Playing things by ear

(by Ric Spencer)

PERTH, Western Australia- Everything seems to be hanging in the balance these days; the credit economy, sub-prime mortgages, governments. So much so, there seems no point in laying out definitive plans and aiming towards concrete goals…nope, it’s better to play it by ear.

In the art world, we call this process-driven art and Alwin Reamillo is a master of it. Born in Manila and probably better known as an artist in Asia, which is a local travesty, Reamillo has been on something of a roll these past couple of years, clocking up plenty of substantial international residencies and shows.

Personally, I think he has become an integral player in the Asia-Pacific art scene and his work interlinks some of the issues concerning Asia and Australia and the working relationships we have – particularly as they concern global mobility.

With ongoing policy work being done around mobile international labour and further free trade agreements with South-East Asia coming our way, Reamillo becomes an important bridge as an art ambassador but also because his work as it is primarily concerned with social aesthetics, delves deep into the socio-economic heart of late capitalism and its legacy of haves and have-nots.

Reamillo’s Playing by Ear (Oido) at Gallery East is a small and poetic extension of his Piano Project. It testifies to a maturing process in his work; the quiet display is unhurried and works will in the space.

In Playing by Ear (Oido) Reamillo has given us odds and ends, which have been made from leftover parts of pianos from his family’s old factory in Manila.

The central piece: Kakaibang Ilaw (Santa Cruz district of Manila) is a printed tarpaulin, which has attached to it, various trinkets that overlay an aerial view of a section of Manila. Santa Cruz looks like an interesting area, at least according to this photograph. A mishmash of interconnecting wires, transient housing and overcrowding, we, here in the space-rich expanses of Western Australia, might describe it as a ghetto.

But one culture’s slums are another culture’s social networks. And this is what Reamillo does so cleverly in his work and it is very subtle; his offering of an image, almost as a memory, leaves the viewer always on the outside looking in, trying to capture segments of the story – as if butterflies with a net.

To exemplify this metaphor, many of Reamillo’s re-workings of piano parts on this occasion become just that; seductive butterflies patterned with floating images, segments of social networks that are intangible but in terms of cultural ethics and communication, pivotal to the function of community.

In Kakaibang Ilaw and Playing by Ear (Oido) in general, what is highlighted is the impossible-to-grasp quality and yet incredibly important element of informal conversation, based around the building of something, if need be. But through Reamillo’s work we are eloquently reminded of informalism in art, and that form comes in different aesthetic models.

(Playing by Ear (Oido) ran from 22 August to 14 September 2008 at Gallery East, North Fremantle, Western Australia.)

Posted date: September 17, 2008

- This review is reprinted with permission from The West Australian.