MM Yu (b.1978) is typical of her generation bouncing between mediums with a dexterity and visual clarity that reflects the immediacy of our times.The two photographic series re-presented for Beyond Frame capture this kind of contemporary mapping: one using the city, the other apirational portraits. Memoirs (2001) was produced at a time when digital technology and high-end print labs were not available to young artists in Manila. It used the scale and stock of mass-production printing, a different kind of excess pre-digital photography. MM winds the film back into its spool for reuse, then superimposes a new image over the initial ‘background’ shot, which acts to frame everyday objects and scenes as a random, photobiography.
They speak to a make-do aesthetics ubiquitous to The Philippines and sit between chance and control, always unshore which two images will connect.They parallel our layered memories of place, and in the tradition of the found object, have a history and aesthetic thumbprint.
For Beyond Frame they are presented in a wallpaper genre, the double exposure of the images playing off reflections from an adjacentglass window where they are installed. It echoes the temporality andfragility of a society’s detritus. MM’s second series titled X, salvages ‘rejected’ studio portraits. MMplays with that moment of ‘the flaw’, that half-second when the sitter’s eyes are closed. “This intermission,” MM says, “represents our uncertainties, doubts and fragility”. Traditionally portraits are taken to capture a moment, an occasion to glorify or savour our best. Here MM questions how we perceive beauty and perpetuate a culture of aspirational
Suitably, it all returns to experiencing Manila. Manila as starting point, the locus of experience, or the people’s psychological ground zero. How does the city inform the work? Is it possible to put blinders to unmistakable clichés of third world poverty: begging children, people jumping in and out of crammed buses, uncollected trash and its stench on public walks, or open sewage canals where scavengers look for re-saleable recycled materials, unfinished (fly by night) infrastructure constructions, illegal street markets, or that overwhelming grey expanse of clouds which is a sure sign of terminal pollution – regardless of the countless typhoons tormenting the country, this thing hasn’t washed away. There is also the dehumanizing heat, the discombobulating noise, or that endless chatter of people about nothing, filling the air to gain presence in an otherwise absent existence. How about the fractured street arteries that function less as thoroughfare, but more as broken boulevards that segue to dead ends and crime alleys. The perpetual traffic serve as markers of overpopulation, or as gross signs of the fiscally rich encased in their air-conditioned nightmares of Lexuses and Hummers, grossly de-contextualized from its surroundings and justly nowhere to go. Manuel Ocampo describes the purgatory of construction and deconstruction of Manila’s lane networks:
It seems the city has been changing drastically by the week, but neither for the worse nor for the better. Bumper-to bumper traffic is a common sight on narrow streets with strange names. The traffic routes are confusing, especially when a two-way street becomes a one-way street, or an intersection is blocked overnight for no apparent reason. Motorists often ignore traffic lights and drive head-on through middle lanes or on side walks just to move ahead of traffic. When traffic jams get really bad, signal lights are replaced by arm signals. Amazingly, I have not yet heard of arms getting severed or squeezed dry between bumpers.
Adding to the congestion is the construction of mega-shopping malls on almost every major intersection in Manila. The street digging may actually be a treasure hunt for Yamashita’s gold because it’s taking forever to finish. And, as if that weren’t enough, gated communities are crammed inside the city like fatty plaque in arteries. It seems that the local government is already applying the Situationist game plan for detournement (the application of something out of context to make an ironic comment) on its citizens.
