Miracle Healing and Other Hopeful Things
Chance encounters and anonymity
During his residency (in Graz, Austria, 2013) Poklong Anading chanced upon an inter-religious conference held at the same city where he was to stage an exhibition. In that conference, speakers from different sectors and ethnic backgrounds gathered to discuss their views. While in observance of the event, he would come up with the title Pocket Coffin for the show that was due, which was to be presented at the Galerie Zimmerman Kratochwill (Graz, Austria) throughout the succeeding days. The title of the show was derived from a 7th century pocket book containing the gospel of St. John, found in the tomb of St. Cuthbert of England, which was believed to be the earliest known leather bookbinding to survive. One of the works he made for the show was entitled rfinderexplore (a name designed to be read in a roundabout manner), which was a collection of sound bites - recorded snippets of the different voices heard during the inter-religious conference in the form of digital files. These audio files, all of which containing a unique phrase, can be accessed through several laptops arranged inside one of the gallery's rooms. But the files in their corresponding laptops were presented anonymously, so to speak, without any corresponding filename to identify them from the rest. Each digital file appeared on the screen as icons with blank labels. The user is forced to deal with a host of un-named documents. The act of clicking files once associated with the retrieval of a specific data suddenly becomes a venture towards uncertainty. The concept for this work was partially derived from a common fear shared by most men living in the digital age: the disorganization of information and the eventual loss of data.
In Anading's own taxonomy (or non-taxonomy), he was able to find a way to depict the opposite of organization - organization being an attribute of an effective computer - and turn it into a system of homogenous classification that carries out a different meaning: that these voices which tackle different world views can dissolve into one random mix, for which the seeker or reader is left with fate and chance to be able to sample data from a multitude of thoughts. And in more poetical terms, it could be the same bout with chance and fate in encountering such an event that had led Anading to this work. From a cultural standpoint, these 'voices' serve as artifacts, which the artist had the intuition to record and collect from different sources. And their homogenous presentation can evoke certain political, philosophical, and even theological arguments such as pluralism, monotheism, or even globalization. But the fact remains that these voices operate within the context of 'clicking files,' which is a language of its own in relation to our own experiences with computer technology, which for most have become a daily ritual. And its wonder lies in how Anading was able to transform what we would perceive as another banal object - the digital file that we access unmindfully in our daily lives - into a cultural artifact, and eventually into art.
The same way he had gathered household rags from the streets of Manila in his earlier works (untitled [Landmarks] and Miracle Healing and Other Hopeful Things). Through Anading's re-presentation of such ignored items - items that would not even pass as commodities - they suddenly had become accidental outpourings of meaning, color, artistry, and different narratives. The same can be said of his pieces of concrete rubble gathered from construction sites he refers to as Fallen Maps, a work where he had painted over patterns of the circular rags made from an assortment of rejected fabric that are scattered throughout the streets. The same can be said about the work Sinnlos: After John Runnings, a work derived from one chance encounter after another - with a short documentary feature about Berlin activist/philosopher John Runnings, and with the relics of the Berlin Wall itself while working on another show in Germany. In this piece, Anading had brought with him small pieces of debris from the construction of an underground sewer system in Manila. He then situated and photographed these tiny fragments along the tourist landmarks formed across the remnants of the Berlin Wall. A small, ignoble piece had again become an entire cultural artefact and had become a rich source of philosophical and political narrative through his restaging and re-contextualization. If the voices in rfinderexplore dissolved in the realm of bytes of data, Sinnlos, on the other hand, from a documentary about breaking through the wall's barrier, achieves materialization through Anading's collection of his own found rubble. These fragments become laden with narrative and meaning the same way the recorded voices in rfinderexplore have come to assume fragmented meanings.
