by TERENCE REPELENTE
Famed abstractionist Gus Albor’s latest exhibition, “Encompassing,” is something he can proudly call avant-garde. The spacious conceptual show, which features just two pieces—a seven-foot-high interactive revolving door made of metal and acrylic, and a large painting inspired by the structure itself parallel to it—is an experimental play on contrast and surfaces. Gus considers himself a minimalist, so the huge gap between the works and the absence of other works are part of the exhibit. “It’s more effective to have this space. It’s effective to have only two objects,” he says. “I am a minimalist, so the more space, the better.”
Fastened on the revolving door’s acrylic wall is a paper in white, gray, and earth tones while charcoal, sticks, and pencils are attached to the door’s blade or vertical side. When one enters the door, thick and thin horizontal linear imprints mark the paper, creating in the process flat abstracted pieces. Mirroring it, a large painting hangs on the wall, static and steady.
“I call it the new imaging machine,” he says. “Basically, the idea is having this revolving door that functions differently, or transformed to a different object with a different function. With a brush attached to it, you can still treat it as a door, but also a printing machine.”
According to Gus, originally, he started working on the piece in 2012, already with an intention of exhibiting it in the future. A version of it was even his entry to the Venice Biennale four years ago, which unfortunately didn’t proceed because of logistical issues. This time, however, at the large space of Finale Art File, Gus is happy to finally be able to execute the concept, which he has been developing for years.
Moving or kinetic art, however, isn’t new to Gus. “Matagal na akong gumagawa ng kinetic art (I’ve been doing kinetic art for a long time now),” he says. In 2005, he did an installation called Power, a mixed media piece with an electric fan motor attached to it. Five years later, he did a similar work called C-for Climate Change, another mixed media piece that uses a bladeless electric fan motor, but moves and draws the letter “C” on the canvas, where it is attached to.
As a postmodernist, Gus believes art is about creating new concepts. “I am dictated by that dictum. That sticks to my head,” he says. “I avoid repeating things, or works of other artists. I have to tell new stores. And I don’t limit myself. Doing something new makes life more interesting, walang boredom. The word ‘new’ is important—something new to see, to look at, to visualize, to look forward to.”
Just like any artist, visual art for Gus is just another form of storytelling, imparting a statement, which is both experienced and imagined by the artist. But for him, the artist must tell these stories in a new, somehow refreshing or even revolutionary way. In “Encompassing”, he takes the mundane act of going in and coming out of doors into something extraordinary. “I like the how the machine creates poetry and interaction,” he says. “It’s like creating something entirely new just by passing by something while saying hello and good bye, creating a brand new experience.”
The duality in experience, according to Gus, allows viewers to see in one space the dynamic and the changing vis-a-vis the stationary and fixed. Ultimately, the interaction created by the mechanism also destroys the division between artist and audience as the latter becomes instrumental in the very generation of the markings on the paper. It is also titled that way because Gus believes in the universality of the experience the machine creates.
Ironically, revolving doors aren’t common in the Philippines. It is not surprising that the first time Gus himself ever saw one, he says, was in a film (a foreign one, I assume), when he was in high school. The most commonly known revolving door in all of Metro Manila is probably the one in EDSA Shangri-La, at least for me. One can spot one or two in a hotel or another mall when walking in Makati or BGC. In Gus’ art, this uncommon, confusing, and intimidating revolving door already excludes the regular Filipino as an audience. Its additional or artistic feature, the abstract painting you “mechanically” produce upon entering it, is the nail to the coffin of alienation. Perhaps they’re just simply not the audience, as is the case in any gallery-enclosed art piece. Or maybe that isn’t the artist’s point at all.
If read this way, however, Gus’ work can be seen as a reflection of everyday urban life under neoliberalism, in cities dictated and designed by foreign capital, where workers are subjected to enter a seemingly endless revolving door of exploitation and alienation, made to spin efficiently and productively, but are estranged to the product of their own labor—the all-encompassing, class-divided late stage capitalist machine.