paul pfeiffer: incarnator

july 7th at bap outpost, makati

through october 6th

NCR Manila, Philippines—Bellas Artes Projects is pleased to announce the opening of Incarnator, a solo exhibition by Paul Pfeiffer, curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt. This exhibition expands from the artist’s internationally acclaimed eponymous video which is further brought to life through a series of life-size sculptures, all of which were produced during Pfeiffer’s six-month residency at Bellas Artes Projects in Bagac, Bataan, Philippines in 2018. Pfeiffer is a pioneer in video, sculpture, and photography using recent computer technologies to examine the role that mass media plays in shaping consciousness. By incorporating these references into his videos, his work reflects a contemporary culture fixated on popular culture and celebrities which plays a major role in shaping the political realities we experience today. Pfeiffer invites his audience to exercise their imaginations and project their own fears and obsessions in his works.

Incarnator draws its title from the old Spanish word encarnador—a term for the person who transforms paint into seemingly live flesh. Encarnación, or making flesh, is an over six-hundred-year-old technique primarily associated with religious icons and is a separate production process from that of carving sculptural forms. Modern and theological objections to this lifelike use of color in sculpture have pervaded over centuries. Luke Syson, the chairman of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art elaborates in his essay, Polychrome and its Discontents: A History: “Cheap, disruptive, entertaining, egalitarian, extremely available, polychrome sculpture was and remains art for the people, an art moreover concerned primarily with ordinary human experience and emotion. Establishment opposition has, if anything, only increased its power.” In the Philippines, this power can be clearly seen through mass devotion of the Santo Niño de Cebú, a polychrome (encarnado) religious icon which was brought as a gift from Spain in 1521 by Magellan, making it one of the oldest Christian relics in the country. Replicated and displayed in many homes and business establishments across the country, Santo Niño is the one of the most popular objects of devotion in the Philippines and is a cultural icon of Filipino Catholic identity.

Released in April 2017, the remix of Luis Fonsi’s hit song Despacito (Spanish for “slowly”) further propelled on top of global music charts, breaking records credited to the first time that the Canadian popstar Justin Bieber sang in Spanish. Justin Bieber was discovered by the music industry when he was only 12 years old through a video he uploaded on YouTube, and his image and identity were transformed from that of an innocent young boy into the unmistakable icon of 21st century capitalist values that we see and hear all over the world today. His primary fans, known as beliebers, are children who look up to him as a symbol of power, an example of the potential to be a global player, a king as a kid. Pfeiffer’s film Incarnator opens with a scene taken from YouTube where a young girl in Bangladesh cries and begs for Justin Bieber to come to her country. The video later continues with children playing in trees in Bataan, emulating Bieber’s iconic haircut via hand symbols and imagining life with heightened Bieber-like powers and mobility. Truly a global phenomenon, Bieber has also become one of the world’s first popstar Evangelists, promoting Christianity via his Instagram and Twitter accounts (both of which have over 100 million followers) with the same fervor and techniques that he uses to promote his songs.  Kids become overwhelmed, almost speaking in tongues as they sing Despacito, a song with extremely sexual undertones that get lost when sung by people who do not speak Spanish (such as the teenage girls from Bangladesh in Pfeiffer’s video).

To me, the word ‘incarnator’ is about production. The production of an image. The production of human flesh...What interests me is what production means in 21st century global capitalism, where the means of production have been radically separated from their natural function. This is Marx in the 21st century perfected into a global scheme; a branded production, where innocence is turned into a profit-making system in the face of a child
— Paul Pfeiffer

Collaborating with Willy Layug—one of the leading and most famous santo makers in the Philippines who apprenticed under encarnadores in Spain—the image of Justin Bieber is brought in the flesh through traditional techniques of encarnación, including accentuating the growing number of tattoos surrounding the inked phrase “Son of God” on his stomach.

Further engaging with the history of sculpture and paired with his fascination with new technologies of mass production, Pfeiffer, his team, and the artisans at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar create portraits of the artisans’ children using state of the art 3-D scanning and printing technology. These technologically manufactured representations are translated back into man-made forms through traditional hand- carving techniques passed on from master artisan from the Fiipino carving district of Paete, which speaks to the often-invisible effects that digital translation has on the most manual aspects of life. While Renaissance sculptors used wax or death mask casting techniques to try to capture the life essence of their subjects, the 21st century portrait is a digital one, and Pfeiffer’s process points to the perverse contradictions found in the contemporary production of identity in a globalized world.

The opening reception for Paul Pfeiffer: Incarnator will take place at BAP Outpost at The Alley at Karrivin 2316 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati on Saturday, July 7th at 7pm. This event is free and open to the public.

For inquiries and more information, please contact press@bellasartesprojects.org or (02) 817-2205.

Installation shots from Paul Pfeiffer: Incarnator (2018). Photos by At Maculangan, courtesy Paul Pfeiffer studio and Bellas Artes Projects, Manila.