Saturday, January 13, 2018, 6 pm

January 13 to February 10, 2018 

Mark Salvatus: Salvage Projects

Mark Salvatus is always on the move. He travels between different media – from installations to photography, from video to ephemeral sculptures. And he lives and works between Manila (Philippines), Osaka (Japan) and other locations around the globe where he temporarily touches ground for artist-in-residencies and exhibitions. Salvatus’ life and work are intricately intertwined. En route, from Manila where his everyday life and artistic practice are grounded and on his way to another detour, he collects and adds traces and markers in/of the in-between cracks. The movement of time and the moving of/across spatial boundaries, between the mundane and the global, has been part and parcel throughout his career over the past decade. For the current solo show, Salvatus looks back as well as forward to continue the project he started back in 2006: Salvage Projects.

A megalopolis – such as Metro Manila – is built over generations by many human hands. However, and this is the question, can a megalopolis offer a home to us? The city speaks in a cacophony of fleeting tongues. Can we catch the drift of urban voices and noises? Do we ignore it? Do we attempt to mute the city? Can we attune ourselves to the blasts and blares, and, perhaps, even see beauty in the pulsating sounds of our cities? Distant sirens, blasting boom boxes, horns galore, whispers and screeches, firecrackers and gunshots – some of the markings of urban territory.

Meanwhile, spaces, places and bodies leave traces on our bodies – and, obviously, the other way around as well – traces of grand narratives and intimate memories, distorted, appropriated, repackaged or otherwise. Stories we are told about our cities have been and will be retold and reframed many times over. The itinerant artist Mark Salvatus made it his life’s work to explore the streets in attempts to hear and gather fragments of stories and to add some more stories.

Salvatus is often on the move, shifting work modes, adapting to different environments, which amplifies confusion-as-method, a method he learned after he moved from his Lucban – his place of birth – to Manila: Manila’s streets were confusing to the artist-as-a-young-man, which pushed him to unravel the questions that startled the artist. Traveling – to and from, in-between departure and arrival – is part of his process by utilizing it as a take-off point in conceptualizing projects. This transient lab offers him the chance to practice art in a more spontaneous trial-and-error manner.

Cities can be confusing places. But for Salvatus, confusion raises a whole range of questions. And he isn’t so much in search for definite answers to these questions; rather, he attempts to bring these questions in focus by walking the streets, by talking – serious in tone or in jest – to people by collecting debris such as receipts, paper cups, tags and other traces from the cracks of our cities. Therefore, confusion isn’t to be confused with a need for certainty. This, on the other hand, doesn’t mean he starts without a plan, but he allows the plan to change along the way. All in all, Salvatus’ way of living and working is very much an open-ended process, which befits our cities as cities are open-ended: we never quite finish building our cities as long as life remains (if we, for some reason, would collectively pick up our bags and leave, the city would turn into rubbles rather quickly).

Mark Salvatus salvages traces and marks to save and retune memories and narratives. And the fragments he gathers from the cracks, he uses to assemble his very own narrations, focusing on remembrance, which are personal as well as political. However, his work isn’t political in the sense of offering ideological solutions to all social ills in one grand sweep. It is subtly political in the sense that it shows the questions that are at stake for us personally concerning our built environment and its overlapping histories of societal complexities, mundane and otherwise.

Salvatus artistic practice – including exhibition-making – is thus very much characterized by movement. With a healthy dose of humor, he thinks on his feet to utilize detours and loops (both in terms of space and time). For this exhibition, he decided to look back to look forward and to do so he shows previous works, which are restaged and/or reworked, alongside new works.

Weakest Link (2011) is a site-specific floor installation of key chains to create a map of which the shape continues to change when people accidently or purposefully step on or kick the chain. This map of sorts deals with hard yet porous borders that are continuously drawn and redrawn. Codes (2017-2018) is part of a series the artist started back in 2007. For this series, he collects maps from different cities he visits; subsequently, he erases all textual information leaving only the graphic quality. While the design of maps continuously changes, what remains is that they are used to simplify the use of space and its imagined borders.

Scratchings (2017-2018), a series of acrylic paintings and packages of consumer products, deals with intentional cracks and scratches. For Haiku (2012) the artist photographed and collected tags in different cities during his travels in Japan, United States of America, Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Street art is globally the largest art movement, and graffiti is part of the urban language around the globe. The universality of these writings on the walls is like code we could try to decipher.

Tracings (2018) revolves around the relationships between the body and architecture, both in terms of the everyday and the ideological. For this work, Salvatus invited ‘parkour’ practitioners to engage with three significant buildings constructed in the seventies during the ‘New Society’ period – namely the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Film Center and the Folk Arts Theater. The term ‘parkour’ comes from the French ‘parcours’ denoting route or course. ‘Parkour’ focuses on going from point to point by passing obstacles as quickly as possible without the use of equipment other the body. By inviting ‘parkour’ practitioners to engage with these three constructions, Salvatus aims to unearth new relationships of movement to confront questions of struggle between the body, architecture and ideas relating to these two.

Human Conditioned (2018), first conceived during his stay in Gwangju in 2017, is inspired by René Magritte’s La condition humaine (The Human Condition). In Gwangju, Salvatus used Google Maps to navigate around the city. And he collected (traces of) bodies present on Google Maps. The ghostly presence of bodies on digital maps marks an intricate relationship between the physical and digital body. And Galaw-Galaw (2017) is a series of photographs taken from the exterior of the main transportation mode in Metro Manila: the ubiquitous jeepney. Using airbrush techniques, Salvatus focuses on the family members of the drivers. He animated these portraits full of energy. ‘Galaw-Galaw’ is a Tagalog term jeepney drivers use to demand passengers to move to create more seating space.

Galaw-Galaw! Move move!

Roy Voragen