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An Exercise in Elucidation: Jose Santos III’s ‘In Retrospect’ and Pam Yan Santos’ ‘Blanch to Sweeten’

Artists Jose Santos III and Pam Yan Santos explore the realm of thought with a pair of concurrent shows.

At any given moment, the human mind can assign meaning to memory, birthing an impression from the beliefs or biases that influence our judgment. 

This line of thinking was brought to life by a pair of concurrent shows at Mo Space by husband and wife tandem Jose Santos III and Pam Yan Santos, which run from November 23 until December 31 of this year. Both adept in a variety of media, the two artists crafted a couple of sets – as if simulating two distinct chambers in one’s headspace – that embody their respective themes.  

Jose’s “In Retrospect” tackles the immersion to memory and the infinite layers upon which a scene can be viewed while Pam’s “Blanch to Sweeten” trains the proverbial spotlight on the paradoxes that lend credence to one’s concept of reality.

The two shows were made independently of one another, but upon digesting the central messages of each, the viewer can posit that they are two parts of one mesmerizing whole, separated by a wall that can be taken as a demarcation that represents different processes within the realm of thought.

“In Retrospect” by Jose John Santos III

As a decorated artist who has done solo exhibitions not only in the Philippines, but also in Europe, the US, and across Asia, Jose Santos III intended to celebrate the milestones of his illustrious career as an artist in “In Retrospect.” With the use of scale models, he recreated the layouts of past solo shows – particularly the ones in Artinformal, Art Basel Hong Kong, Arndt Art Agency, The Drawing Room, Pearl Lam Gallery, Vargas Museum, and Armory Show – as well as the currently ongoing exhibit at Mo Space.

When he crafted the earlier pieces of the collection, Jose had not intended for the scale models to become part of an exhibition – they were more for personal consumption; mementos that lock in the whole experience of each show, from its conception, to the conveyance of insights, to the flow of traffic within the show area.

“When I accumulated around five scale models, I told Pam, ‘Hun, I want to do something with this. This is becoming significant and it’s exciting for me,’” he narrates.

Jose admits his penchant for studying the spaces within which his works will be showcased as he deems every minute detail, including the flow of traffic, an integral part of the show. As such, he deftly cut pieces of wood, shaped them, and put them together to recreate his past installations and paintings, as well as the room layouts of previous shows. For him, past attendees can relive the history echoed by each model while newcomers can partake of a slice of those shows, gaining their own perspectives despite not being able to attend the exhibitions, especially the ones held overseas.

“The history is right there and it’s really important,” he opines. “We fit the history as experiences and we assign them even if we don’t know [the whole thing]. It happens and we project them. Of course, we also believe that there’s some real stuff attached to the object but in this case, it’s essentially memory; my memory and those of the people who attended the past shows.”

“For those who will see [the shows recreated by the scale models] for the first time, it’s like connecting to the past that you didn’t see, but it happened,” he adds.

Aside from recapturing milestones, Jose added another dimension to his scale models – the concept of infinity. A model is one layer of reality ensconced within the bounds of its borders, carrying endless copies of the same scene looking down or up, with the viewer projecting themselves within each plane, akin to Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors.”

“Maybe someone is looking at us [from above] and the scale model, and we’re in this space. That’s the play here. To the mind, it becomes infinite going inside and going out,” he explains.    

So in essence, “In Retrospect” touches on the memory of those who were able to digest the history of Jose Santos III’s pieces in this universe and those in parallel ones, accounting for every possible time capsule in which he and his parallel selves galvanized a movement in thought.  

“Blanch to Sweeten” by Pam Yan Santos

Pam Yan Santos has a rather peculiar history with the amplaya or bitter gourd. In the past, she has used it as a subject to conjure up memories of her dad, who forced her to eat the fruit as a child. While she didn’t exactly adore the fruit’s flavor profile – a fact that she shares with most people in the country – she wanted to see it for what it truly is, past the stranglehold of connotations and beyond the dismissal of most taste buds. After all, her father forced it on her for good reason, and those reasons were what led Pam to come up with the crafts and paintings that make up “Blanch to Sweeten.”

In one end of the room is a series of painted bitter gourd crafts with acupuncture needles stuck to them. Opposite them is a large painting that depicts multiple images of the fruit’s insides, styled like an MRI scan of Warhol-ic proportions.

“I thought it was unfair, how one would look at an ampalaya. It has an urban meaning. You use it to describe a person who can’t move on. It’s bitter, di ba? But ironically, it is a fruit that has a lot of health benefits,” she clarifies, electing to underscore the contrast between the bitterness it initially represents and the purported sweetness of its additional functions.

The series of crafts are composed of several ampalaya painted in a variety of colors, seemingly as a way to strip them off their unfavorable impressions. Acupuncture needles were stuck to each fruit to possibly represent the scorn that the bitter gourd faces in regard to the general public’s view on it, including the artist’s initial impression, and its healing properties.

Internally, on the other hand, Pam endowed the fruit with an aesthetic edge in her painting, leveraging the cheerfulness of pastel colors, the mystery affixed to MRI scans, and the pop appeal of Andy Warhol’s art. In a nutshell, she accentuates the paradox surrounding the much maligned fruit in the hope of altering the manner in which people define it. She aims for the viewers to empathize with the ampalaya and see it for its beauty more than anything else.

“It’s like a visual pun. Something that’s bitter deserves healing, but it’s healing in itself. I wanted to present it in different ways,” she says.

If her husband’s show represents the permanence of memory – with it being a bedrock of emotions and insights – Pam’s demonstrates a contradiction that stretches beyond the fleeting nature of impressions. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of both themes illustrates the elaborate process of rationalization, which begins with the formation of an idea, building on it through memory and supplemental information, and then altering it with due diligence before completing a thought or theory. The whole thing makes for an enlightening experience.