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NOTHING TO TIME

The object is a glove of 5-centavo coins. I don’t know how many or how much in total. Each coin is 15.5 mm in diameter, 1.5 mm thick, and weighs 1.9 grams. This edition of the Philippine 5-centavos is made of copper-plated steel and is the only holed coin I’ve seen in circulation. It was phased out in 2018.

First was an invitation. The invitation was tied to an old house, extended by a new friend, who has been making work since the seventies, and who, a long time ago, lived in the city I’ve lived in all my life. In her own exhibition at the house there were birds’ nests and light. She had gathered and flown them over from her home 11,000 km away, smuggled in gift wrap. I don’t know what kind of birds built them or for how long.

Between 1956 and 2018: the house was built, abandoned, restored, and then opened as an exhibition space. Ours was the fifth show there. On an average day of traffic between cities in Metro Manila, the house is over an hour away from mine.

For four months in 2019, open to the public three days a week, in Calle Wright along Vasquez Street in Manila, resided Tender machine with six other single-channel videos, positioned in rooms, high on a stairwell, and laid outside. More light than heat was a two-person exhibition with Lao Lianben, whose ten paintings were hung on walls and laid in closet drawers. One painting was from 2019, another from 1997. Lao has been painting for over fifty years.

The hand which comes into frame at one minute and 24 seconds is Dennese Victoria’s brother’s. The moon is over Caloocan City, maybe an hour away from where I live, even farther from Calle Wright and Vasquez Street. This was the second invitation: to ask someone to document each object, to lend to and borrow from. She asked why and I couldn’t articulate; after a year I think it is because in her work there is an unhurriedness.

When the glove became coin, it fit no one. It was Dennese’s idea to bind glove to hand, its dead weight dragging the video and quickening it. It was her idea to take home which objects she could, to film them where and how. Sometimes I itched and would intervene, but I knew they needed to be moved and maybe fractured.

The other six objects, plainly: a book[01], a dress[02], a gravestone[03], a pair of mirrors[04], a chain[05], a fence[06]. The other hands: a dressmaker, an illustrator, a gravestone maker, a silversmith, an artist, their machines.

What to call this limp thing, shiny and dull. I say gauntlet because in the beginning was a photo of a pair of them in “steel, embossed and damascened with gold and silver,” worn by Spanish dukes, displayed in an American museum. I have nothing to say here of Spanish dukes and American museums, but what of metals and exchanging hands?

Tender machine was made for — and for a period, bound in — a physical exhibition space, meant as a vantage point with/through which to look elsewhere. This pointing away, for me, guided what the objects were, how they were made, and that they were presented as video installations. It points away to other people, other times, other places, objects that exist somewhere else, artworks with objects that will only exist on a screen. The work was in the space only when the TVs were turned on, though the work was the work still when nobody came. Pictures and clocks, doors and windows.

[01] A hand-bound book of gold in 200 photos: as color, material, or effect, deliberate or accidental, combed from hard drives and negatives that continue to accumulate. Or: a mine.
[02] A dress of linen and gold-leaf thread, sewn by dressmaker Sarah Oxales. Before the machinery was invented in 1910, children made these threads for silkhouses in Nishijin, Kyoto by wrapping gold foil around strands of silk. I found this by accident online for 35 USD a skein. Or: a door.
[03] A description of a dead dog on the side of a flyover that I saw everyday for a month in heat and rain interpreted by a suddenly, temporarily blind illustrator. I scanned the drawing and brought it to a marble shop where the image file was fed to a machine, which drew the image onto stone. Nestor O. Geronimo, a gravestone maker, painted the drawing gold. Or: a site/sight.
[04] A pair of mirrors, of the same size and aluminum frame, one ordinary and one silver, made with metalsmith Romnick Barte. The mirrors, for a few minutes, do not move in their video, then they fall over. Or: windows.
[05] A necklace chain, unspooling from a bulk, laid inside the perimeter of the two-storey house, tracing all rooms and all corners, encircling the house as a closed shape. Installed on-site, filmed, and removed. Or: a drawing.
[06] A makeshift wooden stand frames a handmade mesh constructed with the necklace chain which traced Calle Wright. This was installed in the backyard of our rented house, where I’ve lived all my life. Or: a portal.

Lesley-Anne Cao’s work is a series of processes and divergent practices that revolve around art-making, the exhibition, and fiction. Recent works use recognizable materials such as books, plants, debris, precious metals, and money, enacting displacements and substitutions by way of creating sets and narratives. Cao holds a BFA from the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. Recent exhibitions include “The hand, the secretary, a landscape” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (2018) and “a knowing intimacy or a life” at the Vargas Museum (2019). She has also presented work in Indonesia, Taiwan, Australia, Finland, and the UK. She lives and works in Quezon City, the Philippines.