Teo Esguerra’s seventh solo exhibition Vacation Desolation comprises of darkroom prints, ready-mades, and a single channel video work that echoes the humdrum of pandemic life and reflection of habit by the circus that deliberately tries to entertain us with its absurdities as temporary relief. One can’t take away the politics in the pandemic. The mockery that “we are all just in a year-long vacation” by the powers that be bore this visual resistance. Esguerra’s repetitive details in his experimental prints Day and Night, Desolation, and Made-up Seascapes, where he eliminated some of the darkroom process by recreating the image of a seascape without any actual photo and mostly relying on techniques of masking, stenciling and spraying chemicals, bare not only our languishing and slow burn but also direct us to the very seed of annoyance — the multimillion pesos dolomite in Manila Bay.
The nature of repetition and its incongruence with the pandemic and our perceived expectations produced abnormal consequences that affected our desires. In Home Sweet Home and Sunrise, Sunset – warm expressions and terms that are related to the idea of vacation or leisure and illustrated by Esguerra using the same technique, the joyful meaning of the words no longer fit the imagery that we associate it with. The dismal images of the sea, a disco ball, of a party that is still perceptible in Home Sweet Home feel distant and have become a preservation of the altered present. The irony of Sunrise, Sunset lies in the lonely and varying textures of the stenciled texts, one seemingly washed up by the tides and the other a soft eclipse in the clouds. Its accompanying short video confuses the senses as we try to grapple with the cold and dispiriting visual of a once meaningful arrival and fading of day and night versus the beautiful sound of the ocean.
Esguerra employs intentional clichés in No Filter reminiscent of the aesthetically pleasing yet superficially filtered destination photos on social media. However, in reality, the only filter relevant these days are face masks. One thing to note is that the process applied in this particular artwork by the artist is purchasing these canvas prints from an e-commerce platform and appropriating the stock phrase unapologetically. Capitalism still wins in a pandemic. Required and Not Required meanwhile is a direct response to the confusing and nonsense regulations on face shields by government bureaucrats.
‘How the hell did we get here?’ might be the question that repeatedly drifts into the deep recesses of our subconsciousness when our minds are truly in a quarantine state – in our sleep where our fears and repressed emotions often reveal itself only to realize that the real horrors exist in waking life. Whether we are in denial of this rhetoric or have forced adjusted our existence in this quasi-apocalyptic contemporary world order, Vacation Desolation presses us to look beyond the byproducts of our collective double dreams and nightmares, to take control of our volatile selves and realities, and to resist if we must even if it seems like we’re just counting days.