Agnes Arellano Sculptor

Naked Inscapes

ARTS & LEISURE Thursday, October 24-26, 1990, BusinessWorld

(Excerpt. Original in 3 parts.)


The basic and constant theme of Agnes Arellano's major works is her desire to explain her personal answer to the paradox of the apparent conflict, but absolute interdependence of, Creation and Destruction or life and death, sun and moon, yin and yang, and so forth.

Arellano's path leads us back to the cycle and the amorality of Nature, the universality of the deepest religious concepts and practices, and an absence of the expectation of immortality over and above the magnificently observable.

Her Temple to the Moon Goddess (1982) explored the female principle in religion, bringing its strands together from different cultures and mythologies, such as Isis from Egypt, Diana from Greece, and Haliya from the Philippines.

Arellano continued the pursuit of her theme in major collaborative works such as Museum Of The Era of Darkness (1986), and Fire And Death: A Labyrinth Of Ritual Art (1988), as well as certain minor pieces, Tia Irma (1986) and Bakit Mandala (1987). This period also saw Arellano's first major political work, Bosch And The Hollow Men (1986), which was a reaction to the fraudulent elections in the Philippines in 1986, and the events which followed the February Revolution.

The artist returns in earnest to her earlier preoccupations with the "existence" paradox in 1988 with the first of a collection of works under the general descriptive title of Myths of Creation and Destruction. These works also initiated a shift in attention by Arellano towards the male element in religion, although the omnipresent balance between the yin and the yang is never lost, even when her imagery is at its most violent or disturbing.

[Myths of Creation and Destruction] Part I, consisted of two pieces, Carcass-Cornucopia and Music For Making The Sun Rise. Carcass-Cornucopia is based on the Indo-Aryan myth of the birth of the Universe as the ripping apart or explosion of the first bovine. Thus, we see the upended, meat-hung, bovine with her womb ripped asunder in the most graphic manner. Inside, sits a tiny "bulol" or Philippine harvest God, who dispenses the bounty of the Universe. The artist's perception of the flow of creation from a tableau of utter destruction is most emphatic, but the male God still has to be borne out of the womb of the Mother.

Music For Making The Sun Rise starts at a point where the violence has ended. Rows of male skulls, set over a musical "staff" by the artist, according to her visual instincts, are then translated into a sound-sculpture. The work heralds the rising of the Sun: the male element, even in its death, ritual or mythical, aspires in its own way to continue life. The sigh at the end of the sound-sculpture is one of relief that the cycle indeed will not cease. Orpheus has gone to join Eurydice in the underworld, but a new player will pick up his lyre.

Myths Of Creation And destuction Part II: The Temple Of The Sun God, takes this exploration of the male element in religion, particularly in a destructive sense, to its limits.

The point of departure is the temple of Konarak in Orissa which was built for the Sun God, in order to celebrate military victory. It is famous for its erotic sculptures and this raised the question for Arellano as to how these two apparently contradictory aspects could be linked. She saw a new variation on the old paradox which merited investigation. The artist had to consider why Krishna drove the chariot of Arjuna! She found some partial answers, such as the precept that war was once considered "Ethical", as for example in the philosophy of Hagakure and the idea that the "Warrior" had to see the God in him, as in the case of Arjuna cited above.

The artist's particular satori in this instance came from the inspiration which lies behind the central work of the exhibit, "A Tender Moment: The Detonation Of The Bomb". Both coitus and nuclear detonation are explosions, as are all the other paradoxes which can be observed in the Temple. These all lead to Death, Destruction, and Chaos.

There is "Le Petit Mort" of coitus combined with annihilation by the bomb. There is the ego destruction which results from the perfect sexual union of man and woman. There is the disarming similarity between Tantra and nuclear physics. There is the nuclear mushroom cloud of the total physical destruction and the entheogenic mushroom which destroys the ego. The result is always Chaos, which is where the Universe came from, and where we reconnect with the Source. In the end the contradictions are removed, and Destruction can be beautiful in the same way that ecstasy can be a blinding light. Thus out of Chaos, comes the resumption of the cycle.

Linga Mantra, set outside of the Temple itself, is a round floorpiece filled with the purest beach sand. It has five raked concentric lines, on which Linga have been placed by the artist. Thereafter, the aesthetic result has been transformed into music interpreted through the instrument known as 'ang klung' or bamboo chimes. From this point onwards the visitor is led through [the temple] in such a manner that it becomes the gallery, and the gallery becomes one entire 'inscape'.

