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Art Underground Manila

Not all tapestries are created equal. Looking at one of the old and long-established forms of textile arts, one could surmise how its development and many incarnations through different time and cultures have thrust it beyond the confines of ornament, tradition, and more significantly—the domestic. Not all of its forms are created equal because not all embroidery invoke such past associations, whether they’d be allusions to handicraft or the rudimentary, or invocations of the homely or feminine. Not all are conceived equally because there are textile works that seem to draw their genesis from entirely something else: from its own image-making possibilities.

Looking at Mimi Salibio’s series of hand-embroidered works on canvas, we can observe how they are more rooted in painting rather than weaving. Only in the sense that what confronts us immediately is a world of appearances—of thread transformed into images, rather than images conveyed through thread. This distinction is in essence a question of purpose: does the artist weave to create art? Or does the artist, like in this case, produce art in order to become its weaver? In other words there are very few works when it comes to textile art where needle and thread assume the role of building realities, instead of being mere tools and accessories in representing existing ones.

There is careful attention to form that is on display here, one that attempts to be concrete and tangible. Through the use of dyed fabric, the use of felt, the range of colors that devote itself to the cool elementals—of water and breeze, and the occasional runnings of metallic thread, Salibio’s canvases become amalgams of the organic and the peculiar. Between the sinuous patterns and aberrant shapes, therein lies a character and behavior that seem to come out of the image generated, one that entails growth from within—a rhizomatic strand, self-perpetuating and self-calculating—to turn soft fabric into hard visuals.

One could just imagine the processes involved: done completely by hand through the course of stitching individual thread, whose mechanics might have consumed more time than any kind of patchwork, while lending itself to the idea of pure drawing. Its slowness is its virtue. This tactile approach undermines the pleasures of any cathartic release found in painting, and very much defies this age’s penchant for instant pictures. Yet, it is unmistakably visual—a disconcerting addition to our ways of seeing (and touching), and the way we perceive craft as a source for unique vision. It is meditation for both artist and viewer.

To say that these are foremost, images, is not wrong. To say that these are weavings is also accurate. In determining whether they are ornamental abstractions or strange ciphers within its own lexicon—is where it becomes challenging. To begin with, it is rare to find embroidered fabric throughout art’s history which is ambiguous. Folk tales, scenery, ornament, patterns, and texts have dominated this form. Most have communicated essential narratives and domestic affectations. In Salibio’s series of
works, ambiguity looms and stems from the title itself. Softest Gravel. This provides us no recourse but to imagine an impossible yet possible thing: that out of the hardness of rocks there exists an exception—and like fabric, it lies soft, without resistance. And in like Mimi Salibio’s works, it is in our capacity to accept strangeness is what makes them astoundingly beautiful.

Write-up by Cocoy Lumbao

April 1, 2022
March 23, 2022

Mimi Salibio

Softest Gravel

Softest Gravel
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