Unaverted Gaze: A Look at Wawi Navarroza’s Medusa

The exhibit runs until June 3 at Silverlens Gallery

"Perseus" and "A Feast in the Forest"


(SPOT.ph) In Greek Mythology, Perseus travels to a rocky island called Sarpedon in search of Medusa, the only mortal of the three Gorgon sisters with the ability to turn everything into stone with just a gaze. With help from the gods, Perseus beheads Medusa as he looks at her reflection through his mirrored shield (a gift from Athena).



“The Island”


Artist Wawi Navarroza features several depictions of perhaps her own romanticized version of a tropical Sarpedon: a journey to Romblon, an island known for its rich deposits of marble, a metamorphic rock most commonly associated with Greek sculptures and architecture. Here, the artist finds what would be her muse and material for Medusa, her latest solo exhibition at the Silverlens Gallery.



“Sentinels (turn to stone)”


For much of the past two years, Navarroza traveled back and forth to the tropical island, working with the locals, and understanding the process and poetry that comes with the course of undertaking the material: Marble. She then takes us to a delicate re-imagining of the Greek myth in a tropical setting: a configuration of sorts that alludes to reality and to the abstract that allows us to imagine what might have been the artist’s journey in search of the Philosopher’s Stone.



“Ballad of the Marble Men (the dust won’t settle)”


For this show, the artist also challenges the viewer in considering the differences in depiction—one that has a clear image and one that functions to imply; and yet, both are representations of the material being handled.





Between Reality and Mythology

In her piece “Sentinels (turn to stone),” the artist features a photograph of columns that serve as guardians to the islands, like the Gorgons to their island; a warning in waiting. The “Ballad of the Marble Men (the dust won’t settle),” shows an ensemble of men covered in dust, working and shaping large slabs of stones using traditional and modern tools. This is relative to her piece, “Perseus,” where the Greek hero is now portrayed as a young worker surrounded by several blocks of marble, as if to show how he has conquered his domain. A headless man holding a polished block of marble is seen in “Tabula Rasa,” where the viewers are presented with a clean slate to make what you will of the artist’s observation of the movement of the material.





“A Feast in the Forest”


Undeniably, the piece that attracts the most attention is “A Feast in the Forest,” an installation that consists of a dining set and wares, all made from marble. In this work, the artist invites us to a mythical meal reminiscent of the banquet held by the King Polydectes of Seriphos (one that he devised to separate Perseus from his mother) where the food has turned into stone. Here, the contrast of reality and mythology and of the ancient and the modern, can be observed firmly resting between the majestic stone wares and a marble shaped into a bottle of soda.



"Twelve Heads, n°6"


Traversing into the Abstract

The artist also worked on canvases filled with marble dust as seen in “Twelve Heads,” a series of 12 canvases placed in front of a circular saw used in marble workshops. The reimagined act of the saw cutting through the stone can be compared to the beheading of Medusa, a perspective in which a Gorgon much like of a marble, the dominant mineral in the island, can also be broken down into fragile pieces through intervention, and can be later used as a renewed weapon.



“Collecting Dust, B”


Navarozza also patiently waits for time to intercede in “Collecting Dust,” made up of two canvases placed in a marble workshop and left to accumulate dust. The scene demonstrates movement in a workshop through each fine particle: the labor, the cutting, and the shaping of the stone.


Her fascination with minerals such as marble is not new—in fact, Navarroza’s recent works are drawn, if not directly from the Earth, then, to the elements surrounding it. Previous shows such as Tierra Salvaje (2014) and Ultramar (2013) both discussed the relationship of land, soil, plants, and landscape, with their inhabitants; and re-arranging the perspective to create a rather more sentimental atmosphere. These exhibits are a testament to the artist’s continuous exploration in observing and documenting the world around her, as seen through the process of displacement, movement, and travel.



“Tabula Rasa”


A Renewal of Perspective

In this show, she transforms the rigidity of stone and turns it to its malleable property to convey a story—one that we are well aware of but foreign in origin, to shift our gaze to one that takes place in an island closer to home. The photographs shown in this exhibit are strikingly gorgeous, and yet somehow, they present us with images that cross into the uncanny; viewing something similar and yet unfamiliar. Coincidentally, photography also relates to mirrors, and in this spirit, the artist might as well be the Perseus that she portrays: the hero looking for the Philosopher’s Stone, in a bid to bring the myth to life.


Medusa runs until June 3 at Silverlens, 2263 Don Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati City. For more information, visit Silverlens' website.

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