues, with his audience given a birds-eye view of an artificial metropolis teeming with fora. Turf Grass creates the impression that no matter how deficient the conditions of one’s environment are, life prevails, even in the smallest spaces. Finally, we have Manis Culionensis, which features an earth permanently connected with life-giving water. A symbiotic relationship between two bountiful resources, regardless of environmental transformation, they will always be entwined in creating life.
With his favorite theme, Demosthenes finds it apt that his artistic form has always been based on found objects. “Like with extraordinary plants and organisms, I have always had an eye for found objects. It has always been my form,” he says. “Marunong naman ako magpinta, figurative, pero for some reason, kapag painting, gusto ko tapos agad, may outcome agad (I know how to do figurative art, but for some reason I always find myself too impatient for the outcome). Pero kapag mixed media, ganito, iba yung feeling ng process (With mixed media assemblages like these, there’s a different feeling in the process).”
Ultimately, Demosthenes wants those who look at his art to marvel at its detailed creativity. Beyond that, he wants to change people’s perspectives about art. “Gusto ko mag-iba naman ang tingin nila sa art, hindi ‘yung panay sa canvas, maisip nila na may mga ganiyan pa lang nagagawa (I want to change people’s views on art—that it’s not always just on canvas. Art can be done elsewhere),” he says. “Hindi ako gumagawa lang dahil maganda sa pader o babagay sa condo o hotel (I don’t create art just because it looks beautiful hanging on the wall of a condominium unit or a hotel lobby). I’m not like that.”
What’s important for him, he says, is that, as an artist, he’s evolving, growing, thriving. Like nature.