The 'gaki', or hungry ghost of medieval Japan, is the first to greet the visitor at the Temple. This Gaki has a wide throat, unlike its archetype, and seems ready to consume not just excrement but the entire human frame. She lingers closely by the seven-foot Obelisk of skulls and bones, an oblation or offering to Destruction and a reminder of other similar piles, in the catacombs of Paris, in the Museum of Genocide in Cambodia, in Ifugao burial caves, in the Chapel of Evora in Portugal, and in the paintings of Vereschagin.

The walls are lined with eighteen Shiva Masks. Here, the element of the reality of Nature asserts itself, while Shiva's dreaded third eye, from which one glance can mean annihilation, is also a sign that all will be well in the end.

The visitor enters the Temple through the Arch. It is both cavernous and shrouded, but also tempting, and we enter through Her, as is appropriate, into the world of the "Phallic."

The Temple visitor is now flanked on either side by three six-foot-high bronze replicas of armalite bullets, an ideal symbol of phallic destruction. The Bronze Bullets, their shining tips a symbol of the "prick psychology" of the unbalanced male principle, line the avenue to a door. The Angel of Death warns visitor that he is about to enter dangerous, albeit holy, ground, and also presents visual clues to the central theme of the exhibit.

The visitor now enters the most densely packed area of the Temple. His immediate attention will be captured by the two columns of phallic worshippers. These are identical from the back, in the case of each group of seven, but distinctly varied in front.

The figures in the column of seven on the right are called Phallics, while those on the left are known as Iambes. The categories might correspond to circumcised and uncircumcised or "Roundheads" and "Cavaliers". These are specifically designed to shock, and then amuse, as they lead towards the focal point of the temple (A Tender Moment: The Detonation of the Bomb,) wherein satori may be in part experienced by the severity of the coexisting contrasts or paradoxes.

These crazed worshippers of some phallic cult do have a female element in them - through the Iambes. The Iambe-Baubo figure has a significant role in Classical Greek mythology as the companion-maiden of Demeter who lost her daughter Persephone to the underworld. Iambe tells jokes, while Baubo raises her skirt, to make Demeter laugh. This figure is therefore seen to be used in somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner in the present context. However, the Iambe-Baubo figure is also linked to the mystery religions of the ancient European world, and, thence to the entheogenic ego death which also pervades the Temple. In this way, the Iambe-Baubo "Cavalier" can be seen in the perfect partner of the "prick psychology" Phallic "Roundhead".

The Phallics and Iambes are flanked in the gallery wall by four round abstract reliefs, each called Fire Scarred Wall. These were directly cast from the ruins of the artist's ancestral home, which was burnt to the ground in May 1981.

The visitor might now approach the more than six-foot-high sculptural relief, which has so vividly caught the attention of the phallic worshippers. It is, in fact, an almost direct copy of the most often reproduced sculpture from Konarak. However, it is conceived as the perfect visual description of A Tender Moment: The Detonation of the Bomb, because directly behind this erotic celebration of victory in war is the warmth of the bomb as the Holy Grail of Fusion: the light of ten thousand suns, the nuclear bomb as a religious icon. The Enola Gay Ikon is a small-scale bronze replica of an underwater nuclear explosion at the Bikini atoll. The condensation cloud has a crown, and the bomb-grail is shown in all its glory on a pedestal, with traces of vermillion suggested by the glow of the copper, to highlight its intensely religious links to other icons of worship, (as well as the red of the entheogenic soma), which brought their own share of Destruction and Chaos. This is the revelation in the Temple, the "mystery" element in the religion, which was initially hidden by The Tender Moment.

The temple visitor will then observe certain elements of rebirth in the cycle of Creation and Destruction, which follow the revelation of Shiva as Nuclear God, as he views the line of eight small bronze mushroom images entitled Mushroom Rebirth. This reminds us of the new vegetation which arose out of the dust of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the End of the World.

Then, there is The Toad Goddess, her yoni awaiting puja (worship), and her breasts replete with milk, who alerts us to the reality that the eventual trickle of water does not just awaken Vishnu from his thousands of years of meditation, but also reignites the explosion which we call Life.

This work is accompanied by a sound-sculpture known as Reptilian Ecstasy which gently, and once again playfully, leads the visitor on to new beginnings and the realization that, while Destruction may be awful, it is also inevitable.