by TERENCE REPELENTE
Portraits by PINGGOT ZULUETA
Jose Tence Ruiz, or Bogie, as he is called by his friends and contemporaries, is no doubt an already successful artist. His thick resume, which includes being one of the Philippine representatives at the Venice Biennale in 2015 among many others, is a clear testament to his artistic greatness. These awards and titles, however, are not the point, and he will be the first one to tell you that.
One of the leading avatars of Philippine Social Realism, Bogie’s works are both an attempt to react and, more important, to register. He rhetorically asks in Amadis Ma. Guerrero’s book Philippine Social Realists, “If you live in a country like this, how can you not make art like this?” Which is why most of his works, albeit in various forms, reflect interconnected themes such as tyranny, exploitation, power, greed, and class struggle—those that reflect the semi-feudal and semi-colonial condition of the country.While most people would call Bogie’s work “political art,” the multimedia artist believes there’s no need to brand it, because all art is political. It boils down to how art registers.
“What does god look like?” He asks in order to demonstrate this abstract concept. Whatever your version of god’s image, whether a Caucasian male, an animal, a shape shifting spirit, or just words, it’s the artist’s fault. “Before we go to sleep, we pray to Michelangelo’s creation, a preordained image. It doesn’t matter if they look like hawks or cats. It was an artist who created that image we pray to and call god.” The entire panoply of what deities look like is an artistic debate, endeavor, and work. “I tell myself, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I want to make a register that participates in the process of transforming human thoughts into images.”
The main problem of the artist is that “you’re only as good as your register is capable of.” The key has always been to strike the viewer directly in his soul using nuance, juxtapositions, narratives, and symbols. Bogie references the late art critic Alice Guillermo, “there should be an interesting balance between form and context (content).”
Guillermo wrote about Bogie’s works, “His imagery, which plays on contrasts and differences, harness many cultural resources.” Bogie’s newest exhibition at Kaida Contemporary, “potahMatic,” shows exactly what the critic meant. The show’s concept is a reaction to the populist rhetoric of the country’s leaders. Bogie tells that the title, a play on the slang word matic for automatic and the curse word potah or whore, accurately describes the kind of leaders we have right now, “automatic nagpo-potah.”
Bogie’s signature style that is dismally ethereal and symbolically rich reflects in his new art that tackles deep issues such as extrajudicial killings, the Marawi siege, land reform, and feudalism.
Ultimately, he sees his art as a resuscitation of his failures, a coping mechanism, an entertainment in the midst of all the nihilism and bleakness. “We are constantly thrown into bleakness,” says Bogie. “But the imaginative mind is always finding the better way out of that.” By this, he doesn’t mean diving into non-negotiable optimism.“If art does not help you to at least cope with life, it might not be serving you well,” he explains. “To me, it’s therapeutic because I confront the world, and its problems. I do not want to sugar coat or neglect these problems, because there’s a tendency to just escape from them. But you can’t. Never. There’s no escaping the guilt of not relating. Creating and presenting my register helps me function day to day. Do I have the solution? I don’t. Will we survive it all? I don’t know.”
Somewhere at the back of his head, Bogie claims to have this romantic notion that his works just might mean something to more people someday. “Let’s face it, when you make art, it’s ‘onomastic,’ it’s masturbation,” he confesses. “And since I am also, in a strange way, pleasuring myself, might as well use to pay for the bills and not make it boring, right?”
Bogie’s works do not need to be the purveyor of the real, that’s journalism’s job. In a weird and eerie way, he describes what he does as a hairy condom. “It does its function, but it’s got a little extra to it,” he says. “That’s where the art component comes in, I think. That’s what I want.”