Robert Besana: Here, Now and This Side Up

BY JAY BAUTISTA Although he has taught for more than five years now and even with a Masters in Fine Arts from UP Diliman as an added feather to his cap, Robert Besana is still considers himself more of a struggling artist than a demanding teacher.

To further appreciate Besana’s recent works entitled Dislocated Connection, one must situate the many dialogues they instigate in their proper context. At the onset is to view them how they were painted in a gestalt-like manner and that the way they are hanged side-by-side on the walls of this artspace that is 90 kilometers away to where the concentration of Philippine contemporary art is mainly practiced and proliferate.

Besana has always been intrigued with polemics, perception and perspectives. Rather than obsessively dwelling on what was art, what might be art, or what should constitute art, this exhibition entitled Dislocated Connection is a culmination of many continuous constructs intended for the viewer where his brushstrokes lead you.

Using personal photos of her mother with her sister and brother as sources, the paintings take off where the sepia filtered them. Consider The Leaning of Bella Over Jovita While Seating on the Same Chair which highlights that part of how Bella’s bearing is dependent on her older sister Jovita’s strong stance. In Bella’s real life, this standpoint is more than just a stable gesture; how Jovita, Ate as she is, would always look after her younger sister. This in a way, or at least on canvas, Besana wishes to turn around in favor of her mother’s fate as well. Somehow Besana honors his aunt for his constant concern to their family, in a way only artists know how.

“We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice,” as art critic John Berger wrote in his book, Ways of Seeing. “We have never looked at just one thing, we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves,” he adds.

In The Confession of Jovita Between X and Y Axis, Besana’s aunt appears once again in between two people who are irrelevant as the title suggest. However Besana concerns himself with how the viewer might look at the piece, as more likely will be the case.

After the viewer can see, we are aware that we can be seen. Thus the eyes of the images in the painting combine with the viewer’s eye making the interaction fully credible that we are part of the dialogue. As soon as our eyes are locked, only can there be value in the work. Mysterious Lady With Checkered Dress, Seated Lady in Awkward Pose, and Bella very well proves this point. It is a powerful play on how ideas, worldviews and even Besana’s affirmation for his family’s physical survival are specifically reconstructed and defined.

Unless one is born topsy-turvy, standing on your head while reviewing the exhibition, the way we look at an oil painting today is preconditioned by a visual orientation or a pattern coinciding with our lifestyle and the environment around us.

Besana’s titles are just what they are and they critique what the subject matter may not be intended to be. Debunking the formal pose one is being dictated in a closed studio photo session Papa Brown’s Position once again uses (or diffuses) memory as reference with sepia as a color condition, contemplating on how people compromise as to what could very well be their purposes in life.
Besana has pursued new ways of presenting iconography and iconology. He leaves it to the viewer to discover deeper truths and that anyone has a way of interpreting his works. He characteristically depicts images which may be disrupted by his own reading thus ambivalently veering away from a singular meaning. He now invites you to make up your own. Here, now, and whatever side you may see it.

Contemporary Philippine art of late has become either too depreciating in value or too intellectualizing to the detriment of its various publics. One could not help but notice the monotonous situation to be irrational, irresponsible, or maybe even unreal.

There are times when Art’s most potent power is in its processes of discovering new orientations rather than it being a feeling, or idea, or even content. It is only in the imagination that Art creates and makes us free. As it happens, there should not be should bes but let“what art is,” is.

Dislocated Connection is part of the ongoing exhibition at Nineveh Art Space in Sta. Cruz, Laguna which opened last March 1, 2009.