Via Pulchritudinis (The Way of Beauty)
Pulchrum (beauty) is one of the facets of life that humanize humanity. It points to the transcendence of men and women: of perils, frailties, dusk; of bliss, triumphs, dawn; and in between the two is the humdrum of ordinary life. Because it points to people’s everyday life that art shines all the more. What is abstract has become something familiar. And what appears to be a distant radiance has become grounded on reality. There is then a connection made that is not only terrestrial, but ambrosial. By engaging in that which has made homos sapiens sapiens a person, there comes alive a distinct way of living. After all it is not only about survival but of spirit found in flesh.
It is in this inherent beauty found in art that the Church has relied upon it in her propagation of the faith and work of evangelization. The irresistible path of art, via pulchritudinis (the way of beauty), with the immediate dazzle it effectuates upon the viewer, has extended the warmth of the divine, and thereby, has brought numerous people to the bosom of the Church. With its transcendental character, art is able to lift a soul beyond the portals of senses and, consequently, serves as an invitation to discover, or re-discover, the divine.
San Sebastian Basilica, the only Neo-Gothic all-metal church in the country, plays religiously well its role to be a teacher and a sanctuary to its faithful. It shows forth a long history of the intertwining of the art and of the faith. Having first built in 1621 by the Augustinian Recollects to house the famous icon of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, it has gone re-construction four times already. The present basilica, which was built in 1881 and designed by Engineer Genaro Palacios, is now considered to be one of the largest all-metal churches in the entire world. In 1890, the Church was declared by Pope Leo XIII as a basilica, and in 1975, it was declared by Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin to be a parish as well.
Wanting to preserve the Basilica for posterity, the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation, established in 2010, has spearheaded the sustainable preservation project for the church. In line with this, the Foundation teamed up with Reredos, an artist collective that depicts realities with a philosophical-theological bent in various art media, to come up with a Rust-to-Art Exhibit entitled “Belleza del Carmen” that runs from May 5 to July 16, 2018 at the First Floor Convent Lobby of the Basilica.
The Reredos artists see it as an honor to participate in this exhibit that makes use of rust coming from the basilica. They believe in the indispensable role of art as a genuine path to God, who is the source of all beauty. Being artists themselves, they have experienced the powerful effect of art in one’s faith. That through art, the viewer is invited to dive into oneself and seek passionately the answers to some fundamental questions on man, existence, religion – those topics that breathe meaning into one’s life.
Through this exhibit, the Reredos artists humbly portray a testament on how faith, beauty and art can be interwoven elegantly – to demonstrate that anything that is of beauty can trigger or even bolster one’s sweet ethereal journey.
Lora Ledesma’s use of rust in her artwork symbolizes the infinite value of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. Her piece is casted in silicone infused with the rust of San Sebastian Basilica, a representation of the Church. Thus, the piece interprets the salvific relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church. It is San Sebastian Basilica. It is Jesus. It is His Church. It is His Cross.
Pia Soriano, who used the pulverized rust as pigments in her works, shares that “an exhibit that is able to evoke something in the viewer that points to the divine, and one that can contribute to the restoration of the basilica is where passion and purpose meet”. She views the utilization of rust in her artworks as something that reminds of the impermanence of temporal life and of the eternity of the human soul. Likewise, the use of rust also points to the physical structure of the church. However, while the things of this world eventually decay, the metaphysical aspect of the church remains timeless in the sense that it is comprised of the Church militant, suffering, and triumphant.
Marionne Contreras treated the rust as an object of divinity, and used it like an amulet of sorts that one keeps close for consolation. She did not tamper with the rust’s character, and incorporated it in her works as it is. Her works show how earth-bound bodies find true repose in the divine amid the anguish and anxiety brought about by the imminent consequences of mortality.
Jood Clarino demonstrates his reverence to the divine by how detailed the art process he followed to come up with his artwork. He employed a cut stencil image of San Sebastian Church and of the Image of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. He mixed the fine rust in gesso paste and primer paint as the base coat of the painting, and thereby enhanced the base coat with rust colors using spray paints. He then transferred the stencil design on the canvas using spray paint while the paint was still soft, and covered the painting with gold dust mixed with fine rust. He then removed the excess powder and rust by putting the painting in a vertical position.
