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Celine Lee and Miguel Lorenzo Uy on Complexity, Continuity and Finality in Art

by James Tana
Nov 23, 2022

(SPOT.ph) Entering the slightly dimmed exhibition space of Finale Art File Gallery, the artworks illuminate through the gleams on their surface: projection on a reflectorized screen, astral images printed on aluminum with mirrored stainless steel framing, mosaic-like images printed on glass to cast light that resembles a cosmic ball, and seemingly hovering sculptural cube made of metal barricades melded with copper. The two man-exhibition A Past, A Future reflects the philosophical and artistic attitudes of Miguel Lorenzo Uy and Celine Lee towards art-making. It runs until December 5 at the Finale Art File Gallery in Makati City.

Celine Lee
Celine Lee
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
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"The way I approach art or in general, parang continuously nag-iexplore lang talaga ako. Kumbaga hindi ako like fixed on [a] material or a medium kasi parang once I stick to one material or medium somehow parang na-box ka na doon. I feel like doon ko nalalaro yong creativity ko," says Lee in an artist profile interview with SPOT.ph.

Miguel Lorenzo Uy
Miguel Lorenzo Uy
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
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"Nakikita ko ‘yong art and art-making na para siyang lens to view and understand life. So mas nahihirapan [pag] like nasta-stuck ako sa isang medium… Along the way sobrang daming mong natutuhan, nariri-realize. Siyempre malaki rin ‘yong chance na mag-shift ‘yong interest mo," explains Uy.

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A Past, A Future exhibition at Finale Art File PHOTO: Christine Chung

Visually translating ideas and intent from one medium to another 

For Lee, the conceptual premise of an artwork may be intrinsically integrated with its medium or visual component to simplify a complex idea. She emphasizes that the materiality of a work provides "visual cues" that could be key to understanding its primary essence and meaning. 

"[May] materiality rin ako sa body of work ko. Kunwari rice paper and abaca paper, ‘yong immediate [context] kung saan sila nanggaling. Gumamit ako ng mga material na sana straightforward, kunwari ano ba ibig sabihin niya," shares Lee, pertaining to her third solo presentation A Surface (2019, MO_Space) where she transferred vector graphs onto materials such as aluminum, abaca sheets, and handmade paper through etching and casting to make visual references to the topography between China and the Philippines.

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 “A Portrait of a Sun” by Celine Lee
"A Portrait of a Sun" by Celine Lee
PHOTO BY Christine Chung

Uy, on the other hand, finds strong connections in the medium and themes that he responded to early in his practice and at present. His first solo, Adding Negatives (2018, Art Underground), explored the function and nature of light through images that were formed using sunlight and digital negatives. In Wind, and water (2019, District Gallery), Uy featured a single-channel video, a light sculpture, and paintings that illustrate photographic moments to present the possibility of truths being altered. 

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"Actually first idea na ini-explore ko sa art is religious belief and light ‘yong naging manifestation tapos napunta na sa tech. Na-keep pa rin ‘yong light element dahil sa screen which is a source of light din. Symbolically, ‘yong light nakaka-blind siya minsan, tapos minsan nakaka-enlighten din siya. Ganoon nakikita ko parang sa screen," says Uy.

 “Astral Prison” by Miguel Lorenzo Uy
"Astral Prison" by Miguel Lorenzo Uy
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
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Lee and Uy’s maturity as artists is evident in their discerning and sophisticated manner of producing and presenting art. Their second collaboration A Past, A Future alludes to a text by French sociologist Jean Baudrillard and his concept of a society without a past and a future. However, the artists argue as suggested by the exhibition title that the past is not precedent to the future, and the future is not a subsequent occurrence of the past; giving gravitas to each timeline. 

