Sunday, November 23, 2008

"My Beautiful War" - Quiet Room - Oct 2005

Paper cut-out conflict

My Beautiful War explores warfare and aggression

Jeanne Fronda Staff

The Age of Reason (Duel I) by Paul Robles.

Doilies and warfare belong together. Well, at least Winnipeg artist Paul Robles seems to think so.

Born in the Philippines and raised in Canada, Robles is known for exploring subjects like identity and race. His current exhibition, My Beautiful War, which is currently showing at the Quiet Room Gallery, is a refreshing and unusual collection of paper cut-outs that can make viewers feel rather uneasy. But that’s really the point.

The foundation of these pieces is to go against tradition, and Robles’ cutting of origami paper — paper that is traditionally folded — to create art would be shunned by origami purists. From the origami paper, Robles has crafted seven pieces that explore aggression, the perversion of war and male identity.

One of the pieces, “The Age of Reason (Duel I),” features two males facing one another, but each has a gun located at pelvic level. The guns are both aimed at a pink flower that appears to be bleeding blood of the same pinkish hue. Clearly this work is meant to elicit discomfort. An apparent pissing contest, this piece marries the unpleasant idea of war with something as innocuous as a pink flower.

The viewer questions not only the identity of the males in question, but also the reason behind Robles’ choice of a traditionally feminine colour to accompany such a disturbing image. In addition to his “corrupt” use of origami paper, Robles deliberately pairs vibrant colours — pinks, reds, greens, oranges and blues — with black. The figures in his pieces are usually silhouettes whose identities are unclear, and it’s frustrating not to know what one is looking at. Harsh contrasts of colour and theme are recurring sentiments of the exhibition.

The intricate designs of the paper that make portions of the works look like doilies remind viewers of femininity. They also remind viewers that doilies are associated with the job of homemaking, which is, of course, a traditionally female role. It’s truly an odd and interesting idea to attach something so overtly womanly as a flimsy paper doily to visual representations of conflict.

Other works include “The Age of Reason (Duel II),” which is another fighting match in which two men are in conflict. One has a buck’s head emerging from his pelvis, while the other has a snake emerging from his, as if to say, “Hey, why don’t we just measure them and see who’s boss, okay?”

Two other pieces also have plainly visible references to dispute. The meaning behind the red cut-out “Security Munki (The Prisoner)” isn’t completely clear, as the silhouette of a hooded figure standing near a monkey doesn’t seem to communicate much. At first glance, the pointed hood resembles those that are worn by the Ku Klux Klan, but the figure is actually a reference to the U.S. Iraqi war prisoner scandal. Stare at it long enough and you will see that it’s a haunting piece that reminds us of how appalling war can be.

The purple cut-out “Security Munki (Hunters)” is an obvious comment on battle, as one of two men points a rifle at a heart. A monkey seems to be dangling from the rifle’s barrel as if to mock or distract from the conflict.

But some sedate pieces managed to creep into the show. “The Year of the Snake” and “My Beautiful War” are two pieces that lack real movement. The former is simply a grey snake surrounded by some grey and orange flowers, and it doesn’t seem to comment much on battle. The latter is a cut-out of two red birds perched on a branch. (But the work is lovely, as you can see the detail of the snake’s skin and the birds’ feathers.)

One piece seemed a little out of place among all the dark shapes and aimed firearms. “Open Season (Feast of Birds)” is a collage of colourful birds and vegetation surrounding a blue skull that seems to peek-a-boo out of nowhere. The work feels a little claustrophobic due to all the birds and flowers, and the piece doesn’t seem to add much to the show except to stand out as one of the only works that lacks silhouettes.

Though the show isn’t terribly poignant — and you might get a little caught up staring at the phallic images — the contrast between the different colours and shades, and the complex cutting that created such detailed work make this an engaging show.

My Beautiful War runs until Oct. 20 at the Quiet Room Gallery, located in room 111 at St. John’s College. Call 474-8531 for hours of operation.



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