The local confusion may be another elaborate way for the system to break you down, so that you will succumb to its nets and apparatuses of capture. The city is a maze of bewildering codes where space as social engineering traps the flow of consciousness into cogs of production and consumption. Taking a glimpse away from these low corridors of controlled perspective, towards the horizon and above, we witness monolithic but mute structures of commercial culture marring the otherwise distant background: communication antennas, shop signage, billboards, electrical poles and wires tearing the sky. To this effect, the artist MM YU aims for these things to be “pushed out of the (picture) plane,” as if reclaiming nature back from the artifice of culture. These industrial altars function as placeholder for signs that might never appear, like the expectation of foreign investments to come and add color to the bleak economy. In a city that is already crammed, these things are further thinned and pushed up ahead, decorated with the same spectacular gaudiness of an arcade space – that bazaar of commodities fit for prostitution. Yu creates an index of the capitalist sublime within the urban experience of Manila – or to describe this process using Frederic Jameson’s term of “cognitive mapping” as the conflation of “ontology with geography and endlessly processes images of the unmappable system.” One of Yu’s projects involves a photographic series of tourist spots in the Philippines – complete with tourist, which seals the drive for the exotic and the intensification of experience. This is a feeling of privilege and status, shared by a few but pretends to be universal. Another project involves a photographic essay of chance encounters as the artist journeys from one place to another. This entails documentation of random people and events as a way of reclaiming experience and identification in an otherwise meaningless existence.—Arvin Flores
 Manuel Ocampo, Mandatory Manila, Giant Robot magazine, p. 16, issue 42, 2006. Walter Benjamin, Paris Center of the 19th Century
 Frederic Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic, p. 4
Photographed on October 8, 2008 at 18th Avenue in Quezon City by Neal Oshima
A girlish 30-year-old who could easily be mistaken for a teenager, MM Yu’s deceptively youthful demeanor belies a prolific creative output expressed in her preferred media of photography and painting—though she rarely combines the two. In her painting, MM likes to experiment with a half-planned, half-random process of dripping paint onto canvas in lines or blobs that melt into an amalgam of color. With her camera, her artful eye somehow picks out the ironic, the striking, or simply the unexpectedly beautiful in the streets around us: an estero filled with muck becomes a glittering pathway in the inner city; a slashed, distressed couch is transformed into a block of swirling color set against a drab, grey wall; a dead cat, mouth in a rictus, appears all the more horrifying in that its eyes, fallen out of their sockets, glitter eerily. She often assembles these images, juxtaposed for effect, into photo books titled according to theme. The Photo Book of Bawal Umihi, for example, contains images of this ubiquitous signage that can be hilarious and off-putting at the same time. Yu was an Ateneo Art Awardee in 2007 for her semi-autobiographical exhibition, Thoughts Collected, Recollected, in which she arranged her individually-themed photo books of varying sizes on a long wooden shelf, inviting viewers to leaf through them. In both her photography and her painting, one senses a love of color, a sense of irony, and, above all, an uncanny eye for the accidental artistry present in everyday life.
By Lisa Ongpin-Periquet
By Helen Yu-Rivera
Abstract art came about in the postwar period as an iconoclastic reaction to figurative painting. Developments in the 19th century in the field of technology, image production and reproduction paved the way for its development, forcing artists to focus on the materiality of the medium instead of the mimetic. Abstraction was also a political revolution aimed at nullifying and shocking the bourgeoisie and their set ways and taste. The individual feelings and imagination of the artist were thereby given free reign in the manipulation of line, color and texture, its nonreferential language a direct opposition to the status quo.
However, decades have passed since this initial stirring and art has welcomed back the figurative, and the postmodern foray into mix/cross media works has pushed abstract art into the background. Ironically, what was supposed to be in opposition to the bourgeois lifestyle has itself become, in contemporary times, its language and medium. Abstract art supposedly negates the kitschy, campy, ironic styles characteristic of pop and postmodern art. By succumbing to capital and the market, abstract art has also found its most fervent adherents among the new bourgeois, many of them appreciating the form merely as adornments for their fancy homes. Where do the abstract works of a young Filipino artist like MM Yu stand therefore in relation to these changes in the historical context of abstraction? If the gestures of the avant garde have been overturned and abstract art stripped of its discursive mode, are her works then merely decorative?
One of the first things that struck me upon viewing MM Yus works in the exhibit Rescind at the West Gallery in Quezon City is the process of creating these colorful abstractions. Yu has almost always used bright, primary colors in her works, producing drip paintings that are studies on what she terms controlled chance and gravity. In her earlier works, paint was allowed to trickle down the length of a canvas vertically as it is pulled down by gravity. While the paint is allowed to a certain extent to take its natural course, controlled execution is done through the careful observation of the properties of her medium and the resulting patterns created by such. Her works, therefore, underscore the importance of processes such as gravity and weight and viscosity of material. Her recent works show an attempt to defy gravity allowing vertical drips and horizontal lines to cancel each other out. The drip paintings in Rescind traverse this direction of defiance and control. Instead of allowing the paint to drip vertically all the way down to the end of the canvas, the drip is seemingly arrested by horizontal lines. If one were to turn the paintings the other way, the horizontal lines become vertical and are, in turn, canceled by the gravity-defying drip moving toward the left instead of falling.
