Art, theatre and the macabre: Gabriel Barredo’s “Opera” in Singapore

Fililipino artist Gabriel Barredo brings his latest immersive installation to Singapore.

“Opera” by Gabriel Barredo displays the artist’s typical theatrical style, juxtaposing elements of the sacred and the profane, of life and death to create a fascinatingly grotesque ode to the human body, its birth and its end.

Gabriel Barredo, "Opera", 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Gabriel Barredo, “Opera”, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

First exhibited in Manila in January 2015, Gabriel Barredo’s latest project “Opera” is on view at Artspace@Helutrans from 20 to 28 November 2015, courtesy of Silverlens gallery, coinciding with the opening of the National Gallery Singapore on 24 November. For this large-scale, multisensory theatrical installation Barredo collaborated with musician Malek Lopez and videographer Jason Tam.

Gabriel Barredo, "Opera", 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Gabriel Barredo, “Opera”, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Art and theatre: a macabre opera

A pioneer of kinetic art in the Philippines, Gabriel Barredo (b. 1957) combines found objects, sculptures, light, music and site-specific works to create a complete, immersive experience that crosses the boundaries between theatre and art. In a video interview with Silverlens, Barredo explains:

It’s very theatrical. […] when you walk in it’s not just staring at the work, it’s not limited to just a flat painting on the wall. It could be a lot more. […] it embraces you. […] this is more literal, you are involved with the whole set up. It’s important that I get the total effect, the music, the lighting, the elements… they all belong together. And without that effect, I don’t think I would be able to capture what I am trying to say… The reality of life and death. I mean, it’s so obvious. You know, we are all going to make it there.

Gabriel Barredo, "Opera", 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Gabriel Barredo, “Opera”, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Barredo’s motto, as quoted in the exhibition press release is: “I want audiences to have palpitations.” Barredo’s dystopic, morbid environments induce the kind of palpitations experienced when watching sci-fi thrillers or horror films. The artist’s creativity displays a fascination with death; as Artsy puts it, he has developed “a reputation for his dark, macabre sensibilities”. Barredo does not shy away from representing details of organs, bodily parts and environments recalling experiment laboratories, freak accidents, morgues and catacombs.

Gabriel Barredo, "Opera", 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Gabriel Barredo, “Opera”, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Silverlens describes “Opera” as “a beautiful place of mystery, fascination, and humans in their most fragile states”. 39,000 screaming miniature white faces hang on a wall shaped on Japanese Butoh dance style masks, while a woman with multiple faces and a patched up body lies on an operating table. Foetuses hang from the ceiling, flayed corpses made of red twine and pantyhoses hover in mid-air, and sculptures recalling organs punctuate the space.

Gabriel Barredo, "Opera", 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Gabriel Barredo, “Opera”, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

A child with a large camera lens in place of a face – and whose torso opens up like a robot’s – displays a red brain inside its thoracic cavity. Syringes arranged into circular patterns recall sun worship totems as well as torture devices, while a series of eyeballs gaze through slits in a white canvas hanging on the wall like a collection in a cabinet of curiosities.

Click here to watch Silverlens Portraits: Gabriel Barredo on Vimeo

Lucid dreaming through art

In an interview (PDF download) with Pipeline, Barredo talks about how dreams are an important inspirational stimulus and a pivotal aspect of his creative process:

[…] ever since I was a little boy, I liked to understand how things worked, and I wanted to experience them from within – animals, objects and humans alike. I see beauty elsewhere: in the inside, the hidden. […] But life is really bizarre, reality is a dream. The things we do as men are surreal; the rational part is to accept the bizarre. Many people are just going through the motions in life. For years I used to journal my dreams; I even wanted to
 do a show based on a dream about seven years ago. I had entered this new fantastic dreamworld of transvestites à la Moulin Rouge: very dramatic. […] Sometimes when I am waking up, I still want to finish the dream I am having, and I refuse to wake until it is finished. I allow it to grow. I make a point to do so: I poke at my dreams. But with some of them, I feel I should stop – I force myself to stop.

Gabriel Barredo, "Opera", 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Gabriel Barredo, “Opera”, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

But although his dreams can affect him all day, Barredo really dwells on experiences forever – the kinds that he creates for his audiences to live. Barredo’s latest installation lies in between a lucid dream and a waking nightmare, human and alien anatomical studies, science and sci-fi experiments. The artist asks:

If the sleep of reason breeds monsters, then what would its total death produce in its wake?

The abundance of references to surgery procedures and other surgical elements points to the disquieting origin of the installation’s title, “Opera”, which does not come from the poetic, melodramatic genre of classical music.

Gabriel Barredo, "Opera", 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Gabriel Barredo, “Opera”, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

The absence of any opera music also leads to the realisation that it has nothing to do with music, although it has a lot to do with the theatrical aspect of the genre. “Opera”, which derives from the Latin root meaning ‘labour’ or ‘composition’, here more aptly refers to its definition as ‘the act of performing a surgical operation’. There is no music in the melodic sense, in the installation, except for harmoniously dissonant and spectral avant-garde arrangements of industrial-like noises that seem to pulsate out of the corpses and the experimental devices on show.

Gabriel Barredo, "Opera", 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Gabriel Barredo, “Opera”, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Barredo says in the video interview with Silverlens that his musical inspiration comes from listening to American avant-garde composer George Crumb (b. 1929), and especially his 1972 opus. The only resulting installation’s soundtrack has the sound of “melancholy” and the perceptible ticking of clocks – an ominous accompaniment that relentlessly marks the passing of time, and ultimately reminds us of the inevitable cycle of life and death. What remains of the operatic genre in Barredo’s installation is the dramatic element – its stage setting – which has inspired Ballet Philippines in preparing a contemporary ballet re-interpretation of “Opera” for 2016, entitled “Opera: A Rebirth in Arabesque”.

In its review of the exhibition, Artsy describes Barredo’s latest project thus:

Barredo’s exhibition resembled a mixture of a mausoleum and a laboratory, integrating the corporeal, medical, and psychological components of death. […] Barredo mixes the secular with the evangelical, imagining a space where autopsy meets immortality […].

Click here to watch a video of Gabriel Barredo’s “Opera” at Silverlens on Vimeo

An immersive art experience

In 2013, Barredo drew a huge amount of attention for his immersive work “Asphalt” (YouTube video), which occupied a whole parking lot at Art Fair Philippines 2013. The artist concocted an installation populated by myriad found objects, skilfully arranged and transformed to create an environment that mixed different formal languages and various cultural contexts.

Biological components, the wind, lights, toys and pop culture objects, sharp metal components, and elements from English and Catholic culture were combined in one, forming a juxtaposition of the intriguing and the grotesque.

Gabriel Barredo, "Opera", 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Gabriel Barredo, “Opera”, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Silverlens.

Two years on, with “Opera”, Barredo re-affirms himself as a modern-day Dr Frankenstein, with an unsettling style interweaving opposing elements that eerily remind us of the crudest aspects of reality. Barredo’s work makes us realise how little we know of and how much we fear confronting our own being – be it physical or spiritual – and the idea of death. Silverlens writes about “Opera”:

Gabriel Barredo […] invites us to view the body itself, asking us to confront the mortality of the corpse, to contemplate upon its passing and empathize if not make sense of its beauty. The processes of decay and its transformative power are presented with a forensic pathologist’s obsession to detail and an evangelical’s imagination for the fantastic that one can almost smell the scent of formaldehyde as much as the burning of candles.

 C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Filipino artists, gallery shows, art and the human body, installation, site-specific, events in Singapore

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