10 photographers explore separation and togetherness in Vetro’s newest exhibit.
Two years ago, photographer Emman Peregrin witnessed how separation can result in its exact opposite by bringing people together.
It happened after a death in the family. Iluminada Rodriguez, the maternal grandmother who raised him, passed away after a lengthy battle with stroke-related complications. Her death came on September 3, 2016, and ever since then, his family hasn’t been the same.
“We’ve actually gotten a lot closer,” he said. “When she was alive, my mother, father, sister and I used to keep to ourselves. But ever since my grandmother died, I think we all realized that life is too short to not cherish what we have. I have my family. And I now make it a point to not take them for granted.”
It was a Thursday evening when he said this; no more than a couple of days have passed since the second anniversary of Rodriguez’s passing. Peregrin was wearing a tight-fitting shirt and beneath it, just above his left nipple, is a circular tattoo featuring her full name with the words “No Goodbyes. Until we meet again.”
“She meant everything to me,” he said, “she took care of me and supported me as well as she could so her death was really a huge blow.” These days, however, he resolves that, like a lot of tragedies in life, the passing of his grandmother came with a silver lining.
“It united people,” he said.
And now, two years after her it, her death has once again done the same thing. This time around, it has affected 10 photographers including (Peregrin himself) and the end result is “In/Separable,” the latest exhibit of Congressional Avenue’s gallery, Vetro.
“It’s not about her,” he clarified. “But it is still inspired by her and the things I learned because of her death.”
To be shown from September 18 to the middle of October, In/Separable is an exploration of the themes “separation” and “togetherness.” Conceptualized and managed by Peregrin after he was invited by Vetro to exhibit, the roughly month-long show is something of a spiritual successor to “SEPANX,” a photo-series he is currently pursuing to document his family’s recovery from his grandmother’s death.
“We just expanded on that idea,” he said. And with the involvement of nine other photographers, it has gone beyond personal matters to tackle the realities of our time. For instance, the great irony that in this age of hyperconnectivity, people physically close to each other can be so distant.
“We see that a lot these days,” he said. “People are physically together but because they’re more invested in whatever their gadgets are feeding them, they’re not really connecting. Meanwhile, there are people physically far apart but it’s like distance doesn’t matter. That’s just one of the things this exhibit wants to explore.”
Peregrin touches upon that with “Prayer Before Meal,” the image he contributed to the show. Printed on polyester canvas to make the final product look more like a painting than a photo, the 4.5 x 3 frame is a staged commentary on the socio-political and socio-cultural climate of the Philippines as rendered by the information age. A reference to Leonard Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” this “meal”—instead of featuring the 12 apostles and Jesus Christ—captures 12 people representing the consequences of our advances in the field of communication and a hauntingly empty middle chair.
“Ultimately, it is a depiction of distance,” so it is written on his artist statement, “distance ironically created at the height of connectivity.”
Peregrin isn’t the only one who delved into the socio-political for this showcase though. His fellow exhibitor Anna Karenina Glinoga also went on that direction with “Gubatnon-Mangyan Tribe.” “Through the lens, the native should not be held captive,” says her artist statement. And with this collection, she lives up to those words. Composed of candid photos telling the story of the Mindoro tribe—their traditions and their current way of life—she unveils the guardianship of their culture and the preservation of their ancestral land. The work, therefore, ends up inadvertently presenting them as “vanguards against modernity’s encroachment.”
Personal documentation is also present in the exhibit. An example of these are the works of Gio Dionisio and Mikki Luistro. Dionisio’s work, for starters, explores his physical separation from friends he once shared a living space in Congressional with. Meanwhile, Luistro’s “My Father, My Mother,” somewhat mirrors Peregrin’s “SEPANX” with an unabashed visual journal containing family photos, framed in a way that resembles pictures displayed on one’s living room. A personal journey, Luistro checks up on his family following his mother’s cancer-related death to find a father’s quiet resiliency and wordless love.
“We have a lot of that in this exhibit,” said Peregrin. “When I was reading the artist statements I got, I realized that our chosen photographers have a lot to say about their family.” And adding to that chorus, albeit in a more flamboyant fashion, is Christian Babista.
With his collection, “If You Leave,” Babista used multiple exposures to put noise over otherwise solid images in an attempt to express his grief over the deaths of his grandparents and his father. Through the four images that make up his contribution, he aggressively explores the fundamental questions people tend to ask when they lose someone dear to them.