The title of the works in Rescind describes the dominant color used, such as red, yellow, blue or black. Yu relates that she initially worked with one color allowing it to drip into other colors, creating new hues. As such, the dominant color becomes partially hidden yet noticeable. One of the works featured puts together several smaller works to form a large composition. On the left side of this huge work, empty cans of paint used in her work are added to provide an interesting contrast to the vertical and horizontal lines.
In my reflection of MM Yus abstract works, I am reminded of what the eminent art historian Ernst Gombrich once wrote about the inadequacies of abstract painting. Gombrich wrote that when he seriously compared his reactions to the best abstract canvas with some work of great music, the former faded into the sphere of the merely decorative. For him, music is more than a configuration of sounds for the motif undergoes a series of transformation and vicissitudes through the dimension of time which abstract painting sadly lacks. Accordingly, abstract painting is akin to a chord in isolation which is all the painter could muster within the limited confines of the four sides of his/her frame. Gombrich was certainly referring to classical music with its dynamic/changing movements.
Abstract painting, however, is more akin to minimalist music which is based on the repetition of motifs, an insistent pulse and a slow transformation. Yet minimalist music displays harmony and beauty and is never completely static. MM Yus abstract works, with its repetitive motifs, do not reveal stasis; they are characterized by the movement of form and color, and, like minimalist music, are enriched by a confluence of rhythmic influences. For classical art, the end product was the object and subject of appreciation. For the abstract expressionists and many contemporary artists like MM Yu, the process involved in the creation of the work becomes as important if not more important than the end product. The shapes and colors used in MM Yus works undergo dynamic changes from the initial execution to the final result. In this way, the works are to be viewed in a kind of continuum where the past is an integral part of the present. The dimension of time is, therefore, not absent in abstract painting.
The works of MM Yu also allow the viewers to exercise their mental and visual concentration on forms and color. The formal elements transform themselves not as a series of drips and horizontal lines and changing colors but perhaps into a more poetic image of rain falling on a colored glass pane. Her works, however, evoke neither the reflective character of minimalist abstraction nor the angst of abstract expressionism. In her use of bright primary colors, the works display an almost pop appeal, fresh, young and exuberant. In this sense, her works have democratized this genre by allowing a kind of campy sophistication to merge with what has since been perceived as bourgeois art.
Abstract art can, therefore, be viewed as a sustained tradition inviting new forms, techniques and ways of looking, as proven by these works.
A Beautiful Life: The Works of MM Yu
By Juana Manahan
MANILA, Philippines—The greatest escape of an artist from the toils of everyday life is to see beauty in the unexpected. After Marcel Duchamp declared a urinal as a piece of art, creating art became pretty much a free for all. Writer Allan Kaprow wrote, “Non-art is whatever has not yet been accepted as art but has caught an artist’s attention with that possibility in mind.”
One such artist is MM Yu, who finds beauty in the chaotic surroundings of Manila. Her award winning multi-faceted “Thoughts Collected, Recollected,” she photographs everyday scenes and objects such as signs, laundry, piles of objects that look to her like art installations and even anything with the letters MM on them. To the artistically unplugged mind, these scenes mean nothing, but through the eyes of MM, she shows us the artistic tendencies of scrap piles and overgrown weeds.
After winning the Ateneo Art awards in 2007 for her collection of pictures, MM has participated in five international exhibitions, numerous group shows and highly successful solo exhibits in the country’s leading galleries. MM’s art is a refreshing contrast to the splatters of grays and browns on canvases themed with misery and destruction. Her oil paintings look like piles of candy and licorice twists and at a glance, give one a happy thought
Her collaboration with Poklong Anading on several collages, is one of the most ingenious works I have seen in a long time. The two artists cut out pieces from a survey art book to create a new collage of their own. This is the height of the pop art mentality—giving new meaning to “iconic” art. When the two finally finish up all the pictures in the book, they hope to send it back to the publisher, in the hopes that they will publish a book with all the cutouts.
