January 23 - February 13, 2021
War in Ordinary Times
Open Trench by Geovanni Abing
A war is generally seen as a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, defining a generation and altering the course of history. Though they may not be global in scale, armed conflicts are happening now as we speak: from the violent encounters between state and non-state forces in our country to the continuing pockets of insurgencies happening in the different parts of the globe. Even in the spaces of public life the language of warfare has been extended. Companies have “war rooms”; cancer patients “battle” with their disease; those who have avoided dire consequences have “dodged a bullet.”
In his solo exhibition, Open Trench, Geovanni Abing amplifies how this notion of warfare has permeated our day-to-day lives, from events of great importance to affairs of minimal consequence so long as opposing forces meet and collide. Using a striking visual imagery that is a remix of a variety of elements—art history, video games, military hardware—Abing exposes conflicts of varying scale, “even personal conflicts and struggles.” What he presents are his collaged visions of “the aftermath of conflicts,” redolent with images of ruin, collapse, and devastation.
As a nod to the title, each of the works is bisected with a demarcating element (razor wire, strips of diagonal colors) that separates the pictorial surface into two zones: the hidden and the exposed, the planning and the execution, the before and the after. The bottom half seems to be the underbelly in which the warfare strategies are incubated, only to hatch and escalate as doomsday scenarios in the top half. Such a dialectic is what underlines all sorts of conflict: we are propelled by submerged compulsions to fight that result in cataclysmic proportions. That Abing has positioned the assembly of images against a black background signifies subterfuge through which modern warfare transpires.
Extending the metaphor of the “open trench” is the installation, “No Man’s Land.” Centrally located in the gallery and to which the paintings face, the work is composed of barbed and razor wires made of paper. This is the “trench” which the paintings confront: the critical point of reckoning of whether to move forward or to retreat, the ultimate test of courage when one, as Abing puts it, “takes on fear and uncertainty if you wander in the no man’s land.”
Open Trench is a timely exhibition as the world enters a period of instability, rocked further by the global pandemic. As new superpowers emerge, new countries gain access to nuclear weapons, and a significant portion of the world’s investment continues to pour into militarization (rather than to the more pressing crises, such as climate change and combatting a still-raging coronavirus), conflicts will erupt, people will suffer, and the world will spiral into hopelessness. Through grim images of a probable conflict-ridden future, Abing underscores how wars are games people cannot afford to play.
-Carlomar Arcangel Daoana