“How do we really move on from this?” so his artist statement inquired. “How can someone pull themselves from this heartache?”
These, however, aren’t the only questions raised in the exhibit. Photographers Leah De Leon and Greg Mayo ask in unison a query of their own: where can one find peace in a world now noisy with information? As a photographer for travel and lifestyle magazines, De Leon sought to ask this question through two images taken during one of her coverages in a beachfront. Printed on cloth taller than her diminutive frame, the diptych entitled “Sacred Space” covers her hunt for peace in the midst of work.
“As I present this piece to you,” she said, “I do so hoping that I can lead you back to your sacred space—the peace in the midst of all your chaos; the silence in between the multitude of notes making up the noise of our very existence.”
Mayo, on the other hand, presents his search with “Horizon,” a collection aptly composed of triangular images featuring various skylines. As a commercial photographer constantly hounded by matters of work even on sojourns away from the capital, he tries to capture the beauty in his frustration.
“Calls, texts, and emails – that’s how demanding this work is,” his artist statement claimed. “Work is just at the other side of the horizon.”
As of the writing of this feature, plans for Mayo’s work have yet to be finalized. According to De Leon who was at Vetro during the ingress for the exhibit, the triangular photos were supposed to represent teeth; plans to, therefore, align them as such have been made. However, the gallery’s manager, Indy Paredes, also looked into the possibility of tapping the symmetry of the horizons in the photos while he considered arranging them in a circular pattern. Regardless of the gallery’s final decision, Mayo’s contribution will be a non-traditional presentation of work and it will not be the only one. Among the exhibitors for this collection, after all, is Mariano Batocabe.
Through his piece, “Things We Cannot Say if We Have to Shout,” the subject is featured clasping his hands behind his back, a gesture that can be interpreted either as a show of surrender or hubris. Pieces of the image were cut out and according to Peregrin, there are plans to have these scattered around a particular area.
“Maybe over there,” he said during the ingress, pointing to one of the corners of the gallery’s glassy interiors. And while he said this, a fellow photographer was completing the set up for another non-traditional showcase.
His name is Mathieu Padilla and his work is called “On Transience.” Talking about the beauty of impermanence in his artist statement, Padilla initially intended to print on dried leaves. Scheduling problems, however, prevented him from getting the right kind of leaves in time so he was forced him to adjust. This decision left him with a plethora of nearly similar cyanotype prints of the same subject; their mostly minuscule differences from each complement the Sigmund Freud quote he left on his artist statement: “The beauty of human form and face vanish forever in the course of our own lives,” it quoted. “But their evanescence only lends them a fresh charm.”
“I think it came to this point because I didn’t impose too many limitations on the group,” said Peregrin. “When I introduced the concept to the exhibitors, I didn’t really give a lot of restrictions on how they can express themselves. They asked ‘how many prints? What are the limits?’ And I left it up to them.” People also asked him if the works have to be colored and when he refused to give restrictions on that as well, the photos of Alyssa Monique Baluyot found a place in the collection.
Featuring the intimate black and white photos of a subject casting her shadow, white masks surrounded by darkness and wilted flowers on youthful hands, Baluyot’s work surmises, ironically, that life isn’t black and white.
“I wanted to see the beauty and horrors of life as it is,” she said in her statement. “To learn not to just always look at the bright side but to see both. I wanted to have that kind of acceptance…”
And this acceptance of life’s dualities really is what the exhibit is mostly about.
Showcasing about 30 works from various artists, In/Separable is a project that seeks to highlight the necessity of contrasts, how there are things that are best defined by knowing what they are not. After all, one cannot fully understand or appreciate one of its main concepts, “togetherness,” without its counterpart (separation.) Concurrently, one might not strive to make the most out of life if one is unaware of death’s eventuality. “We all have to face mortality at some point,” Peregrin said, his hand chopping air the same way the dash on the exhibit’s title divides the “In” and the “Separable.” “This is something I realized when my grandmother died,” he added. And now he believes that he is a better man because of it.
“Before, I used to prioritize work over family,” he said, referring to his day job as a freelance photojournalist. “Even when my grandmother was sick, I would go off and do assignments and part of me regrets not spending more time with her.” Now, his priorities are different. “Whenever there’s a family function, I tend to drop everything work-related to be there,” he shared. “I don’t think I’ll be like this if she was still alive.” Furthermore, In/Separable wouldn’t have been conceived, at least not by him, since he wouldn’t have had the inspiration for it.
But, “she is gone,” he said, and this exhibit exists because of that.