Today, does anyone really care about the stigma in combining contemporary arts with crafts?
Ours is a cross-disciplinary age where distinctions and boundaries between arts and crafts have blurred. Art is expressive and everywhere in this aesthetic age, there doesn’t seem to be a prevailing standard.
Artists combine mediums that they feel best express their ideas and concerns. The reality is, we are in living in a hothouse of unparalleled innovation, where content and intent drive the creation of art.
One who has developed handcrafted skills and has the expressive talent to communicate, input content, feelings and emotions has crossed over the old borders.
Francesca Balaguer-Mercado, photographer and fiber artist, is inspired by processes that bring dualities together: public and personal, light and dark, life and death, power and helplessness, fulfillment and disappointment, agony and ecstasy.
Hers is a hybridized creative process and approach to form. The pieces that comprise her current show, “Beautiful Mess,” at Avellana Art Gallery, are all made by hand, combining processes (analog, digital and handmade) and materials such as photographs, or, in some cases, her son’s watercolor art, fabrics, objects and fibers.
She employs the techniques and the materials she’s most adept with—to document her everyday life as a young mother and homemaker, expressing herself and her femininity.
Imagination and content drive her execution, her choice of mediums and techniques are those that she was trained in and inspired by through the years.
Each piece is a story she narrates visually through embroidery, weaving, photo printing and crocheting.
Balaguer combines fiber craft techniques: loom weaving, embroidery, Saori free style weaving with cyanotypes and photo prints, resulting in exclusive pieces with embedded meanings that explore various human issues.
Fiber crafts, such as knitting, crocheting, weaving, embroidery, were mainly practiced by women and became stereotyped forms.
Craft is part of Balaguer’s process but is also part of the meaning behind her art.
Process is not hidden in her works—the whole subject is the making of the work.
Fabric scraps, found objects and baby blankets installed with clothespins on a clothesline, sewing threads that act as beams of energy emanating from body parts—act as forms of purpose-laden interventions into photographs printed on fabric.
The works become three-dimensional.
Balaguer explores issues such as feminine stereotypes—particularly motherhood.
Dominant in Balaguer’s psyche is a strong maternal instinct, that cares and provides sustenance. In works like “Pinch” and “Let Down,” she’s the archetypal mother/nurturer, displaying all the mixed elements of caring, exhaustion and selflessness.
This work was made after she experienced breastfeeding shaming. The breastfeeding cape becomes an issue of feminism, of women’s rights, of choice.
She is transformed by the piece into a caped crusader for breastfeeding women to find their voice, celebrate their bodies, and deal with shaming challenges in a positive way.
In “OOTD,” she is a mother-homemaker, driven by the idea of domesticity, ripping her premotherhood pair of jeans and repurposing it into an apron.
“Ikot Ikot,” from a Filipino movement song for children, pays homage to the thankless and grueling job of managing a home.
In a small macramé piece, “Brief,” she shares the sadness and sorrow over the loss of her sister. It’s a colorful wall hanging that is her interpretation of the patterns made by a vital signs monitor.
“Must Be Done” is a cyanotype print of her mammogram results which she has embroidered in parts. The blue and white prints have a certain graphic elegance to them.
“All Different, All the Same” is a sculptural work made of mounds of giant crocheted felted wool left on the floor, like a small ode to womanhood.
“Beautiful Mess” is coming from a reservoir of experience which has influenced her actions and reactions.
Balaguer took her MFA in Photography in San Francisco, but decided to return to the Philippines and make a life with her husband.
The move from the city to a lush compound in Cavite, the birth of her son, Faber, as well as a series of tragic events in her life, transformed her from being a purely expression-driven artist to a person driven by motherhood.
“Motherhood, when done right, is a highly creative process and once Francesca had embraced her new role, the artist-mother was reborn inside her aching to express and share the wonderful contours and textures of this season of life,” Anna Meloto Wilk said.
For Balaguer, it is not about what you do, but who you become, and what you make of it when life and its vicissitudes and imperfections, happen.
In these works, Balaguer has found her voice and footing in artmaking that is rich, with open-ended dimensions that tap a wide spectrum of feelings and instincts.
Her fertile and robust imagination are strong enough to take her technical skills even further. Hers is art that is fluid, porous, veering away from comfort zones of a fixed style or movement. –CONTRIBUTED
“Beautiful Mess” runs until Nov. 24 at Avellana Art Gallery, 2680 F.B. Harrison St., Pasay City .