Sounding the Weaponry

(This article was first published in print in issue 22 of the Philippine Collegian on 24 January 2012 as part of Kapitan Art in Culture.)

Art Review > Sandata, Sculptural Assemblage by Lirio Salvador, UP Vargas Museum
January 19 – February 25, 2012

Contributed photo

Pelting rain accentuated the opening of Sandata, an exhibit showcasing the “weapons of sound constructions” made by renowned avant garde sound artist Lirio Salvador, last January 19 at the Vargas Museum. The exhibit is the first in the museum’s 2012 calendar.

Metal chrome sculptures line the white walls of the gallery, while the crowd swallows in a performance by the experimental sound group Elemento, founded by Salvador himself. While some moved to cover their ears as high-pitched amplifications droned on, others marvelled at the seemingly elegant yet alien sounds made by metal grinding against metal.

Full metal

The exhibit showcases Salvador’s old and recent works deemed as “weapons of sound constructions,” being an artist working with sound, performance, and sculptural assemblage. His genius lies, not only in his capacity to fuse decorative and functional art, but in his stubbornness to transform commonplace items into whole new artifacts.

He has been known to utilize household and industrial materials such as metal bowls, bicycle gears, stainless steel pipes, kitchen utensils and water hose nozzles to create musical instruments – basically fretless electric guitars of varied sizes and sound quality.

Sculptural assemblage is an artistic process wherein three-dimensional compositions are put together with found objects. It makes use of preformed natural or manufactured materials and fragments not intended as art materials, according to a definition by William Seitz, former curator at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

The combination of found objects, beyond providing an alternative to traditional art production, offers new configurations and characters to existing artifacts. While metal has always been a part of musical instruments, preconfigured metal materials such as bicycle gears and water hose nozzles are things one would associate with industry rather than sound production.Early in his process, Salvador used to haunt junk shops for his used bicycle gears, steel pipes and metal bowls. Then, he spray-painted his finished sculptures with chrome. It proved to be a rather tedious and expensive undertaking, so he sought for other ways of procuring low-cost industrial materials by the bulk. Then, he shapes and solders these pieces together to form ornate and fully-functioning fretless electric guitars.

Salvador’s craft has always been about the merging of his native culture and the present industrial environment that is slowly corrupting his land. Through his sculptures, he tries to negotiate the long-standing rift between man and machine.

His sculptures and Elemento’s performances elicit integration between man and machine, and perhaps this serves as an accurate, albeit discomforting, observation of what society has become. Perhaps we, who have become utterly dependent on smartphones, computers, electricity and the internet, have already been part-machine.

Such ingenious commentary and craftsmanship could only be expected from a man who has dedicated his career to sound, performance and sculptural assemblage.

Critical hit

Salvador, a Fine Arts graduate of the Technological University of the Philippines, has always been preoccupied with music and technology, having necessitated the creation of his own sandata because he can’t afford to buy his own guitar.

In 1996, Salvador formed Elemento out of his desire to combine traditional with experimental music. As the group performed during the opening of the exhibit, videos being projected at the back showed that they are missing their main man.

Salvador is currently in the intensive care unit of the University Medical Center of La Salle Dasmariñas, Cavite. Last December 30, 2011, the 43-year-old Salvador was hit by a motorcycle while he was crossing the street towards Espacio Siningdikato, the arts venue he and his colleagues established in Dasmariñas.

Even while Salvador is still in a coma, the exhibit still pushed through. In the absence of the artist and the lack of succeeding performances, the potency of the sandatas as “weapons of sound constructions” now lies in the hands of the observers enjoying them as interactive installations.

Engaging the front

The exhibit, beyond showcasing the metal chrome sculptures of Salvador, also allows interaction with the installations. Connected to the sandatas are amplifiers that could be turned on and off by the observer, so that they could hear what kind of sounds are produced as they touch the strings of the instrument.

The glint and the sheen of Salvador’s metallic sculptures entice people to breach the wall that separates the artwork and the observer just to pluck the strings, to feel the coldness of the metal and to test the stability of its detailed construction.

Certain artists welcome the influence of machines on art, pushing aside the need for organization and passivity in viewing art. Art is no longer constrained to our passive gaze. It has been transformed into a possibility to produce or re-produce art from a single artwork.

Interactivity involves the spectator in the creative process, enabling it to become participatory, even collaborative. Participation, while it usually entails following an agenda established by the artist, in this case calls for an interplay between the individual and the machine. There can be a fixed number of results, or there can be infinite outcomes imposed by the taste and the impulses of the spectator.

The aspect of performance also proves vital to the sandata experience, for these instruments have been designed to produce raw, coarse sounds of machines, electricity and amplification. But, in the hands of spectators, these metallic installations could produce a wide range of possibilities. Just as any weapon is rendered useless without the warrior, the sandatas are not complete without the spectators’ participation.

The exhibit therefore is not just about Salvador wielding and showcasing his sandatas. It is not just a celebration of his craftsmanship and ingenuity. It is also about equipping the ordinary spectator with innovative weapons to construct and to experience sound, and be part of the creative process. By allowing interaction, thesandatas then become an extension of ourselves, our attempt to slowly mend the schism between man and machine.

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