Noëll El Farol: When Archaeology Meets Art

Article excerpt

Save for the abstract works on paper and some minimalist paintings hanging on the walls of Noëll El Farol’s quaint home in Novaliches, there are no obvious signs pointing that El Farol is a visual artist, at least to an uninitiated viewer that is. Instead, one would probably think that he’s just another esteemed member of the academe obsessed with thick and large books—his are arranged in a high stack in his living room—about unromantic subjects (for some) such as history, culture, heritage, and archaeology. But really, El Farol is a formidable man of both science and the arts. And one would be stunned that this unconventional and rare combination works for him in more ways than one.Known for creating thought-provoking, elegant, and novel sculptural pieces made of glass, El Farol uses a calculated and scientific approach in his art-making process. This, he does by thinking like a forensic investigator who is always on the lookout for clues and an archaeologist who cannot wait to reveal and to determine traces of a community’s past.Thus, whereas other artists create pieces to emancipate their innermost thoughts and idiosyncrasies, El Farol produces works to make public Asian pre-historic cultures and their “historical, social, psychological, and mystical associations” to modern times.His pieces, oscillating from big to small, include actual bones cast in glass; modern sundials made from granite, marble, cast cement, and metal; glass dream boxes that house specimens and elements; a recreation of a historical site and fragments of human settlement fashioned in glass, wood, ceramic and saw dust; bugs rendered in pigment and seemingly fossilized between cold-bonded glass; a large-scale sculpture inspired by the legendary Venus of Willendorf, a “sculpture-installation of flat lenses with engraved delicate natural elements; and Petri dishes that store and put on view images of biological or scientific remains.”   His latest project involves collecting fingerprints from people, from his friends to acquaintances, and making them visible through the use of a powder used by forensic experts. Neatly lined up in a box, the imprinted glass slides when viewed look like abstract etchings on glass.Collectively, if all his works were to be set in a space, El Farol’s pieces would rival those of genuine artifacts and specimens in a museum. In fact, an onlooker might mistake them for the real thing. All are intricately made and backed up with theories and research. Seeing them would immediately spark a healthy discourse between the artist and the viewer.However, the artist does not contend himself with just showing off how skillful and commanding his hands are in manipulating his foremost medium. He goes beyond achieving opuses similar to original cultural objects unearthed in actual excavations and sites. Instead, El Farol takes impetus from such objects and appropriates and contemporizes them. And that’s where his being an artist comes in. He adds exciting and modern twists in his oeuvre, imploring the elusive quality of these objects and exploring the metaphors they suggest.More than a commendable technique of amalgamating cold work (cutting, engraving, polishing, and painting), hot work (melting and blowing), and kiln work, and addressing archaeological and anthropological concerns, El Farol attempts to provide a dreamlike continuum to his audiences. His artworks bridge the gap between past and present and between reality and fantasy.“The glass sculptures stimulate the exploration of the way dream thoughts enter consciousness with the way the mind sometimes seizes upon fleeting intuitions and turns them into forms…they are instances of the mind’s capacity to transform intangibility itself and to turn elusive, impalpable ideas into static configurations,” El Farol explains. …