 “Copper Vines” by Celine Lee
"Copper Vines" by Celine Lee
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
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“Copper Vines” by Celine Lee
PHOTO BY Christine Chung

"Since science fiction din naman kami naglalaro bakit kailangan maging gano’n din [ang orientation ng barricades], magmukhang directly isang hilera [like in] EDSA. So naisip ko ibang structure, modified structure," says Lee, referring to her sculptural installation "Copper Vines," which is a visual representation of a dystopian setting through the use of copper that appears to be slowly engulfing the metal structure.

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Detail shot “Copper Vines” by Celine Lee
PHOTO BY Christine Chung

In a projection of moving images that strongly speak of masking and manipulation using technology, Uy presents post-processed footage of the architecture of commercial buildings like malls. He then alters parts of it such as the background of the sky with flashes of light and adjusts its pacing to slow motion, weightless as if moving in space.  

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"Parang naisip ko rin siyang parang monolith [screen projection]. ‘Yong works ko in general especially mga video naisip ko sila na medyo sculptural sila lagi… Usually sumasakay ako ng escalator. Hindi siya 3D video talaga siya," he says.

 “Untitled” by Miguel Lorenzo Uy
"Untitled" by Miguel Lorenzo Uy
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
 “Untitled” by Miguel Lorenzo Uy
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
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The particular works were modeled first using computer software before rendering to actual objects—a significant aspect for both artists to achieve accuracy and precision, especially in a high-ceiling gallery that requires them to deal with scale and think through the exhibition space.

PHOTO: Christine Chung

Finality in continuity and the necessity of criticality

Being each other’s critics, Lee and Uy are aware that it takes a different level of comfort to trust someone in giving honest, and sometimes, candid feedback. Lee states that collaboration entails having "communication," "compromise," and "connection" which she admittedly established with Uy by working together on previous projects. 

This very connection and familiarity between them are what make the works in dialogue with each other that is not forced nor incidental. The intersections in their own body of works may be in the form of light albeit not intentionally.

A Past, A Future exhibition, installation with Celine Lee
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
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"Mas nagiging closely related na rin siya in a way to each other’s work ‘yong mga possibly naisip namin… When I worked with mirror[s], I think ‘yon ‘yong directly medyo related na sa kanya dahil sa light and I think he’s done a mirror work before din," Lee elaborates. 

"Kasi line din naman ang light e," adds Uy, talking about how their works share basic elements and both involve science and mathematics.

Finale Art File exhibit
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
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Exhibit at Finale Art File
PHOTO BY Christine Chung

Lee and Uy’s artistic practice proposes that there’s no finality in art but instead it’s continuous experimentation on media and exploration of ideas. As per Lee, manipulation of the material is "integral" in her practice, "Tini-treat ko rin ‘yong art-making na parang chemistry, alchemy. Di mo maiwasan na parang na kahit lang sa pagmix ng paint meron nang manipulation d’on." 

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"Kunwari light [and] shadow, di ba sobrang very basic siya, may physics siyaPaano ko siya masi-simplify tapos paano ko siya iko-complicate kasi gan’on naman art di ba? I mean to a certain extent like some idea[s], paano mo pa siya ipu-poeticize? Hindi mo rin siya marereduce sa sobrang dami ng elements, ng information or what not… Di mo maiwasan na maka-touch [on] ng ibang medium."

A Past, A Future exhibition, installation with Miguel Lorenzo Uy
PHOTO BY Christine Chung
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For Uy, technology allows him to be more flexible in using other media. He shares,”[M]araming ka ring matutuhan, realizations kunwari, nagtri-3D ako may mga ideas ako na puwede ko i-translate to painting [na] related sa 3D rin. 

With the ever-shifting mode of production, it permits openness to concepts at present that propels art to continue to evolve in the past and to offer glimpses (hopefully) of a gleaming future that is fast approaching.

A Past, A Future runs until December 5 at the Finale Art File Gallery, Warehouse 17, La Fuerza Compound (Gate 1), 2241 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City. For more information, visit Finale Art File Gallery's website.

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