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BROKE

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23 February - 17 March 2013
Opening reception on Saturday, February 23, 6pm

The desire to see the city preceded the means of satisfying it. –Michel de Certeau

What has taken place with the design and production of objects nowadays is a new order—where the final product achieves merit depending on how much it has acknowledged the value of the materials used and its sustainability despite consumption. Thus, ideas for a green design, eco-pluralism, and recyclability abound each new concept for a chair, a lamp, or even entire factories. Central to this growing awareness are the conditions of progress and industrialization which take place at the heart of the city. And life within it has become an arena to test the possibilities on how production can give back to the resources it affects most—both biosphere and techno-sphere, whether it may be a piece of wood or a scrap of synthetic metal, the noble objective, it seems, is how to return them to their useful origins. Out of simple observation, it is then easy to perceive how developments in urban life can be oppressive to nature; but in finding solutions, it can also be said that its reversal is not entirely the direction to take.

The design collective known as Broke, instead of treating the city as a symptom to suppress, adopts it as its native source to assimilate. And for that matter, it takes on the rugged and contrived quarry that is Manila, a city whose situation is ever more comparable to an organism that promulgates itself through her own appetite rather than a place set into a specific direction. And it is in the city’s perverse richness, where heterotopic sites commonly sprout and unusual schemes bandage daily confusion, that Broke had not only set their sights for inspiration but also had lain their feet to reclaim the material. In Michel de Certeau’s essay, Walking The City, he sets the difference between looking at the city from a grand viewpoint like urban planners do from physically traversing its streets like the folks who actually live there. It is the difference, he states, between the writer who tries to publish a utopian manual, built on ideal prose, as opposed to the city-dweller who writes each line of poetry from day-to-day, free-flowing, depending on his need. The processes behind Broke’s objects seem to exemplify the same kind of walking within the city de Certeau describes and maybe a bit more, as it doesn’t produce objects to replace the existing with the ideal but in a way spawn the existing object into what it can further become. In each line of poetry that sprouts from Manila, Broke has turned it into an entirely different verse.

Led by Jeremy Guiab and Gary-Ross Pastrana, Broke can be made up of different artists and designers who collaborate with them, as well as the different carpenters, steel cutters, and draftsmen who also form part of a bigger industrial fabrication firm that house the collective as a separate design unit. Within its shop walls, a dynamic relationship exists between the fabrication of site-specific works for industrial purposes, and in designing the transformation of industrial objects that are situated strategically within the city. Within both processes, function and form can evolve by going through both set of hands that held the pen as well as the welding machine. And it is through this course which makes Broke’s objects noteworthy: they can be highly measured against the levels of the conceptual plane in art and yet can reflect that robust design of a mass-produced, industrial material that maintains a raw and communal status.

Consider the magnanimous chairs shaped from four millimeter-thick welded wire mesh that resembles the kind of fence that encloses the streets of Metro Manila. From a conceptual viewpoint it speaks of the transformation of a device used for exclusion and division and keeping off something, into an object that invites and enthrones. From an industrial standpoint it speaks of a practical design out of discarded or obliterated fence panels, the exploration of form out of purely material considerations. In another set of work, the scaled-down replicas of infrastructures that shoot out from the dense populace of buildings and cramped streets of the city are re-fabricated to function as lamps: scaffoldings, transmission towers, utility poles, and billboard frames are decked with their corresponding lighting fixtures that approximate their illumination against the night sky. Through their transformation under Broke’s design, they become more than impressions of objects that dominate our view of the cityscape and become commentaries on how we re-assign meaning to otherwise incomplete objects. A scaffold’s temporality becomes a fixed novelty, the lonesome formation of a tower or pole suddenly becomes significant accessory, and more blatant is the emptiness of a billboard’s steel frame which suddenly achieves finality as an object-in-itself. For all their uneventful duplication of the actual thing, it goes down to the sublime craftiness of setting the proper scale to achieve their new meaning, as Robert Smithson once said about his huge constructions of land art: Size determines an object, but scale determines art.

Broke’s assimilation of the city and the urban experience into functional objects will always tread along the question whether they are art or design? Given the conceptual plane under which they are conceived situates them within the category of any other artwork conceived in the same manner. But the final product will always ascribe to the functional plane which design can conveniently espouse. Before settling into any appropriate tag for the sake of classification, the real question to ask is whether design is non-art? It is a question that places no bearing in any of Broke’s objectives. And in their current exhibition (in Mo_Space) where the walls clearly stand as barrier between the art gallery and the adjacent shop, the objects across the two spaces seem to have drawn this solid structure not as a symbol of demarcation but as a sign of correlation.

Written by Cocoy Lumbao

BROKE opens at Mospace on February 23, Saturday and the exhibition will run until March 17, 2013. The gallery is open daily from 11am to 8pm. For any inquiries please contact us at tel nos 8567915, or mobile no 0917 6683951.

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