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Ryan Villamael’s “A Paradise Lost” — Silverlens Galleries

I meant to write about this beautiful show by Ryan back when a) I was still in Manila, and b) you could still catch the show in person. However, we all know that I have issues with time and timing, so I suppose this is just a way of looking back at something that I have encountered that is also something that I have yet to let go of.


Ryan Villamael’s A Paradise Lost is quiet and desolate, and in that desolation, it is also deceptively sparse. Most of the gallery’s massive space is occupied by the makeshift horizon his scrolls of white paper (marked with incisions that recall his more flora-oriented work) make — which according to the notes spans almost 20 meters — and tapers off into a stretch of sand, a man-made island held together by desire and longing. Called “Terrain, After,” the central piece of the show filled me with a very quiet and disconsolate feeling; almost as though there is a desperate attempt at creating a space, a paradise, though not quite being able to. It’s not eerie or unsettling, just kind of a resigned sadness that thrives on relentless dedication in the face of what could be a pointless, infinite pursuit.

With a careful selection of work, Villamael plays with subtlety, relying on the inherent meaning and power of each work to speak volumes, rather than showing off technical skill (which, of course he has in spades) or colour or complexity or quantity and scale. Instead, he falls into the comfort of the shapes and figures that he’s used before and revisits them to say something new.

There are hand-cut images of foliage — made from blueprints of dream houses — contained in houses made of glass and wood, and within these cases, they are delicately preserved, dreams held in stasis and kept as totems. Titled “K.S.A.” and “Hoya” — named after places quite far apart from each other — they hint at distance, and even more so, how intimately tied we can be to the places we inhabit and occupy.

“10°81°75” is a stainless steel piece of die cut maps which, layered over one another, create a new location — a triangulation of a place in which the occupants of all three maps exist together. It is a manifestation of a dream, made real and tangible, and in a way, they become present to the touch, but in another more meaningful manner, the dream is declared even further away.

Still in line with his preoccupations with geography and Philippine history, particularly the elements that constitute these aspects of our lives as we know it, Villamael through A Paradise Lost draws attention to the importance of location to a body and vice versa. Our personal roots and identities, the very way in which our beings come to be, can be shaped in part by what we grow up surrounded by, or sometimes more importantly, by the absence that we learn to live with.

Filed under: Art