Curator of urban artefacts
From chance encounters in Anading's archival art-making arise the different manners of accumulating data - which include memory, history, ideas, and thoughts. Like an archeologist for the urban landscape, he picks up the relics that sprout undetected from the dreaming city-dweller. And he had been culling these urban artefacts since his early days of producing art: from dust to plastic bags, from the cluttered streets of the city to the contrived virtual world of digital technology. In a compelling series of work called Dwelling, he begins to exhaust the associations found within the transfer of imagery and eventually, the transfer of meaning, through what could be considered an activity occupying a category amongst man's trifle - the activity of nail art. Although attached with the signifier art, it is an activity that is reserved to recreational spas and salons rather than the gallery. And this banal phenomenon corresponds to a specific audience, women seeking the aesthetic it exudes for grooming or social functions. Nevertheless, it is an activity of the modern world, and the number of cosmetic parlors that cater to this kind of service is proof that it has become part of society's many modern rituals. Whether Anading has seen its anthropological significance (the function of body art in early tribes) or its value as a rich concept to how art directly affects an individual (it can be argued as craft or an artwork, nonetheless, or pushing it further - as a miniature painting), he curates for us this cultural phenomenon and in the process is able to derive several parallelisms with the so-called traits of postmodern art such as selfreflexivity, process-oriented, paradoxical, and performance. Foremost, for Anading, it exhibits a meditative approach on the act of 'referencing.' He recalls a Buddhist writing that tells of the story about how one's finger, when pointed to the moon, can substitute for the actual thing it is referring to. "The nail on the index finger during language's primal state can be mistaken for the moon instead," says Anading. In one of his works for this series in Gwangju, Korea, he places over images of painted fingernails against the gallery's windows to replace the view outside. Showing images of fingers pointing in different directions, the annihilation of roles between referent and signifier invites us to reflect on the world built in either mind or material, as well as the nature of art spiraling across the same notions - whether it is just mere concept or an indelible part of every manmade craft. In another work from the same series, he combines the documentation and the process itself of administering nail art. With light boxes showing pictures of previous subjects' painted nails in the background, he provides real-time nail painting services as well for willing gallery-goers to subject their fingernails as part of the project, which is painted over and then documented. Inside a gallery in a group show in Bangkok, Thailand (The Porous Border, 2012), Anading offers a seat and a cosmetologist equipped with nail polishes and a palette for the subject to choose from - the different designs and color combinations of found household rags from the streets of Manila based on Anading's previous series called Untitled (Landmarks). There is the transference offered from one concept of artefact to another, and Anading is well aware of the parallelism between the two - that both can stand as substitutes to accidentals, to the neglected narrations of city-life. The accidental color designs of the street rags are both useful and ironic images to compliment the polished nail's symbolisms of social grace and elegance. The manicured state based on a crude and shabby reality of the street rag - is also one way to interpret it.
The indices of thoughts collected
During the process of collecting nail art inspired by a specific palette, Poklong Anading had to roam the streets and marketplaces of both Manila, Philippines and Gwangju, Korea. During this task, Anading was able to further explore the underlying conditions brought about by a domestic activity such as applying paint on fingernails. He discovered that as soon as they start the ritual of applying color, his subjects, who are mostly women, began to speak. He applies color to the index finger, and soon enough, he realizes that the body's main tool for referencing also acts as a device to trigger - but on this occasion, a trigger for conversation - for memories, opinions, and in a few cases, it becomes a confessional for private concerns and a crude ceremony for personal renewal. "The activity of applying nail art is perhaps embedded to a kind of culture that has pervaded salons, neighborhoods, and households over the years," he observes. "The minute I proceed on applying paint, my subjects, almost instinctively, start to engage themselves with the process and begin to tell their own stories." He adds, "The whole process then not only becomes an act for culling images, but has also become a tool for starting conversations..."
In his stay in Gwangju, Korea, the application of nail art as a social act achieves a whole a new meaning because of his intervention through a culture entirely different from his own: "(In Daein Market, Gwangju), I consider the audience as a source of information and knowledge through their different responses and their resolutions to any conversation. Conversation can be an expression of sound-noise and in-between silences. It need not rely on meaning but on expression, which can be a meaning in itself." He adds, "I imagine myself being a different species in a forest hearing different signs of sound coming from a different set of species. What I can only do is listen - as a performative act of acceptance for being part of that place." He began to record these conversations as well, and the result was an interactive piece for the Dwelling series: consisting of a computer tablet, a wooden frame, and digital sound. The audience is invited to interact with the touchscreen tablet, using his or her own index finger, in a pointing gesture as to how Poklong Anading had anticipated it. What is revealed across the touched surfaces on the screen is a photograph of one documented nail art from the streets while a line from a recorded conversation is played out while the active finger remains touching the surface. Another line from a conversation is played out as soon as the finger lifts to touch another point. This kind of work not only reflects the indexing power of the finger - its ability to refer and reveal, but also the power of art, in contemporary artist Ben Kimmont's words, "as mediator of exchange and connection between artist and viewer." He proposes that this space of meditation can be characterized by artists as the 'third sculpture.' In Poklong Anading's interactive work, this space of meditation may have existed between the ongoing conversations, the sparked dialogues that the viewer holds in between his actual fingernail and the gradual revelations of the painted fingernail on the screen.
The new codex
Recorded voices, documentations of social acts, and the archiving of cultural artefacts lie at the crux of Poklong Anading's recent artistic processes. His artworks touch on a new method for indexing, of gathering data and activity and presenting them in a new set of references: banal objects, fleeting interactions, sounds and silences, mundane activities and the paradoxical functions of technology. These constitute a new kind of codex, a manuscript for a new interpretation of urbanity - which do not cater to what are highly urbane nor cultured, but continue to dig for the unheard languages and undetected rubble that prove strong cases to become part of the city's foundation. Like the palimpsest found inside the coffin, it just might outlive the stately books brandished up high in the shelves of monuments of libraries. And in Poklong Anading's unrelenting curatorship of modern life's instances and artefacts, he continues to offer us new references and experiences, new ways to interact with technology, new methods to apply a mundane process, where he points an index finger to a new direction to take, or to the destination that lies in the pointing finger itself.
-Cocoy Lumbao, 2014