Manila

Agnes Arellano, Carcass-Cornucopia, 1987, mixed media, 72 × 51 1⁄8 × 31 1⁄2". Installation view.

Agnes Arellano, Carcass-Cornucopia, 1987, mixed media, 72 × 51 1⁄8 × 31 1⁄2". Installation view.

Agnes Arellano

Ateneo Art Gallery

The individual components of Agnes Arellano’s sculptures are quite recognizable: nude female figures, human limbs, phallic totems, a variety of bone. These forms are rendered in white cold-cast marble and are almost luminous in their candle-like smoothness. But when the artist brings these elements together into sculptural assemblages, the boundaries between them start to blur, and the human melds with myth. In Haliya Bathing, 1983, the eponymous moon goddess bathes in a pond of crushed marble, her pregnant body poised as if in labor. In Carcass-Cornucopia, 1987, a cast of the artist’s body, headless and hooved, hangs suspended from hooks piercing her ankles. Her midsection is ripped open, revealing a bounty of marble eggs and grains of rice. Inside her hollowed-out belly is a bulul, a granary god, with the face of a baby. In Hermaphroditic Homunculus, 1983, an arch is built from grafted limbs, along the length of which sprout other body parts: a penis, some thumbs, a nose, and a gigantic open mouth.

This retrospective gathers works by Arellano produced between 1983 and 1997. The artist calls her sculptures and installations “inscapes,” referring to what she describes as the “underlying design of an object which gives it coherence.” The word suggests a psychological inwardness, as well as an essence. It touches upon a number of aspects in the artist’s practice—not only the prolific mythology that runs deep in Arellano’s oeuvre, from the Sacred Feminine, goddesses, and mothers to tantric entanglements and myths of creation and destruction, but also an interior realm that is fleshed out through the artist’s figuration. For Arellano, the works are “fantasy self-portraits” that follow the narrative of womanhood “from early motherhood to midlife crisis.” The artist’s creative process echoes this framing. She frequently uses her own body as a model in creating a mold for casting. This method grants her figures a sense of intimacy in their scale, highlighting the humanity in how these deities are embodied. Arellano’s acute grasp of the human form endows her sculptures with a haunted quality, as if each one of the life-size goddesses has been petrified.

The exhibition presents what were previously indoor installations as sculptures lined up outside the museum building, installed in the vicinity of an amphitheater. If the original iteration of the inscapes as elaborate room installations meant, as the artist puts it, that one “walks into the sculpture,” the current display operates as a series of mise-en-scènes. The area around each sculpture is marked by gravel leading from the paved main walkway, an imagined threshold that effectively warns spectators not to cross. Those who do walk over it encounter works rigged with motion sensors that activate musical components. One such piece, Music for Watching the Moon Rise, 1983, plots a musical score by placing marble eggs along thin lines raked into a layer of crushed marble; Music for Making the Sun Rise, 1987, offers another score, this one substituting marble skulls for musical notes.

A case might be made that the enchantment cast by Arellano’s sculptures would be enhanced in a more intimate presentation, one that might have transported us to intuitive depths rather than leaving us lingering on the surface. Still, there is no denying the vitality with which Arellano translates comparative mythologies into marble.