Taking a Moment to Reflect in 'Breathing Space'


The phrase “breathing space” has taken on a different meaning this past year. For some, it was a luxury afforded by privilege. For others, a literal life-saving resource. The irony of finding room to breathe during a pandemic is not lost on the five artists of Vinyl on Vinyl’s Breathing Space. Through smaller-scale, intimate works, the artists wrestle with the contradictions of a concept that could otherwise have been full of possibility, but is, instead, boxed in by the four corners of their quarantined realities.

For Teo Esguerra, a breathing space is a holiday, but with a caveat. His Face Shield Holiday series lines the entrance of the viewing space, as if reinforcing the ubiquitous reminder: face shields on. But the reminder in Esguerra’s works is twofold. The beach and that much longed-for vacation is out there, if one can see past the political allusions Esguerra has peppered in. And for anyone who may try to wear the shields themselves, they likely won’t be able to see anything else. Interesting to note are the implications of using a face shield instead of the more common face mask. Face shields are a secondary line of protection and continue to be locally mandated while the rest of the world moves on from them and masks altogether – another biting reference to the state of the government’s pandemic response.


Sidney Valdez. Exhibition view L-R of Longest Lockdown (In a Neo-Colony), Manual, and Better End. 2021.


A typical Filipino response to a turbulent political climate has been humor. Many have gone to memes as the popular recourse. Sidney Valdez uses the Dexter’s Laboratory meme (a local favorite) to satirize the regular government updates regarding curfew. Ever an artist for political critique, he adds on to the commentary with the title Longest Lockdown (In a Neo-Colony). Valdez’s works are simple and straight to the point. They are almost diaristic in their recapping of the political circumstances of the last year, efficiently using text to communicate a wealth of information as well as all the emotions they bring.


Jem Magbanua. Window Poem 1. Gouache & Graphite on Gessoed Wooden Boards. 18 x 12 inches. 2021.


The other three artists of the show shift their attention to moments that invite more internal contemplation. Drawing on her practice of rooting her works in a sense of place, Jem Magbanua translates Wendell Berry’s Window Poems in a more literal sense, visualizing each line of poetry on her windowsill. Here, she seems to capture the fleeting moments of reflection one experiences when glancing out their window. Similarly, Shalimar Gonzaga finds relief in paintings that capture mundane, meditative scenes outdoors. But in the context of quarantine, they take on a more melancholy nature, reflecting the now scarcity of any kind of outdoor moments whatsoever.

Like Magbanua, Poeleen Alvarez makes use of the window motif in a literal and metaphorical manner. Her work, 43 Sunsets, referencing a quote from the book The Little Prince, attempts to envision a view beyond the scope of her walls. Alvarez uses her foamy blue ink and the undulating waves of her curtain as if suggesting an actual seascape behind it and more plain white walls. Her repetitive use of the relief printmaking technique seems to allude to the almost symbolic form of mark-making we imaginatively perform when staring out of our own windows each day, wishing our view could change.


Shalimar Gonzaga. A Form of Meditation. Oil on board primed with oil ground. 8 x 10 inches. 2021.
Poeleen Alvarez. 43 Sunsets. Relief print on fabric, installation. 50.50 x 49 inches. 2021.


Anchor photo: Teo Esguerra. Exhibition view of Face Shield Holiday III, II, & V (L-R). Pigment prints on acetatate, faceshields. 2021.

Breathing Space continues at Vinyl on Vinyl until June 14.

All images courtesy of Vinyl on Vinyl Gallery.


Mara Fabella is an artist, writer, and occasional fitness junkie. Tap the button below if you'd like to buy her a coffee.