March 27 - April 17, 2021
The Omnipresence of Salt
In his solo exhibition, Salt, Hersley Casero traces the contours of the pandemic life not through the usual images associated with it, such as masks and shields, but in a more oblique, metaphorical way. The artist’s symbol of choice is salt: the ubiquitous element present in our bodies as mortal beings and the larger bodies of the world’s oceans; in the food we consume and share as well as in the hulking landscapes our eyes devour in a moment of wonder. It’s as if, in this period of isolation, cocooning, and contemplation, we are stripped down to our elementary essences, as we bear our unique and collective gifts that continue to have meaning as the clamor of the world is momentarily stopped.
Rendered in sepia, which has become part of the artist’s visual philosophy to convey the passage of time as well as the opportune light of a golden day by the sea, the paintings depict figures, either as solitary, a pair, or a group, represented with the tell-tale treasures of the shore: the shell of a hermit crab, the iridescent stone holed by nature, the mineral alluded to the title. They are stand-in for all of us grappling with the so-called new normal, who may find rootedness during quarantine or be spurred by it to embark on a journey. Each of the figures bears an item that identifies their pursuit: a potted plant, which represents how people have found renewed solace in the company of greenery, or a camera, the thumb ready and trained on the shutter.
In one work, “This Too Shall Pass,” people are huddled together under a tarpaulin—a makeshift roof—as rain pours its silver pellets. This is Casero’s view of an expanded community, not only composed of human beings but the rest of creation: from insects to fishes to birds to companion animals. While the context of the work may be read against the pandemic, that whatever currently assails us will relent and usher the arrival of dawn, it may also gesture at a more universal approach to the world’s other—and possibly more pressing—problems, such as unimpeded capitalism, climate change, and environmental degradation. We are all in this together, the painting says, and by “we” it means the inclusion of the silent stakeholders whose existence relies in the good health of the planet.
An iteration for this expanded community is the installation which features a collection of rocks, such as what one can see in a Japanese garden. “Rocks are sand and sand are rocks, all part of the same life cycle, they are each other’s essence,” the artist muses. “When we are together as a community we form a strong rock, but apart we are just shifting sand. Sometimes pressure can make us stronger? But even as strong rocks, we will all just return to the ground as sand one day. We have all heard the story that compares a man who built his house on the sand and a man who built his house on the rock. If we relate this story to current times, the rock could represent the coming together of people as a community to survive both physically and mentally, and those left on the side-lines or isolated may feel like vulnerable sand…We are all tiny people, nobodies, vulnerable, but together, we are rocks, islands, the Earth.”
Salt is Casero’s heartfelt call for mindfulness, activated by what unites us as species on a fundamental level, signified by the sprinkle of salt in the paintings, the element traceable in our blood and our tears, central to our home and the home of the rest of creation. (In the Philippines, salt as in “asin” is a word basically shared by all the languages and dialects.) “In a close-knit community and in a time of uncertainty and need,” Casero states, “the way we adapt, persevere, and treat other people will come back around and affect our quality of life during this time.”
-Carlomar Arcangel Daoana