Defining Home in the Works of Contreras, Bacay, and Tee

There’s a curious duality behind the idea of the home. On the one hand, it can hold a lifetime’s worth of uniquely personal memories; on the other, home is a collective experience everyone can, figuratively and literally, take shelter in. Is the home a place then, tangible and physical? Or is it a placeholder for the memories we make within them?

This past month, MO_Space Gallery has hosted two different exhibits that deconstruct the notion of home and our relationships to it. Three artists become the architects of their own spaces to portray home as a vessel both material and ever-evolving.

Marionne Contreras.Allamandas. Yarn, carpet backing fabric. 73 x 49 inches. 2021.

'The House My Father Built' is a solo show by Marionne Contreras wherein the artist reconstructed the home her father built himself for her family when she was young. Using her signature fabric-based practice, Contreras renders in bright and playful colors an equally colorful past, from the pink quilt of the titular house to the allamandas vines and puddles that riddled its environment. Each color within the space pops out, from the multicolored yarn works to the vibrant walls they hang upon. Like treasured memories, the elements stand out prominently, even when recalled from afar. By all accounts, the artist seems to paint a picture of a lively childhood.

Nicole Tee. Summer (Palawan 2019). Thread and photo transfer on linen. 5 x 7 feet. Diptych. 2021.

Pondering the conceptual setting of the home are Pope Bacay and Nicole Tee in ‘Home is not an address you memorize.’ At a time when the boundaries between home and office are blurred, where comfort and work either clash or reconcile, one wonders where that leaves the home in relation to what were once external stimuli. In Tee’s works, there’s a sense of nostalgic melancholy. Like Contreras, she works with fabric and juxtaposes thread onto images of land and seascapes. Palawan, Bohol, Negros, Mount Pulag – a list of places that were once yearly destinations for the wanderlust-driven. Now, threads cling to these outdoor environments like unwanted overgrowth, as if they had long been neglected and forgotten. Or perhaps they signal a parasitic encroachment into the privacy of our interior space.

Pope Bacay. Shelf Life. Acrylic on wood. Variable dimensions (20 pcs.). Shelves 5 x 0.5 feet. 2021.

Where Tee depicts the outward going in, Bacay works from the inside going out. As a painter, he is known for his investigations of interior architecture. Invoking as they do both the individual and the collective, there’s a familiarity to be found in his paintings of windows, floor tiles, and corners, even when they may not exactly reflect our own interiors. By rendering these onto shaped canvases, Bacay is seemingly imbuing them with a more organic character, as if they were landscapes in their own right or biological forms on display. In “Shelf Life,” such forms are organized to mimic a display of goods. On one level it seems to question how we attribute life to the environments around us. On another, it contemplates the longevity of constructed spaces and all the associations we may have with them. His work “Staying” features a painting of expansive mountain scenery and sky. And behind all that, stripped of all representational artifice – a plain wooden chair. One that beckons viewers to sit and wonder where the mundane interior meets the projected exterior.

Pope Bacay. Peering Through Ranges. Acrylic on wood. Variable dimensions (25 pcs.). Table 78 x 42 inches. 2021.

Both shows, aptly and straightforwardly titled, present narratives of the home as something that transcends our own experience of it. Contreras’s works pose the question, what perseveres in our memories of home? A house may be durable enough to outlive its inhabitants, but the memory and the lived experience of a home lingers. More than referencing the physical structure, Contreras recreates the labor and dedication of her father and the playful adventures she had with her sister. As with Tee’s and Bacay’s works, there’s a meeting between internal and external ideas in Contreras’s show. Her works are indicative not just of childhood experience and sentiment but of the artist herself. There’s a transitive element to the artist’s process in that, being a mother, she is perpetuating the construction begun by her father. It may be seen as a tribute to her father, but it can also stand as a representation of the artist as the holder, interpreter, and propagator of memory. Within this larger scope, one once again finds both the individual and collective connection. Musing on Tee and Bacay’s show but perhaps also applicable to this one, JC Rosette writes, “To think of home then… is to reflect on our current habitation, at the same time as it is to conjure spatial and temporal elsewhere – the places we cannot reach.”

Marionne Contreras. (L-R) Girl with Mismatched Slippers & Girl With Dolls. Works from 'For the Orchids' series. 2021.

Memory can be selective. Like Contreras’s patchwork walls, fragments of memories are chosen and woven together accordingly to produce as coherent a tapestry as the memory holder can afford. But as Koki Lxx writes, “There may be no such thing as pure memory, as we all tend to remember what stood out to us the most.” Memory is transmutable. This character of memory allows the viewer to relate, whether directly or vicariously, to the memories of a childhood house one may never have even experienced. It allows viewers to define their own constructs of home and take it wherever they go when external conditions threaten the very existence of a home itself. And the artist – creator and shaper of memories, intermediary between home and studio – is tasked with continuing to forge the connection between the experience of the one and the many.

'The House My Father Built' and 'Home is not an address you memorize' are on view at MO_Space Gallery until Oct. 3, 2021.

Banner: Exhibition view of 'The House My Father Built'; all images courtesy MO_Space Gallery.

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