David Medalla’s ephemeral celebration


At the entrance to “Parables of Friendship” – Bonner Kunstverein’s two-part survey of the late Filipino artist David Medalla – visitors are confronted with a long partition and a wooden staircase, which invites visitors to go up, then go down almost immediately the other side, with no clear goal. The wall is pierced with a small opening, on the edge of which is a small model ship: its sails represent two entwined figures; shells hang from his arrow (Unknown title, 2017). Offering a glimpse of the upcoming exhibition, this showcase is an invitation to discover the first European retrospective of this exceptional artist, who unfortunately passed away last year, during the preparations for the exhibition, at the age of 78. . Bringing together over 70 works – ranging from his ‘Night Blooming Flower’ series (1998) from neon sculptures to designs on used paper bags and envelopes, such as Study for Li Po dancing with the moon (1983) – the exhibition successfully navigates the turbulent waters of studying a vast but largely ignored body of work that inherently refuses categorization.

David Medalla, ‘Parables of Friendship’, 2021, exhibition view, Bonner Kunstverein. Courtesy of: Bonner Kunstverein; photograph: Mareike Tocha

Born in the Philippines in 1942, Medalla has spent most of his life abroad. In the 1960s, he left Manila for Europe, dividing his time between London and Paris, crossing the Channel when his visa expired. In Paris, the queer and non-conformist artist retraced the footsteps of his idol, the Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud. Two works in ‘Parables of Friendship’ reflect this fascination: a drawing of a Rimbaud skull (1962) and The death of the poet Arthur Rimbaud (1969), a painting of two figures supporting the trembling writer. In 1964, Medalla co-founded the short-lived but influential Signals Gallery in London, a hub of the international avant-garde in the mid-1960s, whose roster included artists such as Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica and Takis. During this period, Medalla also built its first Cloud canyons (1964-2020): the biokinetic bubble machines which are undoubtedly his most famous works.

David Medalla Cloud Canyons
David Medal, Cloud canyons, 1964–2020, installation view, Bonner Kunstverein, 2021. Courtesy of: Bonner Kunstverein; photograph: Mareike Tocha

In addition to the entrance staircase, Michael Kleine’s impressive exhibition design divides Bonner Kunstverein’s Great Hall into sections, inspired by sea containers, allowing co-curators Steven Cairns and Fatima Hellberg to form small constellations of thematically grouped works. Above the row of containers, four massive canvases of ‘Luz’ de Medalla. Vi. The Minda series (1986-91) are suspended in the air. Representing tropical landscapes in which elegant young men fish or tend banana trees, the paintings play on nostalgia and the Western gaze. The container below contains some of Medalla’s textual political works of the 1970s, in which he condemns the policies of Ferdinand Marcos, the kleptocratic president of the Philippines who ruled the country under martial law from 1972 to 1981, silencing and imprisoning opposition groups. , protesting against students and journalists. One of Medalla’s untitled and undated cardboard works, for example, reads: “Marcos and his handful of thugs will meet their doom at the hands of the Filipino people!”

David Medal, A point in time (detail), 1981–82, installation view, Bonner Kunstverein, 2021. Courtesy of: Bonner Kunstverein; photograph: Mareike Tocha

On a high podium, A point in time (1981-1982) includes a large piece of nylon fabric sewn onto various names, doodles, candy wrappers and identity photographs; in places, traces of cigarette burns are visible. The work is an iteration of the eponymous participatory piece that Medalla started developing in London in 1968, when he gave two of his former lovers a handkerchief and a small sewing kit, then asked them to sew onto the fabric. what they wanted. A shared work of toil, memories and dreams, A point in time has been described by the artist as a ‘participation-production-propulsion’ project. This type of encounter was central to the practice of Medalla, an artist who celebrated the ephemeral and rejected hierarchical perspectives of any kind.

David Medalla, ‘Parables of Friendship’ is on display at the Bonner Kunstverein until January 29, 2022. He will travel to the Museion, Bolzano, where he will be shown April 2 – September 14, 2022.

Main picture: David Medal, Untitled, 2017, installation view, Bonner Kunstverein, 2021. Courtesy of: Bonner Kunstverein; photograph: Mareike Tocha. Thumb: David Medalla, ‘Luz. Vi. Minda ‘ series, 1986, oil on canvas. Courtesy of: Bonner Kunstverein; photograph: Mareike Tocha


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