The news of artist Bree Jonson’s death dropped like a bomb on the Philippine art scene. It was sudden, ruinous, and irreversible. Almost a year after this loss, friends, and fellow artists linger in a state of dissonance. How can a person who fervently studied life suddenly not be alive?
Last July 8, the exhibit “The Thousand-Yard Stare” opened in Gravity Art Space. It features works for and by the artist. Named after the look of dissociation in victims of trauma, the exhibit can be seen as a way of trying to survive the loss.
“Waves of San Juan and the Shores of San Juan” by Joar Songcuya showed the landscape of the town where Bree died. From afar, the works form restful and leveled lines, but a close inspection reveals short frenzied strokes, vibrating within the stillness. Alongside these works are handwritten notes from Songcuya, recounting the times when he met Bree: brief encounters that gave lasting assurance that people like them, who are from engineering backgrounds, can change course and thrive in the arts.
Dex Fernandez’s painting titled “Floating Dandelions, Strobelights, and Stolen Dancing Shoes” is based on a photo of Bree on a chair in her studio, seemingly comfortable, with one sleeve pulled up and her back on the viewer while studying her own painting. The image is rendered with a kinetic medley of trees, party lights, and paint drips in colors that betray the vibrance of Bree (which is probably often obscured by her dark choice of clothing).
Leah Castañeda’s sculpture titled “Maps” continues the image of a chair, brightly painted with its body covered with dripping black candle wax. One can imagine the process behind the work: when the candles were lit, black wax flowed, slowly taking over the surface of the chair until its flame was snuffed out.
Martin Ledesma’s piece echoes the elements of Bree’s “Urchins” sculptures. Laying haphazardly on the pedestal, they seem like pieces of the urchin, deconstructed (or maybe in construction) with its spikes turned around, piercing its own core.
A hasty observer may conclude that her works are scenes of gore: a beached whale, sheeps and rabbits all bitten and bloody. But to the more patient ones, they reveal themselves as works that embrace all of life.
As if in conversation with these pieces made for her, works by Bree are interspersed across the gallery walls. A hasty observer may conclude that her works are scenes of gore: a beached whale, sheeps and rabbits all bitten and bloody. But to the more patient ones, they reveal themselves as works that embrace all of life.
The works acknowledge that there is beauty in the acceptance that there are predators and prey, that nature is bizarre and unpredictable; that life includes the struggle for survival, and even death. Bree’s later works embody this openness to happenstance by allowing loose lines and primal gestures to show through layers of transparent paint. “I wanted the mistakes to be visible,” she said in an online interview with Artinformal posted February 2021. These automatic marks that let paint drip and flow allow us to access emotion, she said.
Citing the German term, umwelt, or the small portion of the world that an animal is able to detect, she criticizes how humans tend to measure the intelligence of animals based only on our own standards.
Bree’s respect for life comes from the acknowledgment that there is so much that we don’t understand. Citing the German term, umwelt, or the small portion of the world that an animal is able to detect, she criticizes how humans tend to measure the intelligence of animals based only on our own standards. In a way, there is comfort secreted in this idea: we may not be able to understand certain events based on what we can perceive. But through other forms of intelligence — say, maybe, those available to the birds or the blue tigers — this death can make sense.
* * *
“The Thousand-Yard Stare‘‘ is currently on exhibit until Aug. 5 at Gravity Art Space featuring works for and of Bree Jonson. The exhibit is curated by Koki Lxx and participated by Miguel Aquilizan, Leah Castañeda, Jigger Cruz, Kirk Dijamco, Jessica Dorizac, Kiko Escora, Dex Fernandez, Marita Ganse, Martin Ledesma, Pow Martinez, Mark Nicdao, Joar Songcuya.