MM’s eye for pattern and repetition reflect the beauty in simplicity. Her technical skill alone of arranging colors in paint drippings takes time and coordination to get the perfect mix of colors blending in to one another. Her installation called “Blots” for example is simple and is pleasing to the eye. While many think that art is complicated and is always infused with meaning, it is refreshing to see an art such as MM’s. Her art does not offend anyone with gore or political slogans or social commentary. In fact her creative process is one of the hardest things to do; to find beauty in everything. Through MM’s work, the viewer’s eyes are now open to that possibility.
Posted on: Sunday, July 22, 2007
Manila, torn open
By David A.M. Goldberg
Special to The Advertiser
Through Aug. 25
thirtyninehotel, 39 Hotel St.
Hawai’i is connected to the rest of the world by routes whose rates of throughput range from the slow pulses of genetic heritage to the gigahertz frequencies of telecommunications.
Our brand of globalism is highly nuanced and runs deeper than our economic dependency on tourism. It ranges from ecological — the impassive beneficence of the trade winds sweeps our air pollution to the far-off land of Ainokea — to the stuff of science fiction — that 70-story golf ball in Pearl Harbor is a radar system that can alert the military if Kim Jong Il launches a paper airplane. As far as popular culture goes, it was smarter to camp out for “Transformers” than for an iPhone; your chance of access was higher.
While our geographic isolation has produced singular forms and styles of life, why can its limitations be so easily measured in terms of access to international contemporary art? Clearly, importing cars, movies and life (from tourists to avian flu) is more profitable than importing the images, ideas and conversations carried by the arts. We’ve got international film festivals, guest curators and visiting scholars, but it’s really no contest. Hollywood and Silicon Valley set the standards. Techno-popes like Steve Jobs define the new rituals of communication (fondle your phone), and action spectacle directors like Michael Bay supply representations that “the people” expect: urban destruction, robots that cross-dress as cars and romance as defined in magazines like Maxim.
Such sensationalism is not the exclusive domain of mass media, as strong artwork regularly takes more challenging paths through the same constellation of cultural attractors.
Do an image search on Manuel Ocampo and (cue movie preview guy’s voice): In a world gone mad, prepare to be shocked and awed by paintings that easily surpass the violence, chaos and thrills of any summer blockbuster.
However, it would be a significant economic and logistical challenge for local galleries and institutions to import artwork of sufficient power to create blockbuster-busters that could compete with multimillion-dollar visual effects, toilet humor and gut-punching explosions. Like Megatron said: “You have failed me again …”
Fortunately, unpredictable guerrilla tactics are always an appropriate response to overwhelming force. Just so, thirtyninehotel, a kind of transformer that goes from art gallery to bar/lounge to church-of-sound, has imported “Manila Envelope: A Snapshot of Contemporary Arts Culture in Metro Manila.”
If a painting from Ocampo’s “Virgin Destroyer” period is a culture unto itself (characterized by societal decay, apocalypse and compromised religious and political figureheads), then the artists of “Manila Envelope” would be ethnographers and anthropologists working in photography, drawing, sculpture, video and text. Those familiar with Manila’s brutal class struggles, or who have seen Dela Llana and Gamazon’s independent, Manila-set horror film “Cavite,” know what to expect.
“Manila Envelope” can be summarized by surreal passages like this one from Yason Banal’s “A Fairytale (Baklang Titi)”: “Chenelyn come out of the closet like a Snooky Serna in Blusag Itim and did not look a tad Murriah Carrey, Miss Nigeria or Girlie Rodis.” This is gay slang from contemporary Manila, newly-minted archetypes and code-words that (via a glossary) translate into judgments, praises and insults. Post-colonial 21st Century art can be a lot like advertising: Your ignorance is medium for the message.
MM Yu’s grid of 21 photographs of Metro Manila extends Banal’s text. Each image documents how physical, ideological and cultural trash circulates through Manila and gets stuck and piled up in all manner of corners, fences and loops. She frames moments where trash becomes code for something else. Reading the images like a comic strip yields surprising punctuations: sketches of popular movie stars such as Yoda; urban swamps; razor wire and Catholic icons; posters from the last campaign to oust another corrupt politician; a discarded photograph of a happy Filipino family.
