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I realized recently that, with no prior conscious intention, I have engaged in discussing prophecies with four different poets over the past three months. Specifically, we discussed the notion of how certain poems become true, or work as foretelling. In addressing the matter with the poet and art critic Barry Schwabsky, I suggested:

...from this perspective, she is able to offer material in a manner that transcends what preconceptions may have existed in the viewers' minds.

"A poetic foretelling is tricky because, to me, it's not a means of conjuration (though I have used that word) so much as lucidity. When one is looking at the world with much attention and care, I believe one inevitably ends up extrapolating what will happen. And when the poet writes that prediction in a poem (so that it becomes a conjuration), it's not that the poet is making a wish so much as anticipating what's already been set forth in motion…"

Lucidity, indeed, is the primary reason for my following and enjoying Stephanie Syjuco's works. As illustrated by her 2002 exhibition entitled "Transmogrified" at the Haines Gallery (San Francisco), Syjuco would not be able to achieve her works without open-minded vision. She looks by both recognizing the image as well as the context(s) of the image; from this perspective, she is able to offer material in a manner that transcends what preconceptions may have existed in the viewers' minds.

In doing so, Syjuco makes what Stephen Berg wrote in his poem Porno Diva Numero Uno to be "work [that] articulates nothing but itself and is happy, pointless, without malice or love, neither good nor bad." In other words, Syjuco creates paradoxes that can be called freedom; "pointless"-ness in her work is an abstraction that encourages viewers to apply as many "points" of interpretation as possible. She promotes a way of looking that Berg addressed when he asked:

how many times can you look at something
before you stop seeing it so the point was to
jolt it out of its old existence to make the
spectator begin again.

"To make the spectator begin again" is Syjuco's gift to the world. She effectuates one of Art's greatest possibilities: encouraging the witness to expand vision.

"To make the spectator begin again" is Syjuco's gift to the world. She effectuates one of Art's greatest possibilities: encouraging the witness to expand vision.

For her "Transmogrified" installation, Syjuco used form board, contact paper, velcro, foam tubing, LED lights and batteries to create box-like pieces that lie on the floor as geometric compositions. The works are highly evocative of a wide range of references: architectural models, miniature movie sets, a bird's eye view of a contemporary urban setting or ancient ruins, a block-based educational toy, or stereo systems. Yet they are as cool as the Carl Andre's orderings of copper plates, as matte (which is to say, a bit forbidding) in surface as the black (wood)-on-black (steel) floor-based installation "Bulol" by Paris-based Filipino artist Gaston Damag, as stark as the minimalist paintings of Allan Uglow, and as austere as the steel paintings of Merrill Wagner. By not being hampered by a tension between abstraction or referentiality, Syjuco encourages a multiplicity of interpretations.


Transmogrified Installation

Her allowance for variousness denotes a larger broad-mindedness to all of life's possibilities that is further evident in the exhibition's range of mediums: sculptures, installations, prints and photography. Indeed, she printed out her photographs on banner material as is used for commercial advertisements, a scale and surface that invoke as baldly as any billboard: Look At Me!

In a dialogue we shared as we perused her exhibit, Syjuco said that she also was considering doing drawings, perhaps to follow the lines discernible from the modular installations. Her step would be a logical leap from the visible angles of a work that resonates; it is also an approach reflective of the restless times in the contemporary art world as artists show no inclination to be constrained by medium, philosophies or approaches (at one point of conversing with Syjuco, I was reminded of her peer Sharon Louden who sculpts in order to create images that she then draws). Drawing as a step or result after sculpture subverts the idea of drawing as a study for another art work. While drawing as an end-goal is not a unique approach, it does befit Syjuco's history of refusing to abide by conditions that may seem axiomatic—such as that the artist draws only in preparation for something else. Thus, perhaps I also recalled Damag while looking at Syjuco's works because he has expressed a rebellion against paintings (insofar as it became for him a symbol for imperialism and ethnocentrism); both Damag and Syjuco, as clear-minded conceptualists, show how subversion may be something necessary—and, at a minimum, logical—in the position of a diasporic Filipino artist.

Or, perhaps I should say, the boxes would be interpreted only through speculation, which is fitting as the speculative process is relevant to investigations of identity as well as to how one responds to Art.

Referencing various works in her exhibit, Syjuco asked, "What is really happening?" That question may sum up the multitudes of questions that imbue her process. This query is certainly evident in the photographs depicting the same brown and black box-like components she uses in her installations. For the photographs, the boxes may have been or were taken out from their installations and shown in settings that comprise abstract narratives (my paradoxical phrasing of the "abstract narrative" is something I deliberately intend as paradox relates, too, to Syjuco's works). As examples, someone is pointing one of the boxes at a plant in "Suggested Usage 3" while another is pointing another component at her pregnant belly in "Suggested Usage 2 (Monitoring)." The images suggest that the boxes are instruments that can be used to monitor plants or pregnancy, yet neither a horticulturist or doctor would be able to identify the instruments. Or, perhaps I should say, the boxes would be interpreted only through speculation, which is fitting as the speculative process is relevant to investigations of identity as well as to how one responds to Art.


"Suggested Usage 2 (Monitoring)" 2002
Digital Print on UV Protected Vinyl Banner
62 x 85 inches

The juxtaposition of the photographs against the installations highlights the significance of context, and how context often results due to a controlling process. For instance, Syjuco may intend the boxes to be parts of a sculpture, but to take those components and place them in the photographed settings means physical manipulation. Indeed, the installations' placements on the floor emphasize how they (or their identities) are seemingly under the control of the viewers who look down on them. Are not the creations of contexts often a form and/or result of control?

The works' meditations on control, however, offer just one conceptual layer. Technology and its implications are also investigated through these works. For one, the look of the brown and black boxes references an older (say, 1970s) technology. Thus, Syjuco creates art that relates to the future without dismissing the past. Her perspective's compassion fits the nature of her vision: she sees clearly enough to know that as the world unfolds in a pace ever-quickened by technological advances, there are elements—and people—being left behind. Indeed, she noted that the components are like how technology "still looks in the Czech Republic or parts of the Philippines."

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