Territories was the recent solo exhibition by Mark Salvatus in Quezon City, Philippines. An essay by Patrick D. Flores:
Found in the City
The artist Mark Salvatus leaves Lucban of the province of Quezon that faces the Pacific to go inward. He travels to Manila to go to school and study fine arts in a 400-year old institution run by friars whose instruction the National Hero Jose Rizal had earlier deemed a travesty. He teaches in the same classrooms where he had sat as a student, and he is banished from its halls for being himself.
Salvatus finds in the city the ruins of a fantasy that had originally animated it as a site of the future. The theorist Boris Groys states that “cities originally came about as projects for the future” and that they possessed “an intrinsically utopian dimension by virtue of being situated outside the natural order.”[i] It is in the city that the artist loses his provinciality and it is here in the same vein that he recovers it. For it is in this place that he is able to salvage whatever is left of the “aesthetic” in the simulacrum of a highly aestheticized everyday life.
In this project of finding, he cuts through several process of walking the city. He engages in a pilgrimage of sorts, a peregrination from his hometown to the metropolis. He also lives out flanerie at a time when this form of foray is itself restricted by the controls, the custom-made selections, of a supposedly liberating and permissive cyberspace. Then, he condenses these rites of passage to critically reflect on the intimacy and the vastness of the current condition of the world, or better still, of worldliness. He returns to the street and the expressions it rears, and he recuperates poetry from tags in the form of a haiku. He surfs the net and purloins self-produced performances of lip-synch acts disseminated virally and he reciprocates the gesture by inviting people to do the same and make their stints available for the multitude. And he gathers handbills advertising real estate and condominiums, fabricates them into a maquette of a city, recording its illusory dimensions through closed circuit television camera and transmitting the images on a screen.
In many of these instances, some modernist or postmodernist verities may be reconsidered. For instance, the Warholian 15 minutes of fame dissolve into 24/7news media, reality television, and the alacrity of the social network, with the consumers of the system becoming the producers of the substance at the same time. The typical graffiti of the street are parsed as verses and admitted into a white cube for their poetic happenstance. And the skin of the city becomes a moving image, mingling with the music of a band.
The artist’s insight into the culture of the youth of contemporary vintage was honed by the residencies he recently carried out in diverse places such as Bandung in Indonesia, Bendigo and Melbourne in Australia, and in upstate New York and by his other commitments in Massachusetts and Yokohama. In these artscapes, he was infected by the energy of a transdisciplinary sensorium of music, design, retail, leisure, lifestyle, sport, gaming, and so on. He thought of this emergence as spatial, a reclamation of the urban space, which relates well with his long-running fascination with the signs of the city and the idiosyncrasies of survival amid the poverty, the density, and the breathtaking inequity. This sense of the territorial might resonate with the impulse to “occupy” public space like squares and parks and summon a sphere of communication and community that are strata of technology, punk, activism, radical democracy, and hipster culture.
In many ways, Salvatus tracks this wave, this weather of the young. Broys would probably view this as a form of documentation of art, a category that is as fraught as the sensuously particular agent that intuits it. For him, “art becomes a life form, whereas the artwork becomes non-art, a mere documentation of this life form. One could also say that art becomes biopolitical, because it begins to use artistic means to produce and document life as a pure activity. Indeed, art documentation as an art form could only develop under the conditions of today’s biopolitical age, in which life itself has become the object of technical and artistic intervention.”[ii]
What is interesting in light of the lessons gleaned by the artist as a “temporary resident” in the cities he visited is that he convenes this homecoming project in the first museum of modern art in the country, charting its space as a kindred found space as well, intervening very minimally into its architecture, which used to be a library named after the polymath patriot Rizal. There is a great deal of impersonation of art here, of icon, of structure, of history. And Salvatus marks the aporia of the contemporary, the opportunity to ask: Where is the city and when is the art?
Patrick D. Flores
[i] Groys, Boris. 2008. Art Power. Cambridge: The MIT Press, p. 101.