Carlos Celdran’s videos further flatten Yu’s sequence into a series of PowerPoint slides. “Miss Manila” is a laundry list that describes Celdran’s ideal Manila (e.g., “No Visiting Forces Agreement”) intercut with vintage postcards that illustrate his proclamations with a warped nostalgia. His “Myths and Legends for Filipinos” is a long series of critical statements about Filipino identity which often escape their ethnic constraints: “Your capacity for loyalty borders on the delusional.”
Painter Gerardo Tan demonstrates a line of flight out of such ideological prisons with “It’s Not Hard to Put a Painting in a Mailbox,” an evil Decepticon of a piece which went from Manila to show curator Jenifer K. Wofford thanks to his finely-detailed painted reproductions of stamps. His technique of painting at the scale and resolution of art textbooks evolved from his experience with an actual Cézanne painting that didn’t measure up to its high-quality reproductions and accompanying propaganda. This fantastic hybrid of copyright violation, federal crime and middle finger raised to the guardians of Western art history is the “laissez fail” genius of survival and cultural production in Metro Manila — and the entire urbanizing Third World.
These artists practice in a fluid community of art spaces that can coalesce and dissolve overnight. Real life in Manila is deeply cinematic, shot through with blood, pollution, superstar entertainers and revolution. The malls and entertainment are world class. Landslides of garbage wipe out shantytowns. Bootleg media rules. Life is Wal-Mart cheap, and bar patrons check their weapons at the door. Salamat to Wofford for sorting through such a landscape. Its artists and activists display brilliant ripostes of creativity and popular resistance.
“Manila Envelope” reminds us that we can be deeply informed by shows that fold, roll up and get moved via suitcases, e-mail attachments and global shipping. More so than by another summer of catapulted cars and military helicopters rollerblading down L.A. freeways.
David A.M. Goldberg is a cultural critic and writer. He is a lecturer in art, art history and American studies at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa.
She lets her paints drip all the way down to the edge of the canvas, whereas her subjects – church steeples, fast food logos, bridges – in her series of photographs entitled Pulling Someone’s Hair Back are similarly forced out of the frame by the wide expanse of sky as though playing hide and seek, pushing and pulling for exposure and obscurity. She has recently participated in 600 Images/60 Artists/6 Curators/6 Cities, a photo exhibit curated by Judy Freya Sibayan. This is simultaneously held in Lumiere in Makati, Bangkok / Berlin / London / Los Angeles / Manila / Saigon. She has opened 3 paintings exhibits locally and was among the 1st batch of resident artists of Big Sky Mind Artists Projects Foundation for 2003-2004. She works part-time as a photographer for a commercial studio in between preparing for shows and collaborating with Poklong Anading for their book projects. She’s a member of IRIS, a photography organization based in UP College of Fine Arts in Diliman, QC.
Written in 2005 by Lena Cobangbang
New Paintings and other Stuff
Pardo De Leon
25 October – 12 November 2005
Mag:net Gallery ABS
Curated by Roberto Chabet
Everyday life surreptitiously lend surreal appeal to the art of the everyday. It’s in a joke, a punchline that one realizes the moral of a probable story. For this exhibit New Paintings and Other Stuff opening at the Magnet this 25th of October is this much passed around anecdotal joke within the circuits of mobile phones which Roberto Chabet, the show’s curator, claims to be the show’s subtitle :
“Amo : Chalk ‘to para mamatay ang ipis. Gamitin mo sa pader (This chalk is for killing roaches. Use it on a wall.)
Maid : Yes, Ati.
Sumunod na araw nagulat ang amo sa nakita niya sa pader :
(The next day, the senora was dumbfounded by what she saw on the wall -)
‘ IPIS MAMATAY KAYONG LAHAT!’ “
(DIE YOU ROACHES!)
The wall as a zone of painting seeks to profit from the way cave paintings were once practiced or so devised as to imbibe or effect a vicarious power over one which wishes to dispel or overcome. The naivete is knowingly possessed by the maid here whose name surely is DADA as she takes an absurd conceptualist attitude, where and whence painting, art, meets the stuff of life and life meets the stuff of art.
