Monday, March 23, 2015

“All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath and read the symbols do so at their peril.” The words are from Oscar Wilde’s preface to his own novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and, slanted a particular way, they tend to echo the temperament that under-girds Ronald Achacoso’s new show, Evidence Against Interest. But as the show’s title bears out, the voice guiding Achacoso is not so much Wilde as it is Christopher Hitchens. Achacoso takes his title from a phrase Hitchens used to describe the lavishly-funded archeological project undertaken by the newly-formed state of Israel to dig up Biblical evidence that would corroborate their birthright, only to be blindsided when what they unearthed eventually negated and invalidated their claims.

Evidence Against Interest can be taken as Achacoso’s own archeological dig. In a very literal sense on one hand, given his fascination with layering (of images, of textures, of paint) as both a means of obfuscation and articulation, and how the works eventually undergo a similar geological process, of sedimentation, of accretion. And in a very philosophical sense on the other, the way it similarly inquires into his faith, only art, not religion, is his stand-in godhead, and he milks the parallel with vigor.

But where Hitchens was a man whose lack of faith was utter, absolute and tenacious, Achacoso is more like a collapsed acolyte, frustrated but resolute. His is a lapsed faith and Evidence Against Interest is not so much a search for answers as it is an interrogation, a rigorous questioning, fed in turn by an equally rigorous doubting, of everything he used to hold true, a coming to terms with falling from great heights of zeal in a disillusioned heap. In questioning if art still possesses the capacity to attain transcendence, Achacoso is ultimately questioning if he is complicit in his own disillusionment and how much of the lack he finds in art can be found in his own work, too. After all, what good is a convincing illusion if the illusionist himself isn’t convinced?

The push and pull between the anxieties that frustrate him and his persistence despite the frustration, plays itself out with an almost physical, certainly visceral intensity in his work, attuned as he is to the dissonances that emerge from the co-opting of a functioning personal belief system into an organized and rampant church. Evidence Against Interest is a howl against that tension and all its eventual dichotomies: faith and dogma, meat and spirit, surface and symbol.

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Art Informal is located at 277 Connecticut St, Greenhills East, Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, Philippines

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