Sandy sure knows how to cheer me up. She invited me to the opening of Gabriel Barredo’s “Opera” at the Silverlens Galleries after finding out that I parted ways with my (now ex-)boyfriend and that an exhibit of nightmare-inducing sculpture and installation art is what I needed.
Sandy is also a fangirl of Gabriel Barredo and it’s not hard to see why.
At first, I thought the title “Opera” referred to the performance. In hindsight, there was a lot of theatricality and drama in the exhibit, what with the gloomy lighting, the often haunting music, and the wonderful performance that was included in the opening. But “Opera” also refers to the Tagalog (by way of Spanish) word for “surgery”.
The installations featured numerous human figures, many of them cut open, with parts removed and transferred to incorrect places. Lines of almost life-sized fetus hang in semi-transparent mesh run along the space. Syringes, lens, dental chairs, and other medical equipment are used in many works. Prints of Medieval anatomical drawings are joined by modern x-rays and CAT scans. Looking at the (real) scans can make someone (who is not in the medical field) uncomfortable peeking into a person’s most private aspects and has the effect of dehumanizing a person.
This dehumanization was reinforced by many of the works including gears and machine parts. Shoulders connect to long pieces of metal to replace the biceps, before rejoining the rest of the arm. Some moving installations had flesh-colored rods flex like rhythmically undulating tentacles, yet you can see the machine powering the movements. The exhibit highlight includes several machine-mounted bamboo rods that flail incessantly, which reminded me of angry, moving plants in some horror movies.
When stripped out of life and personality, the human body is no different from a person-less machine, complex yet generic.
What seemed more disturbing is the curious lack of gore. Blood is rendered like narrow streams of fluid or faint red mist that remained in stretched mesh that looked like the amniotic sac. As I told Sandy while we were talking about the exhibits, it was as somebody wiped the nearly all blood out. And very carefully, too. There is no sense of chaos in the grotesque images, like it was a product of sanity and obsessive attention.
At first I thought the sound of a man singing was part of the background sounds, but when I looked around, it was coming from an actor. He was dressed and made up like the Phantom of the Opera (aha) and singing wordlessly, while struggling inside a flesh-colored mesh. He pulls out a knife and slowly starts slashing his way out of the mesh. Ugh. I haven’t really been creeped out until that point.
Sandy introduced me to her friends, Fran, Karl and Carlo, and we talked of our reactions to the exhibit. Carlo also told us of an exhibit of art from immediately after the Second World War, particularly from Japanese artists, and how the war affected the nation’s collective psyche. Art isn’t always about what is beautiful; grief, horror, and shame can inspire powerful work. Sandy wondered aloud where Mr Barredo got his inspiration for his exhibit.
More photos from Gabriel Barredo’s “Opera”.