With works from Poklong Anading, Pardo De Leon, Jet Melencio, MM Yu and Chabet himself, the show hobbles to a certain literary and pictorial literalness, plying into concepts of diminishment implied in scale and subject as seen in Anading’s repetition of frames within frames de-escalating into a pyramid, or as inversely depicted in Melencio’s macro photographs of lint, dust mites – objects barely visible to the eye; or that which flounders into slight escapism as in De Leon’s predominantly red painting attenuating psychic jaunts and or Yu’s relentless drips that
seemingly go nowhere but the flatness of the canvas. The works summarily define states but defy it by their thingness, blunting whatever they may wring of higher perspicacity for after all they are but the stuff of mundane consequences revved up for sole musing. And the meaning gets lost anyway in too much theorizing. )
New Paintings and Other Stuff’s opening cocktails will be at 6:30 PM. The show will run until November 12, 2005.
Mag:net Gallery ABS is at the Loop ELJ Comm, Center, ABS-CBN CompoundEugenio Lopez Jr., St., Quezon City Or call 410-0995 email email@example.com
MM Yu , is essentially a photographer and a visual artist. The CCP Thirteen Artists Awardee, makes apparent whimsical happenstance of urban Manila. She draws us to see the remarkable bursts of color amidst the concrete maze of the city. MM retains a sense of humor capturing coincidental curiosities and instances that are intirinsic in the local culture.july 2009Written in 2004 by Carina Evangelista
“The Jorge B.Vargas Museum Sculpture Collection,2004
MM Yu showcased her”spill paintings with pedestals and a wall panel coated with paints that she allowed to drip down the surfaces. The squiggly strips of blues, greens, lavenders, and blacks with hints of burgundy, contrive a visual experience only a master colorist achieves
This installation differs from her usual gallery pieces in two instances.
1)The pedestals reminds one of the painter Ad reinhardt’s comment that sculptures are those clunky things on pedestals that people bump into when they back away from a painting to view it with aesthetic distance. When the pedestals ARE the paintings, the paintings are effectively sculptures, too. And while the pedestals are highly minimal in form, Yu’s treatment with paint is restrained abstract expessionism.
2)The “negative spaces” on both the wall panel and the top surfaces of the pedestals mark the cut- and dried”absences” of museum objects. The artist used museum”props”as the base for her medium and technique and “painted” around therefore existing museum artifacts and wall texts. The ooze of colors around the whie spaces renders spectral the standard museum semiotics and syntax(the juxtaposition of signs and somethings).
The French artist Daniel Buren has been displacing paintings from permanent collections within museums and painting vertical stripes around the removed paintings since the late 1960’s.Buren once painted the green stripes around the removed paintings in the gallery at The Museum of Modern Art where most of the Giorgio de Chirico paintings[themselves known for the stark feeling of absence and emptiness] had hung for years. Where Yu’s approach is a sly but not ironic intrpretation of the modernist fascination with material and the surface. It is not difficult to appreciate her deft employment of both the tactical and the tactile. Painters agonize over the process of painting as “being as painful as watching paint dry.” Yu’s drips and oozes are akin to slow but seductive nightmare of vicious colors submitting themselves to gravity
“The Sedimentation of the Mind is a Jumbled Museum”
curated by Nilo Ilarde
University of the Philippines Jorge B.Vargas Museum
MM Yu is keen on the relationship between the inside and the outside,a duality that leads her to come to terms with the problem of the external and the extraneous in the conduct of surveillance. She photographs the mall’s interior and exterior, amasses images-both stark and vague, empirical and impressionist—and produces collages that form the pentimiento of paintings; this groundwork is dispensed like the handbills passed on in malls. Such undertaking is complimented by a video as they walk through appliance stores; they stare, preen and pose as if telegenic. The artist is known for her drip paintings and for a project that compiles telltale mementos of personal heritage with her mother playing the accordion and her grandmother singing.
Written in 2004 by Patrick Flores
Contemporary Art from the Philippines and Singapore
Finale Art File
(The podium-second floor lounge)
by Allan Popa, 2004
MM Yu obviously wasn’t born with a green thumb. Try as she may to grow plants of every kind in large clay pots in her family’s 11th floor home, none of them, not even the generally steadfast cacti, took firm root on loam although she claims to have ministered well to their needs. Her latest attempt in urban gardening involved a monggo vine that initially showed promise but refused to cling to the trellis she provided for supported ascent as if the force of gravity was being conspired once again to disappoint her.
