FeaturesThe Beginning Of Meaning

The Beginning Of Meaning

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By Renz TorresA gallery is like a chapel: both places of meditation provoked by the examination of what surrounds the person who enters.

Although stained glass windows and crucifixes tell the Christian story in a chapel, in a gallery, one can only infer from the artist’s statement and the pieces what an exhibition is about.

You could take a glance at a piece and think nothing of it. But if you lean closer and let your mind wander…that is the beginning of meaning.

Two weeks ago, Shelter Gallery opened the month with Chanel Pepino’s Everyday is a Sorrowful Mystery, an exhibition of paintings, found objects, and video art about her experience living in rural Cebu through 2020.

This archive stages a representation of not only the altar in the house of the artist where her family prayed during the height of the pandemic, but also her emotional landscape during that time, place, and circumstance.

What I like about Everyday is the meaning derived from combining two unlike ideas.

According to Chanel, she juxtaposes the temporal and the divine. Prayer candles on top of empty beer bottles, a door scribbled with insults backing a plastic table altar; the timeless images of Jesus and Mary wearing face masks, and a depiction of the virus in the stead of the Sacred Heart.

Although God and CoViD-19 both cannot be observed by the senses, their presence makes an impact.

Perhaps the hardest to digest are the videos shown through an old box TV. The video art cycles back into itself, its own loop made from splices Chanel captured during the lockdown. They are layered with meditations on the world in crisis, the voice in them searching for a break out of the spiralling prison just like the days through the pandemic. The sluggish response of the government—the system meant to deal with catastrophes like this—kept us in lockdown.

The artist cries on screen, wishing for an end to the hunger, the ennui, the descent into madness.

The world built by the artifacts and video art talk about how time is used to express the connection with or to communicate with the divine as well as represent a people sending the message.

In history, Filipinos have used song, rhythm, and repetition to pass the time spent on monotonous tasks, such as planting rice (it’s never fun).

Prayer can be like that, too. A plea to God repeated multiple times becomes a mantra, something to focus your mind on while passing time away from the 17,000 CoViD deaths, the 3.9 million CoViD cases, and the government’s lack of urgency.

At a time full of doubt, reprieve can be found with the act of praying.

We rely on so much of our faith in other people, our systems, the Universe to enact goodness.

But is there such a thing as too much faith?

Chanel’s “I Trust in You” found object rephrases the concern: on a white lace curtain hanging on a rod; a depiction of Jesus in a face mask sewn on it, asks: Who do I trust?

The exhibit expresses a sense of falling apart. By combining unlike objects together, Chanel employs tension between concepts that seem unrelated to each other, creating a new sense of dread and hope; a subtle insanity that only surfaces to those who ask enough questions, to those whose curiosities run amok.

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