In February, the reclusive and gentle sculptor Gabriel Barredo (b. 1957) opened the doors to his studio south of Metro Manila to preview Asphalt, a nine-meter-long installation that has occupied his days—and nights—in the months leading up to the inaugural Art Fair Philippines (2/7–10). The installation, which was commissioned by the fair, is in fact several dozen intricate installations presented on metallic tables of varying heights, suggesting a cabinet de curiosités. Unlike his previous artworks—often crafted from melted plastic into fanciful furniture and figurative sculptures with golden baroque flourishes—Asphalt delivers an unsettling sense of violence and anguish, marking a new and decidedly darker phase in the artist’s career. When asked about this sinister turn in his practice, he stated: “The world today is filled with suffering.”
For Asphalt, Barredo dissected and reassembled objects—manual clocks, toy rockets, mechanical devices—into a multilayered contraption that depicts hundreds of strange and ominous scenes. In one, a fat drop of plastic blood, a recurring symbol in the piece, falls from the neck of a two-headed geisha. Elsewhere, a plastic toy frog latches onto a gas-mask sculpture with huge speedometer eyes. In yet another section, photographs of veiled women stare at the image of an enslaved man bound in chains, with a photo of a 19th-century industrialist looming in the background.
At the fair opening, dancers in costumes made of jumbled film swirled around the installation like two roiling black clouds. An eerie soundtrack of ringing bells and shrieks cycled through the room, and a light projection cast the work’s skeletal shadow onto the back wall. Asphalt was very much a highlight of the fair, exposing the underbelly of our contemporary world—decidedly a disturbing place for Barredo, but also one filled with wonder.