The Self and Semiotics

Manila Bulletin, February 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Self and Semiotics


When she was starting out as a sculptor, artist Mervy Pueblo was obsessed with the pure form. She shut herself off from the world and toiled over shapes, symmetry, balance, and beauty to create something out of nothing. To play God. Until life happened, decentralizing everything she knew about art, herself, and her purpose, knocking her off her proverbial pedestal. She made sense of everything she repelled as a tortured soul. That everything that she--we--knows, understands, and imagines came from her relationship with the world. And just like that, a semionaut was born.

THROUGH THE EYES OF A SEMIONAUT

French art critic and curator Nicholas Bourriaud coined the word semionaut or an artist who visually or politically absorbs things in the world and uses signs and symbols to create new things or narratives. "That's how I see myself as an artist now," Mervy says. "I'm no longer focused on just discussing forms, principles, or tastes but rather meanings in life. I want to open discussions through art, not stir discussions for it."

Coming out and calling oneself a seminout was a very big, and brave, statement. She knew very well that she was in no place to put a tag on her name. But she was done glorifying labels. She has, after all, freed herself from preconceived notions of art and artists. Mervy's deeper foray to art education and life in general led her to this new exploration. Under the flagship of Fulbright, she received her MFA in Visual Studies major in Public Art and Sculpture at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design under the mentorship of sculptor Kinji Akagawa.

"I didn't really call myself a semionaut until Mr. Akagawa picked my brain and told me that my illumination of art is 'really experiencing the real' and I have to look into it because I can easily 'translate [it] into my artworks,''' she says. "Then he started me on reading G.W.F Hegel, Nicholas Bourriaud, Claire Bishop, Immanuel Kant, Martin Heidegger, and Mikhail Bakhtin. That's how I began to understand myself and my practice more as a semionaut. He didn't put words into my mouth and instead tried to make me think about things in my own life and my practice. He was not only a graduate adviser but a philosophical father."

COMIC RELIEF

When she came back to Manila in 2013, Mervy's studio practice went from stonemasonry and marble sculptures to human relationships and the everyday life through installations and readymades (art created from undisguised but often modified ordinarily manufactured products that are normally not considered art) using the platform of the artist joke.

In her "Expectation Kits" project, which was initially exhibited in Minneapolis and can now be viewed online (http://mpueblo.wix.com/expectationkits), she collected samples from commercially available products that speak of how capitalism is shaping people's identities. She made Expectation Kits for Asian Men and Women. Inside the Asian Woman Kit: 36-24-26 measure-you-tape, inflatable breast enhancer, black eyeliner to mimic large Western eyes, adhesive eye-folder set, lip shimmer, nose clip trainer, perfect white skin chart, an engagement ring box, and a pacifier. The Asian Man Kit: a comb, eye glasses, expandable wallet, keychain, wedding band set, and a 15-centimeter ruler. She also made Expectation Kits for Caucasian-American and African-American men and women.

This was Mervy's attempt to sift out the dark side of capitalism, a critique of the sublime corruption of human values that are clandestinely constrained by the commercialism.

Meanwhile, for the Cultural Center of the Philippines "Thirteen Artist Awards: Triennal Exhibition," she showed World Class, an art installation clasped on the idea that while the Philippines, its government rather, claims and prides over the Philippine economic boom and world class sensibilities, its system is still rotten, upon close inspection, to the core. …

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