In a radical update of Asian landscape painting, Jevijoe Vitug flips it, polarizes it and pumps it with Strip icons. Gone are the lazy mountains and idyllic trees—in their place, a veritable cornucopia of kitsch, a dazzling ooze of metallic effigies, a moral Wonderland of sly cultural commentary. The broad conventions of Asian landscapes rest intact, but the content is Las Vegas. No, it’s America. Nope, it’s the West. Wrong again—it’s the globalized world.
The nine paintings and sculpture in Vitug’s 5th Wall Gallery show grapple with contradictions that cling to Las Vegas like clichés in a tourist brochure. The Ur-contradiction, Wasteland/Oasis, generates others: destruction/renewal, organic/contrived, East/West and so on. The contradictions are also personal: Vitug is a Filipino-American artist who moved from the 7,000-plus islands of the Philippine archipelago to the hottest desert in the Americas. Mixed with Sin City’s trademarks are symbols from the cultural fusion that is the Philippines: Malay, Indian, Chinese, Arab, Spanish, American and Japanese. The resulting concoction could be a Surrealistic jumble, but it’s not—it’s more of a futuristic mandate, one in which a multicultural consumer society is the likeliest end game.
In “Wasteland/Oasis III” and elsewhere, “water” ties the flattened compositions together, draping over, under and around mountains of architectural representations from New York-New York, the Sahara and MGM, among others. In Asian landscapes, water symbolizes ephemeral cosmic flow, but in Vitug’s work it’s more fibrous, cushiony, as if it were knitting the riot of creation together. Similarly, in the spectacular “mountainscape” “Wasteland/Oasis II,” architectural fragments replace rocks in an artificial waterfall, while sexualized objects emerge from a river of primeval sludge. A playful, noodle-y depiction of the New York-New York roller coaster hangs over it all, like a wayward cosmic string.
But “Wasteland/Oasis I” is the mother lode canvas, featuring phallic towers, breasty domes and electric, cocktail-stirrer palm trees. The Container Park is there, along with signature casino architecture and all the paraphernalia proclaiming civilization. Amid the chaos, a pink flamingo transforms into the phoenix, rising from the onslaught of matter in a hopeful reconciliation of the yin/yang predicament. River and roller coaster yield to the larger flow, in which synthetic symbols coalesce into an organic whole. Just as human bodies become more cyborg, cultural definitions of “natural” landscape change, too.
Although “Neon Confluence Series” isn’t as convincing, Vitug’s Wasteland/Oasis meets the dilemma of globalization head-on. The takeaway is that Las Vegas is not just a place, but also a way of seeing.
Wasteland/Oasis Through December 7, daily, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., 5th Wall Gallery, Emergency Arts, 592-1467.