Straddling the realm between the digital and the physical, artist Ciane Xavier opens up a world where identity floats in the void.
Where would an artist be without their palette? What about their 3D printer? VR simulator? We have arrived at Ciane Xavier-Calma’s dust-free “dirty studio” in Makati. A tangle of wires leads up to a 3D printer taking up space at the center. When I ask Ciane (pronounced “Sha-nee”) how many printers she has, she stops to count. “Nine in total,” she answers. On another table is a classic wooden palette. It overflows with dried pigment – flesh tones, some bright-blush pinks, and a dash of blue. Next to it, a stray set of eyeballs gazes upwards. “I’m making a robot. Or an animatronic sculpture,” she says.
Xavier’s body of work encompasses a broad spectrum of artistic forms from sculptures, paintings, and digital work. All of which demonstrates the dissolution of identity in characters by Xavier’s own making. Many of the 3D-printed and hand-painted sculptures sport matte alabaster skin. Others don rabbit ears, while some are more rodent-like. Some figures are stylized with blotchy marks on the knees, nose, and elbows. Most are nude, while many have unnaturally large feet.
In conversation, Xavier resembles an off-duty mom and model, but when she speaks you know you’re listening to an artist — the kind without an ego. Her work conveys an almost clinical interpretation of the body that conceals any fragility or vulnerability within. Dualities combine in a sense of the playful and the provocative. Like her work, there is a sense of paradox in her person. She is sure of herself and forthright, yet describes herself as shy. “I like the quiet life,” she tells me. Her politeness gets the better of her, as she resists straight interview answers and reflects questions to the team.
In an intimate conversation with LIFESTYLE.INQ, the Brazilian artist shares her experience of living across multiple continents and delves into her tech-heavy practice that has evolved since moving to the Philippines ten years ago.
Worlds Apart — How Living Across Continents Bridged the Gap
In a very Filipino way, Ciane Xavier makes sure everyone has eaten, pulling us to a table laden with fruits, ham sandwiches, pizzas, and muffins. A long-time vegetarian and practicing Vegan, the merienda hints at how globalization keeps her open-minded. She sticks to her spiritual, environmental, and health convictions while considerate of the meat and gluten-inclined tastes of her Filipino guests.
We move to the living room of one of the four Calma homes on the same street, close to Ciane Xavier’s husband, Jose Paolo Calma’s family. Luxurious wooden floors and panels reveal the influence of architect Ed Calma’s renovations, still modern after 30 years. Xavier’s taste complements the clean lines with an art collection that shows support for a range of artists and artist friends.
Xavier originally hails from Dom Pedrito, a small Brazilian town in the Rio Grande do Sul. North of the border of Uruguay and east of Argentina, she grew up in agricultural land teeming with wildlife. She was fifteen when she won a modeling contest with the European department store C&A. As a teenager, she left to live and work as a model in Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, Singapore, Vancouver, and South Africa. “It was freedom,” she recalls, but she wouldn’t let her two young sons travel the same way in its current state. Caught in the thick of contrasting cultures, she shares how the globe-trotting existence led to a sense of alienation:
“I feel like I lost my cultural identity and I don’t belong to any country.”
Living across the world displaced something deeper. “It’s weird,” she adds with a Portuguese lilt. “I feel like I’m more Filipino now than Brazilian. The Philippines is my home. I think and I even dream in English.”
Even though her art may seem futuristic or unreal, her creations depict society today, while conveying the cultural alienation that living abroad created in her. On the blotchy skin and disproportionate body parts of her sculptures and paintings, she references her modeling:
“When I used to model I was body shamed. In this representation, I find beauty in the form. I create my own character. They don’t have names. No personas, because my work is about the loss of identity. They are more like entities — somewhere else.”
A Partly Physical, Partly Digital Process
While Xavier started sculpting the traditional way with clay, the self-taught artist works better with digital tools. This is where her scientist-like approach comes into play. Using her 3D printers, it takes three to four months to engineer a single sculptural piece. She always starts with a digital base. Constructed like a puzzle, it is a long process of rendering, printing, cleaning, molding, and casting, which she learned via research while residing in Vancouver. After printing, she smoothes the work through sanding and then paints with a steady hand.
“I’ve always been obsessed with technology. I think you can go deeper with the digital than actual sculpting. There are a lot of errors when you do molding and casting and I don’t like the mess. It works better for me.”
Xavier asks if I saw her recent Vinyl on Vinyl exhibition, There is a world going on outside the world that I’m in. I didn’t have the chance. She stands to go upstairs and returns with an Oculus. I fit the VR headset and teleport into a meta-universe:
The Vinyl on Vinyl space is familiar but far away. Its walls are space gray. Moving the controller to look around, it’s clear Xavier got the gallery blueprints down pat. I crawl under two crouching giants that crackle with electric lines. In one room is a disembodied head that emits a voice: “You have been in training for this assignment for lifetimes. You did not come unprepared. All that you need to know now is inside of you.”
Removing the headset, I feel neither dizzy nor overstimulated. Instead, I feel reassured — like the entities are meant to make you feel good. The words of the curator James Luigi Tana become clear, that through a “screen-based, auditory, and painterly” portal, we can feel the artist’s “invigorating process of continuously deconstructing and reconstructing the self.”
Settling into Hutch and Home
Back in the physical world, Xavier’s analog creations are just as mesmerizing. All around are sculptures with fleshy rabbit ears flopping over. Born Year of the Rabbit and a staunch lover of animals, Xavier explains,
“The rabbit is a symbolic way of going deep down in the hole of my work to reconnect myself, to find myself, and to deconstruct myself.”
For some, the works of Ciane Xavier can frighten, provoke, unearth vulnerabilities, or open up a sense of play. Through the bizarre and beautiful she aims to question the viewer, inviting us to dive deeper into knowing our true selves. In only seven years of art-making, Xavier was quick to define her style and even quicker to widen her horizons. Despite successful nude paintings and portraitures on canvas, she diverged from the usual path to focus on unconventional digital mediums and sculpture.
While the digital community is growing, artists that blend the digital and the physical are still few and far between in the country. Xavier has exhibited all around the Philippines, with stints in Paris, and hints at a slew of future exhibitions coming up abroad, anticipating new challenges and conceptual experiments.
With a glint in her eyes, she says, “My dream is to create a virtual reality movie in the future.” Her sense of daring to break artistic conventions is palpable, made stronger by an Alice-in-Wonderland-like curiosity to plunge deeper into the virtual rabbit hole. It makes one wonder, in Ciane Xavier’s world of art and technology, do androids dream of electric bunnies?
Photography by JT Fernandez, assisted by Abby Corvera
Styling by Ria Prieto, assisted by Sophia Concordia, Colleen Cosme and Sean Castelo
Creative Direction by Nimu Muallam
Hair by Miggy Carbonilla
Make-up by Angel Reyes-Manhilot
Sittings by Angela Go
Cover by Julia Elaine Lim