Every Tool Is A Weapon If You Hold It Right is a series of unique digital prints on silk. The title is taken from an Ani diFranco song; a rephrasing of Walter Benjamin’s ‘there is no document of civilisation which is not, at the same time, a document of barbarism’ as a pop song lyric. The lyric also reappears as an epigraph in Empire, Hardt and Negri’s book that proposes the next chapter to global politics.
The work offers similar acts of translations and reoccurrences. Intricate ink drawings become transferred onto a silk square, each object selected precisely to create a constellation of images; within each scarf is an ever-expanding narrative that cuts across different histories. While reading the Sunday Times the artist came across Ziyah Gafic’s photographs of objects, which form part of the International Missing Persons Archive, excavated from unidentified bodies and laid out in forensic formats. At the conservation laboratory at the National Museum of the Philippines, he found the modes of classification disintegrate as Imelda Marcos’ shoes lay side by side ivory tusks retrieved from a sunken Spanish galleon found in the South China Sea. From his home province of Batanes, a seashell collection and flotsam gathered along the shores of the beach.
For the artist, these works serve as contemporary interpretations of the vanitas still life. In this case, objects bearing specific histories of loss and degradation are transferred onto a luxurious surface to tell a more universal narrative. Each silk scarf serves as a reminder that ultimately every image, personal or ethnographic, traumatic or heraldic, ends up being co-opted and mistranslated by capital and the human desires that drive it.