In her key paintings though, gravity is her unseen and trusted ally: MM Yu creates huge canvases of deftly dripped paint reminiscent of the work pioneered by Abstract Expressionists in the late 40’s to the early 50’s. Not unlike the signature style of Pollock who managed to enact the uneasy relation between chaos and order, between chance and formal control through his “action” paintings, Yu’s drippings express deliberate abandon to gravity’s pull. In contrast to Pollock’s capturing of frenzied gestures in paint, Yu has chosen to dramatize slow descent with every dab of color she allows to trickle down her canvas. Taken together, they seem caught in media res: a cascade of hues bleeding and blending into each other, endlessly falling to nowhere right before the viewer’s eyes.
For an artist as young as MM Yu, it is quite premature to trace a linear arc in the development of her style. Her earlier work did not predict this direction in her art, but even then she’s been trying to evade the usual trappings of conventional modes of art production, an ideal that she shares with most of the students mentored by Roberto Chabet and Gerry Tan in the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts, where she received her BFA in Painting degree in 2001.
Her art school excursions found her documenting in photographs the progress of hamsters placed inside transparent exercises balls and that were allowed to roam wherever their struggle inside the movable confinements took them. In another project entitled “Kodakan”, she chronicled her trip from her school to the gallery (this trans-media exhibit explored “walking as both medium and subject of the creative process”) by asking strangers encountered on the road to have their photograph taken with her. Whereas “Chiseled” showed pictures documenting how she, with a sculptor’s hammer and chisel, transformed a piece of wood into nothing but a pile of shavings. A writer for the Philippine Collegian Vincent Jan Cruz Rubio interpreted this act as a play on the paradoxical relation between creating and destroying. He noted that Yu’s work shattered the conventional method of sculpting which usually involves the careful delineation of a definite form from a given medium.
To fulfill her thesis requirement in UP, MM Yu installed a room within a room; the outer surface of four panels were covered with multi-exposed photographs of everyday images while above the walled-in space hung four video monitors that showed her grandmother singing, her mother playing the accordion, and images taken from her personal spaces. In her thesis statement for “Memoirs,” she explains that “they serve as “skin” through which one can perceive sound and light: moving images of [her] inner personal aspects—[her] history, heritage and home.”
The soft-spoken and chinky-eyed artist is self-deprecating when asked about the concepts that frame her work. She usually dismisses them as simplistic and cliché with a shy girlish giggle. Her ideas may stem from the much-explored elevation of autobiographical and mundane subjects into art “objects” as a way of subverting the museum’s elitist pedestal, but what gives her work marked difference is the sheer scale by which she expands her modest notions about “personal” matters into habitable spaces or remarkable presences in a gallery.
When she mounted 1,000 multi-exposed photographs to occupy an entire wall, no passersby could easily ignore the magnitude of the project. Once captivated, one would initially try to view mural in its entirety then maybe linger on every image to investigate what constituted the impressive encounter. Virginia Woolf writes that photographs “are not an argument; they are simply a crude statement of fact addressed to the eye.”
In the snapshots she amassed, MM Yu disturbed the objectivity of the camera further. She took pictures of objects from her surroundings and scenes that struck a familiar chord with her on a regular basis, at home or in transit and then wound the film back to its spool for reusing. In the process she superimposed new images again and again on previous exposures (something you wouldn’t want to happen to your pictures of “memorable” moments). For better results though, she devised a system wherein she framed neutral backgrounds first before focusing on distinct objects on the second and third exposures to strike a balance between the influence chance and control in the composition of resulting prints.
What came out of this unique process is a myriad of layered flashes of memory: images upon images abstracted by the accidental juxtaposition and seen in a new light. Could this be considered autobiographical still? Where then could we find the traces of the artist’s creative hand? Well, she is both there and not there. This ambiguity enriches the viewer’s experience of the work all the more knowing that the almost random arrangement of parts has rewarded us with so much unexpected beauty. With this method, the artist was also able to deflect the pathos-oriented narcissistic projection prevalent in confessional art production. The mirror was broken into a thousand pieces.
What is noticeable in almost every MM Yu photograph is her penchant for bright colors. This is even more manifest in her multiple collages that gathered an assortment of pop images and patterns cut out of magazines: food labels, domestic objects, and girly designs, all in vibrant colors. The clichéd mass-produced images pasted together still appear like product literature illustrations but they are taken out of their advertising context completely. Unlike the ironic statement conveyed in the Pop art’s use of familiar imagery though, Yu utilizes them solely for their decorative and nostalgic function.
