The artist Ambie Abaño offers a quaint word to refer to nostalgia. It is galimgim, intriguing for its unfamiliarity in colloquial usage and also for its potential as onomatopoeia. Its utterance evokes the echo, the reverberation, a revisit to the archaic. The repetition of the second and third syllables is a kind of recollection or remembrance because it leads to a supposed source and then ricochets, as it were, in the sense that it returns and, in fact, haunts. Perhaps it is this haunting, this repetition, this tension between source and substrate that interests Abaño. According to her, nostalgia, the concept that galimgim represents, “is often triggered by objects and images associated with personal experience of the past.” For her, memory itself is “experience.” In other words, memory is not mere object to be depicted, if that at all were possible. It is re-performed, with the artist responding to this “longing for the past…the yearning to reconnect to a time and space that is no longer present and is dearly missed.” The challenge for her is how to cross the gap between “passing” and “missing,” between “present passing” and “missing past.” This becomes a tricky predicament for Abaño who is a trained printmaker and has recently defended her master’s thesis on the afterlife of the graphic image beyond the surface of paper. A clue to the possible process of remembering, which is to make a thing a part again, is in the logic of printmaking itself, which is repetition and reprography, as well as transfer from one medium to another. In the practice of Abaño, a great deal of intermediations takes place in these tedious, but ultimately rewarding, translations. Memory, therefore, becomes part of the mediation and widens the context of medium. In her hands, the object that summons and animates the memory is the very object that meditates on that memory. The initial layer of this exhibition’s project is the choice of domestic objects that are “repurposed to merge with images that relate to personal sentiments.” The artist is inclined to flesh out particular personages: woman, mother, Filipina. This gesture offers another dimension to the conversation on the relationship between being woman and being of the house and being a woman printmaker and being a woman printmaker who insinuates into the practice the intimacies of the house. The next layer would be the second skin of the distressed, weathered object. This is the template that seems to have been tattooed onto the body of the material. Or that the artist clothes the objects again in the vestments of a print that remembers.
In this regard, Abaño casts a keen and longing eye over an old sewing machine, a batibot chair, boards (chopping, ironing, and game), and a shawl. These may appear random and mundane; in the intuition of the artist, they are vehicles of memory that are perspicaciously carved, loci of memory intervened upon to make them into plates of present and future remembering. In some cases, they are also rendered as the slate on which to inscribe the palimpsests of an elusive but persistent memory. Onto these objects are transferred woodcut prints of images from the personal imaginarium and history. The primary device though is the woodcut in an “expanded field,” wood having extended to furniture and household paraphernalia and cut having encroached on the everydayness of the home. From the intricately decorated chopping board, for instance, prints may be drawn. Besides the medium of print and how it is reworked painstakingly, Abaño is also interested in specific motifs like lace or the flower (the rosa and the hibiscus, for instance), rounding out reflections on the “feminine” in the portrayal of everyday reality. The presence of the map and the clock, references place and time, and so thickens the context of this exploration of the artifice of print and its reincarnations, with the offset map reconstituted by an overlay of print. At the heart of this undertaking are the house and the furniture that inhabits it. Dwelling in them would be the people who have shaped their use, thus the mingling of memory and object and the tensions of transfer.
While there may be an impression of fastidious technical prowess involved in these procedures, the artist tries to be buoyant in keeping with the fluidity and lightness of nostalgia, a condition that can be bedeviling, too. There is woodcut transposed onto wood of a night sky dappled with infinite stars. Another large work conjures fine, incessant rain; it is a woodcut on hardwood of something as wistful and delicate as gentle rain. Apparent here is a meditative instinct, a patient toil of indenting found wood and reproducing the effect on copious ground. Rain stirs up memory in the same way that images may flood; but it is itself a vessel of memory, a metaphor of its springing back after touching the ground. It is in itself a galimgim, the drip and splatter of the mind’s water.