Existence is Elsewhere
December 10 – 23, 2017
Art Cube Gallery, Karrivin Plaza
2316 Chino Roces Aveneu, Makati City,
Metro Manila, Philippines
DANIEL DELA CRUZ
The Sculptor as Illusionist
By Cid Reyes
When the French painter Maurice Denis declared: “Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order”, he disabused
everyone of the illusion of reality that has been ascribed to the art of painting. Sculpture, on the other hand, is an
altogether different matter. A three-dimensional object, made of distinctly physical material, it occupies, or displaces, space, which it shares with the beholder. When apprehended merely as material or substance, whether wood, stone, marble, bronze or brass, sculpture must find its very expressiveness in the identity of its subject, no matter the futility of escaping from the mass that forms it; indeed, it is as futile as painting denying the presence of pigments at the tip of the artist’s brush.
Filipino sculptor Daniel dela Cruz is a unique exemplar of an artist who defies the conventional expectations of what sculpture must be. That hoary expression “breaking barriers” continues to persist in his temperament and sensibility, the driving force that propelled him, within the decade when he was in his forties, to the summit of his profession. And this year 2016, having reached the mid-century landmark of his life, Dela Cruz, taking stock of where he is today, and how his sculpture has expressed his views on the meaning of life, presents another candid illumination of the works of this inordinately gifted artist and sculptor.
“Existence is Elsewhere”- the title of his current exhibition – finds Daniel dela Cruz transfixed on the meditation of man’s transitory existence, which has kindled the creation of a most remarkable assembly of sculptures – fifty in all, signifying of course the length and duration, so far, of his corporeal presence and time on earth. The title is a quote from a statement made by Andre Breton, the French artist, writer, and theoretician, who led the Surrealist movement in 1924. Breton wrote the “Surrealist Manifesto” in which he defined surrealism as “psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.“ As a thinker and theoretician, Breton was fond of delivering pronouncements. Among his declarations was the perplexing statement: “It is living and ceasing to live that are imaginary solutions. Existence is elsewhere.” The implication of this thought has had a profoundly moving effect on Daniel, who was once a student at the University of the Philippines, majoring in Philosophy. Derived from the Greek word philosophia, philosophy is nothing less than a “love of wisdom.” Providentially, Daniel, even in his youth, already possessed a mind that was veritably fertile ground receptive to the investigation of the nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. It is the same quicksilver quality of his mind that allows him not only to ponder certain mysteries of life, which, mirabile dictu, serve as the fulcrum of thought and content that are the underpinnings of his sculptural art, imbuing his works with a philosophical dimension. This exhibition is thus another manifestation and articulation of his deep meditation on the human being tragically trapped in his fate and existence.
At the outset, let it be said that not the least of Daniel’s surprising innovations is the melding of metal and another material that now takes on a startling apparition: clear cast polyester resin. What is revealing about this unexpected and seamless juxtaposition of two seemingly opposing materials is their pliability to embody precisely the theme of the show. With the density of metal contrasting with the transparency of resin, Man, shorn of habiliment, is cast naked in the simultaneous conjunction of the physical and the spiritual, as though flesh had slipped into an ethereal state. In this multitude of human recreation, Daniel has subscribed to Henry Moore’s ethic of “truth to materials.” As critic Peter Campbell reminds us in “The Materials of Sculpture”: First, that “There are two forces at work in sculpture. One pushes it towards the waxwork, where materials suggest something quite contrary to their native qualities – marble flesh, wooden flowers, metal drapery and so on. The other takes it towards material as material.” And second: “Materials brings meanings with them.” Daniel not only draws meanings from his metals and crystal-clear resin, but also a delectation in their gleam and solidity, their translucency and limpidity.
Daniel has transformed man into a metaphorical being, caught and portrayed in every possible human state, from the heights of exultation and expectation to the depths of despair and rage. Though bound to his physical existence, man’s spirit seeks release and deliverance from its vessel and prison, his corrupting and corruptible flesh. Seeking another plane of existence, man sees his present life as a mere illusion, a distortion of reality, perhaps a figment, or worse, a hallucination, of God’s imagination. Thus perpetually seeking his real existence, which man knows to be an undiscoverable and unreachable “elsewhere” – could this be the actual Fall from grace when Adam, and the issue of his rib, Eve, were cast out from Paradise?
Marvelously, Daniel turns sculpture on its head by defying the one inescapable reality – gravity. He achieves this through the sleight-of-hand of illusion. Just as he did with his previous creations of spectacular dancers leaping into space, performing technical feats of balance and tension, Daniel now harnesses sculptural contrivances such as bridges, ladders, and staircases – that are such intriguing, theatrical stages – for the man frozen in mid-motion or becalmed in stillness. We know them all to be symbols of relentless journey or ascent, which man must traverse or scale to reach a desired destination. The bridge, in its broken state, is hung suspended, mounted and bolted on the wall: one catches a breath to behold the missing half of the bridge on a distant opposite side of the wall. As such, this is a kind of sculpture that virtually “consumes” the room or space that contains it. On the other hand, the staircase, with its evocation of eternity, recalls the great modernist sculptor Brancusi’s “Endless Column” rising to the heavens, and stopping high enough to let the viewer’s imagination soar. It also has allusions, inadvertent or otherwise, to the works of the Dutch artist MC Escher, with his enigmatic and illusionary staircases that deceive the eye between ascending and descending. Corollary to the staircase is the ladder, with its series of steps, as an analogy for man’s innate desire to climb to the top. All these structures are consistent with Daniel’s theme of man’s search for the “elsewhere” – bridges, ladders, and staircases being points of departure rooted to earth by gravity.
More familiar to the audience by now is Daniel’s trademark use of the vitrine, a glass display case, which, in this instance, is actually a cage in which man is imprisoned. For indeed, unlike the glass vitrines of religious statuary which essentially function as a protective carapace against imperceptible dust and grasping human hands, Daniel’s vitrines are absolutely intrinsic to the work, and cohesive with its theme of man’s imprisonment in his earthly existence. Within are mirrors that are the medium of illusion, multiplying images to infinity, ceaselessly reflecting the turmoils and torments of man’s consciousness.
Dispensing with traditional nondescript pedestals, Daniel opted for elegantly rising scaffoldings, which sweep up the figural man high above the viewer. Moreover, Daniel has seen fit to make use of another devise that situates the sculptures in another dimension: light. The even, unblinking luminance of LED lighting literally floods the sculptures with a stark but vaporous radiance, a spiritual latency, a state of existence but not yet manifest.
Reaching one’s mid-century in life is surely cause for jubilation, but for Daniel, the event is shadowed by the lingering illness of his father, now in his advanced age. Try as one might to evade its implication, this situation is in itself a catalyst for the contemplation of the eventual end of a loved one’s existence: a life condensed for the son in this time of pain and sense of loss. Ultimately, it is also an affirmation of the worth of Daniel’s philosophic ruminations placed in the service of his sculptural art. For the introspective Daniel dela Cruz is that rare kind of sculptor whose thoughts totally inhabit his work. Meantime, our illusion of empirical Life is in the here and now, and Existence, futile though its search may be, is Elsewhere.
Cid Reyes is the author of books on National Artists Arturo Luz, BenCab (with Krip Yuson), J. Elizalde Navarro, and
Napoleon Abueva, He received a Best in Art Criticism Award from the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP).
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