ARTS & CULTURE
Mav & Cenon
QUARANTINE LOVE STORIES
Words by Gio Panlilio | Photography by Mav and Cenon
Mav and Cenon. Cenon and Mav. The order of their names is interchangeable and is besides the point. The work produced from the imagination of these two artists is of a singular mind and is executed with meticulous attention to craft. Currently based in Nueva Ecija, the artistic duo seemingly operates as one, and both, have a hand in the intricate and surreal compositions that lie somewhere between their fantasy and ours. At first viewing, it would be understandable for viewers to fumble for the right feelings and words to describe what they’re seeing. I know I did the first time I saw their work and yet, the longer I looked, the more alluring their frames became.
With Mga kahina-hinalang kaganapan sa Santor, the duo was inspired by investigative computer games from their childhood. These are games where the viewer is presented with a crime scene (a murder or a robbery) and is then tasked to figure out what happened by scanning through the frame and mousing over the details to piece together a narrative. In this work, the duo embraces a maximalist approach by packing each frame from edge to edge with color, texture, and shapes. Similar to the feeling a detective might have arriving at a fresh crime scene, nothing seems straightforward. Each image feels like a puzzle that needs cracking, like a mystery that may or may not have a solution.
Whether it’s their use of color, the recurring inclusion of amorphous shapes, or their articulate use of light, the artists operate with a strong and consistent visual vocabulary, one that’s distinct throughout their personal and commercial work. But despite the recognizable motifs and the coherent perspective, Cenon and Mav’s images remain ambiguous. This feeling of being lost, of not knowing where to begin, creates a space for viewers to engage with the images. Their photos offer the viewers an opportunity to make their own interpretation, to glean their own information, and craft a narrative only they might arrive at.
Sculpting the images, as they call it, draws on inspiration from a range of sources such as cosmology, fantasy, fiction, and personality traits. This process takes time—as it would with mediums more commonly associated with conventional sculpture such as with marble and clay. But, where traditional sculpture making is slow and heavy, Mav and Cenon are sculptors who work in an ethereal space consisting of light, shadow, color, and often, bodies (their own or others’).
Compared to Cenon and Mav’s other work, Salo’t salo is sparse. Fewer objects fill the frame. There are a few glasses, a melting candle, clouds, a blanket, and the artists themselves.
The triptych features three portraits created over the quarantine. One of Cenon, one of Mav, and their couple image. At first glance, my eye is immediately drawn in the direction of the more elemental materials they have chosen to include. Water and fire. With Cenon, it’s a burning candle during a bright day in which only his blanket can create enough shade for the fire to shine. With Mav, it’s helping give shape to water, carefully pouring them into different compartments with grace and delicacy.
The absence of objects reflects a distillation of their sensibilities. Shifting from many to just a few transforms the object’s inclusion from being narrative details to something more symbolic. In a way, this mirrors how their relationship has evolved over the course of the quarantine. Being away from the city, stepping away from the noise, they’ve come to rediscover ease and lightness with one another. The isolation they experienced allowed the couple to filter out unnecessary noise and focus on the strength and support they offer one another.
As always, the characteristic ambiguity is there—it almost feels as if you would have to be one of the two artists to fully understand what each object represents. Knowing them, that’s probably deliberate—a mischievous puzzle that is only for them to understand.