An Organic Phenomenon

Pam Quinto

Investigatory Projects is a three woman exhibition by Gale Encarnacion, Nicole Tee, and Kitty Kaburo in 2019, which“invites a playful reckoning of things metamorphosed, of the familiar made strange.”

The main gallery of Mo_Space was occupied with works mounted and projected on walls, save for one corner of the room. I kept coming back to this corner where two small mounds of powdered material sat on the concrete floor, one ashen and one marigold, titled Ashy Mountain and Sunny Mountain. Crouching over these little peaks, which to me held a mystery, called one to linger, to try to figure out what they were, what invisible labors birthed these by-products. These quiet works are the ones I find myself gravitating towards, like they hold secrets. The two mountains, as well as the video of a cloud of foam serenely floating on water, are soft spoken like the artist herself.

Gale Encarnacion, Ashy Mountain, 2019 (Photo by the author)

Gale Encarnacion has this uncanny ability to render and transform everyday objects into unrecognizable forms. Her practice is one of playful experimentation, with a scientist-like approach in creating the projects she embarks on. The processes involved in her production are never the same, and always intriguing. Through these creative investigations, one sees that she has a keen eye for finding beauty in altering matter, even in decay — making various recipes of purposely failed meringues and taking microscopic photographs of molds growing on food — even food rendered inedible can still amuse and appeal to another sort of taste.

Exhibition view of Ashy Mountain and Sunny Mountain (Photo by the author)

Ashy Mountain and Sunny Mountain, along with Gale’s other works in Investigatory Projects, were explorations on materiality — reflecting “current anthropological concerns on ecology and the environment, of the non-human actors of animals, plants, places, objects, and artifacts. In a similar vein, these artistic investigations seemingly decenter the anthropological gaze,” JC Rosette writes. The mountains’ forms made me recall other works displayed in piles or mounds: the eight million Sunflower Seeds of Ai Weiwei acquired by Tate Modern (only less than a tenth of the total hundred million seeds originally displayed in Tate’s Turbine Hall), Lesley Anne Cao’s mound of various white powders called White Work, and Felix Gonzales-Torres’ Untitled, a pile of candies that equalled the weight of his late lover.

So what was it that I was looking at? What processes did the original object have to go through to end up in this form? What substances are marigold and could be powdered?

Gale Encarnacion, Sunny Mountain, 2019 (Photo by the author)

I was fighting temptations to reach out and touch the yellow and grey dust, to smell it, even to taste it. But of course we mustn’t touch the artworks (unless stipulated that you can).

I suppose there’s something pure to enjoy in an object you do not have a name for yet. In the act of naming something, or knowing something’s name, all at once it bears the weight of what it’s supposed to mean, limitations are drawn by the distinction of what an object is and isn’t. This was an unknowingness that I didn’t mind having.

Something David Lynch said comes to mind,

“If you don’t know what it is, a sore can be very beautiful — but as soon as you name it, it stops being beautiful to most people. But if you took a picture of it, a close-up, and you didn’t know exactly what it was, it could be a great beauty of organic phenomenon.”

I left the gallery still wondering what I had been looking at. I only found out what the ashen and marigold mountains actually were weeks after I saw the show, when I bumped into the artist. Of course I had to ask her what the mounds were made of:

What was the yellow mountain?

“Egg yolk!”

The ashy mountain?

“Eggs shells!”

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