A Paradise Lost
SILVERLENS welcomes the new year with the show A Paradise Lost, Ryan Villamael’s 7th solo exhibition in the gallery. For this presentation, Villamael will premiere a new body of work that builds upon his ongoing dialogue with the contentious subject of Philippine History.
Villamael’s fascination with history began when he came across some early maps where the idea of ‘The Philippines’ first started to appear, which at that period could be seen as just a random scattering of nearby islands, with various tribes (warring and friendly) that were forced into a single, unified entity by an external power. This set forth more than three centuries of foreign rule that effectively dissolved all but a few links to our pre-colonial origins. For Villamael, this fraught relationship with history is a powerful driving force that sets fire to his nagging desire to read and know more, to dig deeper and sort through the entanglements of hearsay and facts, and from there begin to piece together a picture that may shed light to how we, as people, ended up where we are today.
With A Paradise Lost, Villamael returns to the intimacy of paper; hand cut, made intuitively and in isolation. Presented as a set of unfurled scrolls, which in total spans close to 20 meters stretched across the length of the gallery’s inner walls, the work evokes a faint horizon seen from a distance, a distance that it is keen to preserve. As even up close, it remains elusive; blank, still, and nearly empty. While ancient scrolls served as one of humanity’s earliest forms of editable record keeping, Villamael’s sheets remain thoroughly white yet not unmarked: it contains a thoughtful and evocative lament not written in ink but is encoded by blade. From his earliest works on, Villamael has employed the process of paper cutting to create images, confer stories and ask questions through the calculated use of negative space. Here he sliced and nibbled away slowly through the paper, creating a network of lines that mirrors how certain pests burrow and eat their way through old books, leaving a distinct pattern of holes, pathways and tunnels across the pages. And while images of hole-riddled pages and destroyed books carry with them the melancholy air of information forever lost, here they translate to the actual content that informs and cuts through the blankness of the page.
Still in another light, the patterns could just as well be seen as overgrown sprouts of wild vegetation, hopeful and alive as they creep their way up through the rubble of an unseen, perhaps fractured world below the horizon.