The events of the year following the Coronavirus pandemic had disrupted mainly our sense of place and time. Every day is a moment of uncertainty and doubt; what we have lost and what shall remain are still unprecedented. There is, however, the urge to navigate through it; between its barriers and limitations.
Renz Baluyot’s “Empire” is a symbolic illustration of what can only be defined as something that runs between mourning and melancholia. Sigmund Freud had written about their distinction in a 1918 essay: in mourning, we can point to a specific location of what has been lost; in melancholia, the loss is shrouded, concealed, and undefined. These befitting words were published amid the Spanish flu, which infected about a third of the world’s population and damaged even the mightiest of empires.
While today’s empires are no longer defined by the grandiosity of their palaces and castles, they never ceased to exist. The works in this exhibition form images of a deranged realm under new domains. In a period when we are forced to live in isolation while our discernment of time and place degrades, how do we make sense of everything? Baluyot points out that, perhaps, the answers are hidden underneath the rubbles and structures at the center of every painting in this exhibition. Subdued colors of rust and concrete emit our relationships to place, and time has become stranded and unmoved, grim and steady.
One of the works presents cylindrical objects stacked up like a temple; its tallest peak could kiss the burnt horizon. Titled “Octavian,” it stands as a prayer or an octet filled with longing and hope. In another, titled “Cradled by Conflict,” the blue sky seems far and beyond reach. Under it rests a discarded staircase with its panels reminiscent of a rocking chair. This moment of precariousness lures us to feel restless, to go back and forth without much movement for we remain steady to keep afloat.
What feels like a repetitive course of time is described in “Across Infinity,” where a structure hints at the infinity sign. Positioned to be lying in the middle of nowhere, it frames the endlessness of being stuck in oblivion. In “Songs for Rosetta,” the ruins of a forgotten edifice are a marker of the past. Perhaps, this is how everything will proceed in a damaged surrounding where stones could possibly be used to rebuild the future.
Although the silver lining may be found after all this, Baluyot focuses on what is essential to feel about the present. Like in his work, “Lost Empire,” the ominous gates greet us to an uncharted and menacing era of what remains when we are powerless. It is then our decision if we desire to keep still or move amid these broken empires.