It is interesting to note that she was able to produce the same effect when she collaged pictures from a canonical book of Western art (with initial reluctance considering the cost and “importance” of the book and the seeming sacrilege of the act). Done in collaboration with Big Sky Mind studio-mate Ronald Anading, the work found them cutting out images and patterns from the work of recognized masters. This is a clever and literal take on the expression “creating something new out of the old” since everything is ultimately a possible material for art and no normative pieties should hold back an artist’s creative compulsions. With this liberating act, the couple created surprising visual effects when barely recognizable fragments from infamous art objects were put side by side. This crosspollination of images from different periods somehow also disturbed the linear chronology of the development of artistic styles. Although Yu and Anading, practiced the same method in their respective collages, their differences in temperament and compositional inclinations emerge when their works were alternately exhibited on the Big Sky Mind gallery wall. Wheras Anading’s reflected frenzied chaos, Yu’s collages show that she exercised more restraint in allowing formal considerations to guide her in reordering the disparate pieces that caught her interest. The “ruined” book and a video chronicling every page of the Canon in its undefiled state were also exhibited to accompany the collages.
MM Yu’s eclectic early effort has given way to a more focused channeling of artistic energy most evident in her recent drip paintings. This maturing of style obviously involved a careful study of the paint’s properties and behavior when left to flow against a vertical surface. With time and keen observation, one realizes how much depends on its viscosity or fluidity, the thickness of layers applied, and the choice of colors to affect a unique character and emotion on every canvas. Even though she’s practiced the same manner in her drip paintings, she manages to express a different array of visual pleasures every time by changing these variables constantly on her palette.
“If you could hear a pin drop” combines her drip painting with a video showing the slow dripping of paint from the bottom end of a canvas she was working on. The monitor was stationed above the floor piece that had colorful paint drippings all over it. This simulation of her creative method draws the viewer’s attention less on the objects comprising the installation than to the space between the screening of a past event and the apparent art object resulting from it. It makes us experience the passing of time and gravity, barely perceptible presences, more deeply.
The grandeur of White Elephant exhibits MM Yu’s full familiarity of the drip technique and harnessing of its possibilities. Although her works seldom dramatize the tension between figurative and non-figurative representations the way her Abstract Expressionist predecessors did, she is able to command attention from even the indifferent viewer simply because the painting enacts a pleasurable mystery afforded by the rich texture, the varied sudden color harmonies and disharmonies, the seemingly continuous falling motion of the paint, depending on where you view it. The painting looks as though they were alive because the viewer is alive. When placed beside a monitor showing how pick-up sticks assume random positions and create varying color combinations (depending on chance and the whim of the artist’s hand), the painting gains even more conceptual power. Each of her drip paintings gives unique sensations and offers a wide range of emotional response depending on the viewer’s state of mind and willingness to explore every crevice of it.
MM Yu’s works will never bear literal fruits or flowers that found their way out of gravity’s domain but they allow us to experience visual and conceptual pleasures that almost resemble insight, though you may never know what hit you in the end; maybe a falling object; a clay pot from the 11th floor?
Big sky mind residency 2003
MM Yu (b. 3 January 1978) received her BFA from the University of the Philippines – College of Fine Arts in 2001. One of the youngest students who studied under Roberto Chabet at the UP CFA, Yu is currently developing a manner of art-making which emerges from the heels of Abstraction and process-oriented art.
Yu’s work straddles randomness and control. In her paintings, she carefully drips her paint onto the canvas, creating a blanket of tense lines of color bleeding in and blending into hues and shades. Her work in photography similarly frames random images, flashes of memory layered upon one another as she manipulates the camera’s film exposure. In the end, she creates a suite of images, a wallpaper of light, patterns and contours of the recollected subconscious.
Her work has been shown in a number of exhibitions at the Art Center and at several alternative spaces in Manila. She also exhibits with IRIS, a photography organization. For the 18th Avenue Artist Compound Residency, she plans to continue with her drip paintings which will be shown with a video of falling objects. The work is a collaboration between Yu and fellow resident artist Poklong Anading.
Written in 2003 by Ringo Bunoan