Dennis Bato made a sculpture mold layered with cloth hardened by polyester resin and coated it with powdered rust. For him, this representation “depicts age that slowly accumulates through time”. It shows the agelessness of the Church, taking note of the promise of Jesus to St. Peter of looking after his flock. The rust layer also represents questions and doubts that may arise from inner selves, but the foundation, the faith, is “still visible and still cast an image that guides, which is portrayed by the form’s silhouette”.
Vincent Balandra’s compositions involve important figures and elements done totally in rust. As much as possible, he tried to incorporate the rust in his works without making any change in its appearance – exerting much care not to overpaint it, or if it was overpainted, he ensured that he still left a lot of its rustic character. The rust signifies for him a “a stain in the soul” because of sin; and so, it also pertains to the “brokenness of man”. As such, his artworks portray the purging of one’s soul in order to repair the brokenness that there is in man. His work entitled “Metanoia” represents a man that is undergoing an almost hellish experience, but still under God’s grace. “The Unknown Saint” depicts a subject that can be anyone of us. It refers to the call to sainthood, an invitation for deep conversion. It shows that each one is an unfinished saint. The “I am Golgotha” shows that in spite of the several crosses that a person has to endure, the soul is actually flooded with grace.
Juan Alcazaren mixed the old iron rust from the basilica in the shape of a heart, that of St. Sebastian. His faith protected his heart from the persecutors’ arrows. Steel crosses rusted by today’s environment lift the heart in a spire. This suggests how people have to build upon the gains of martyrs – from olden times to modern era – with each one’s little death to pride and convenience.
Dasig pulverized the rust materials in same consistency and applied it like a powder. For him, handling the material proved to be heavy and difficult, impregnated with confusion. To overcome this difficulty, the artist resorted to praying. He asked this question that guided him – “Lord, will I make others pray with this work?” – and offered it up to the Lord, “Let me do it for You.” He sees the rust significantly as a prayer in disguise, and he hopes that, through his work, he is able to give justice to the love of God.
RENATO BARJA JR.
Renato Barja Jr. got interested to join this exhibit when his friend Vincent, another artist-collaborator in this show, started talking to him about the concept. He immediately thought of his father who succumbed to death three years ago due to cancer. Thereafter, he saw the specific material in use, the rust, as something that signifies the deterioration of things that people try to hold on to. If proper care is not observed, the elements of corrosion will take over the essential things in life such as faith. Earthly elements and appetites will take over the soul until such time that the deterioration is already beyond the individual’s control. In creating his pieces, he poured a generous amount of PVA glue on the acrylic painting and strained the rust to get the purest and the powder-like form of the rust for the first layer. Upon getting dried up, he added another layer of industrial glue and placed some chunks of rust on top of it, and covered it with acrylic emulsion to seal the rust so that he could paint on it again. With his works, the artist shows the close connection of earthly life to eternity.
Paolo Icasas’ works utilized the rust as the main medium. It was laid on paper, to which enough water was added for its pigments to spread. The image was then made with a spoon with the pattern the rust made as the base. The works are about beginnings and ends; how even grand creations, both natural and man-made, change and deteriorate with time. As a product of deterioration, the rust may be seen as something in a useless state, but it becomes rust by humbly serving a purpose. By creating something from it, it is celebrated and given a new life.
Michael Muñoz, the one who heads the group, considers the rust as an object in itself. Rust flakes were mounted on frames by melting beeswax as a medium, and as the latter dried up, the flakes were embedded on the hardened beeswax. He considers the rust as a relic in itself as it represents the physical church, the San Sebastian Basilica, that is composed of all the faithful of the Church throughout time. By also embedding the rust in the architectural plans of the basilica that are engraved on wood, he is able to create an artistic piece that symbolizes the Church both in matter and in form.
OTHER PHOTOS FROM THE LAUNCH
All photos by Jeff Pascual
Art exhibit statement by Pia Lorenzo
San Sebastian Basilica is located at Pasaje del Carmen St, Quiapo, Manila, 1001 Metro Manila.